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Moods as Groundlessness of the Human Experience. Heidegger and Wittgenstein on Stimmung


The paper analyzes the ontological meaning of mood (Stimmung) in Heidegger’s conception of Attunement (Befindlichkeit), in order to relate this notion of Stimmung specifically to our “attunement” (Übereinstimmung) to a form of life, as conceived in Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language. It claims that moods spell out the constitutive impossibility to grasp and found the human experience as such. However, this impossibility is not a lack of human knowledge, but rather corresponds to the necessary opacity, indeterminability and groundlessness of every human experience, which make it possible as such. The paper argues that the ontological mood of anxiety in Heidegger’s thought cannot be understood as a dark feeling, since it points to a constitutive sense of disorientation, which involves the impossibility to found and ensure the very familiarity of our ordinary experience. Moreover, the paper claims that the same impossibility is also involved in our “attunement” to language and to a form of life, as described by Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations. By analyzing the mood of trust sketched out by Wittgenstein in On Certainty, the paper suggests that the ontological mood of trust, as the groundless certainty of our praxis, points to the very impossibility to found and ensure every human experience. From this perspective, moods reveal the groundlessness of human experience and make us acknowledge it.

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  1. I refer to the German edition of the Philosophische Untersuchungen (1964) as PU and to the English one (1967) as PI.

  2. See Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, X/II, 2, Leipzig 1960, p. 3128.

  3. For an overview of the distintion between feeling or emotion and mood, see Demmerling and Landweer (2007).

  4. I am referring to the classical study by Spitzer (1963). As Spitzer states: “The concept of concentusconsenantiaarmonia, cannot be treated without that of temperarekerannumi – and vice versa. Two patterns, both of them ultimately originating in the same pattern of thought, must necessarily and continually have been intertwined. We are here faced with a remarkable phenomenon in semantics: for the modern German word Stimmung we must count, not with one etymon, as it usually the case […], but with a mixture, a fabric woven of different etyma which have lent each other parts of their respective semantic contents, so that the particular modern word Stimmung reflects semantically sometimes the one, sometimes the other etymon”. p. 314.

  5. See Grimm (1960): 3128.

  6. Heidegger’s texts are quoted from the German Gesamtausgabe, (GA). The page numbers of the English editions are indicated first, if they have already been published, and the page numbers of the German editions follow. Heidegger’s Being and Time (BT) is quoted from the English edition (1962). The first page numbers refer to the English edition, and the second ones to the original German edition of Sein und Zeit (1927).

  7. I am referring here to Philosophical Investigation §241: “I obey the rule blindy”. This claim has provoked an intensive discussion, introduced by Fogelin (1976) and Kripke (1982). For a complete bibliography about it see Rule-Following: Oxford Bibliographies On line Research Guide. Here I am interested in the claim that following a rule does not mean interpreting it, but implies a primary attunement to language. See McDowell (1984).

  8. Heidegger’s hermeneutical phenomenology has been interpreted as an approach to ordinary language and the linguistic turn by Rentsch (2003). See in particular pp. 165 ff.

  9. See Heidegger, BT: 172/134.

  10. See Slaby (2008): 107.

  11. See Heidegger, 1975, GA 24: 187.

  12. Mulhall (2001): 260

  13. See for example Stegmüller (1963): 176.

  14. Therefore I do not agree with Bollnow (1968). On the contrary, I would rather concur with Tugendhat: “Die primäre Orientierung an den negativen Stimmungen hat den methodischen Grund, dass man bei ihnen […] die Struktur leichter erkennen kann. Im Glück wird das selbe bejagt, was im Unglück verneint wird, das in der-Welt-Sein”. Tugendhat (1979): 209. Cf. Rentsch (2003): 242.

  15. For an attempt to elucidate Wittgenstein’s views on nonsense see Diamond (1981).

  16. Heidegger expresses the same moods as follows: “Das Wunder aller Wunder: Dass Seiendes ist”. Heidegger, GA 9: 307.

  17. The sense of nullity, which anxiety reveals does not match a logical negation, nor the meaning of the logical negation of Wittgenstein’s sentence. As Heidegger puts it: “Wir behaupten: das Nichts ist ursprünglichera als das Nicht und die Verneinung”. Heidegger, GA 9: 108.

  18. This comment is reported by Waismann (1979). In the context of the Vienna Circle, Wittgenstein made some remarks about the close relation between his and Heidegger’s thought on Dicember 30th, 1929. This quote is taken from Waismann’s notes.

  19. The so-called “resolute” reading of the Tractatus was introduced by Conant and Diamond and has generated a big discussion in recent years. For a good introduction to the debate see Crary and Read (2000). This reading suggests that an understanding of the work implies a transformation of the reader. From this perspective, the dimension of truth in Wittgenstein’s work is not something theoretical. As Conant writes: “According to resolute readers, to take an item on the list to be a rung of the ladder is to take it to form a part of this task that the author of the work has set us. The reader reaches a moment in which she understands the author (and what he is doing with one of his sentences) each time she moves from a state of appearing to herself to be able to understand one of these sentences to a state in which it becomes evident to her that her earlier “state of understanding” was only apparent. This point is reached not through the reader’s coming to be convinced by an argument […]. Rather, the point is reached, in each case, by her experience of the sentence (and the sort of understanding it can seem to support) undergoing a transformation. Each such moment of “understanding the author” involves, in this sense, a change in the reader”. Conant (2006): 181. This practical reading of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus has also been spelled out by Rentsch (2003) 330 ss.

  20. For the difference between constative and performative utterances, see Austin (1962).

  21. As Heidegger puts it: “We can only understand the concepts […] as long as they are not taken to signify characteristic features or properties of something present at hand, but are taken rather as indications that show how our understanding must […] properly transform itself into the Dasein in us. The challenge of this transformation lies within each of these concepts. […] These concepts are formally indicative”. Heidegger, GA 29/30: 296/428.

  22. See Dahlstrom (1994), Cimino (2013), Guidi (2016).

  23. As Wittgenstein writes in the Bemerkungen über die Philosophie der Psychologie: “Im Falle, den ich mir vorstelle, haben die Leute ein Wort, das einen ähnlichen Zweck erfüllt wie das Wort Schmerz. Man kann nicht sagen, es ‚bezeichne’ etwas Ähnliches. Es greift anders, und doch ähnlich, in ihr Leben ein“. Wittgenstein (1990): §656.


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Correspondence to Lucilla Guidi.

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Guidi, L. Moods as Groundlessness of the Human Experience. Heidegger and Wittgenstein on Stimmung . Philosophia 45, 1599–1611 (2017).

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  • Heidegger
  • Wittgenstein
  • Attunement
  • Mood
  • Feeling
  • Groundlessness