Skip to main content

The Nature of Stimmungen


This essay comprises two chapters from the first part of Bollnow’s book on moods (Das Wesen der Stimmungen), namely the second chapter on the concept of Stimmung and the third chapter on Stimmungen as the sustaining foundation of the soul. It argues that moods constitute the simplest and most original form in which human life comes to know itself. Moods are understood as a specific harmony between, first, the inner and outer world; second, the states of the body and the soul; and, third, the individual faculties of the soul. Moods differ from emotions in the narrow sense, which are always intentionally directed towards a specific object, whereas moods do not have any specific object; they are states of being, structuring and coloring human existence as a whole. Hence, no system of moods is provided, but their extensive diversity is indicated. Furthermore, transient, unsteady, or “moody” moods (Launen) are distinguished from persistent or basic moods (beständige Lebensstimmungen).

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. These two concepts can be used in the present context without distinction. On their necessary differentiation for other purposes and particularly for the characterological representation of the feeling of life, see Lersch, Philipp Der Aufbau des Charakters, after the fourth edition entitled Aufbau der Person. Munich: Barth, 1951: 246ff.

  2. Lersch, 1951: 233ff.

  3. Strasser, Stephan Phenomenology of Feeling: An Essay on the Phenomena of the Heart. With a foreword by Paul Ricoeur. Trans. with an introduction by Robert E. Wood. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1977: 194ff.

  4. For the purpose of clear conceptualisation, distinguishing the two in this manner seems most appropriate, even if ordinary language and also, to a great extent, scholarly language, remain indeterminate in this case. In addition to the narrower sense of a (directed) emotion employed here, ordinary language also uses the word emotion in a broader sense that also encompasses (undirected) Stimmungen. Because of the indeterminacy connected to this broader sense, it should not figure wherever precise concepts are at stake in the following. The separation cannot, however, be strictly upheld in some compounds that are deeply entrenched in common parlance, such as feeling of life, feeling of well-being, sense of self, etc. For that reason, the following cites some textual evidence (without having been able to justify every single instance) that speaks of “emotion” in general while aiming only at the special meaning distinguished here as Stimmung. On the meaning of “emotion” in ordinary language, see Volkelt, Johannes Immanuel Versuch über Fühlen und Wollen. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1930: 3–4; and Schröder, Paul Stimmungen und Verstimmungen. Leipzig: Johann Ambrosius Barth Verlag, 1930.

  5. See Volkelt, 1930: 12–13.

  6. See also the account from a medical perspective in Sauerbruch, Ferdinand, and Hans Wenke Pain: Its Meaning and Significance. Trans. Edward Fitzgerald. London: Allen & Unwin, 1963: 67–69.

  7. Strasser, 1977: 183, [translation modified].

  8. Schröder, 1930: 11. The validity of the comparison expressed here is not reduced by the fact that, in the cited context, Schröder does not yet conceive of the relationship between emotion and Stimmung in the exact sense advocated here, but rather tries to distinguish between the two in a medically common-sense manner according to their shorter or longer duration. In a later account – Schröder, Paul “Gefühle und Stimmungen.” In Die Wissenschaft am Scheidewege von Leben und Geist: Festschrift Ludwig Klages zum 60. Geburtstag. Ed. Hans Prinzhorn. Leipzig: Johann Ambrosius Barth Verlag 1932: 201–3 – Schröder eliminates this ambiguity and, in the same sense as advocated here, distinguishes “the dependent emotions that merely accompany and do not effect anything” – and always refer to something and cannot exist “in themselves” – from the “independent, endogenous Stimmungen that are not bound by perceptions or experiences” and “are indicators for states of readiness to particular emotions”. He also refers to language use for this separation: “Common parlance also uses Stimmungen for emotions, but it does not use emotions for Stimmungen” (205).

  9. Lersch, 1951: 247.

  10. Strasser, 1977: 182.

  11. Strasser, 1977: 185.

  12. Novalis Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia: Das allgemeine Brouillon. Trans. and ed. David W. Wood. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007: 186, [translation modified]; see also Plato The Republic, Book III.

  13. This being in Stimmung for something is under no circumstances to be confused with the intentionality of emotion. While the intentionality of emotion has to do with a direction that is contained in the original essence of the emotion and is constitutive of the emotion itself, being in Stimmung is the harmonisation of a Stimmung, which is itself not yet directed, with a (belatedly accompanying) faculty, which is essentially different from the Stimmung and does not originally belong to it.

  14. Heidegger, 2010: 133, [translation modified].

  15. Strasser, 1977: 188, [translation modified].

  16. Binswanger, Ludwig “Das Raumproblem in der Psychopathologie.” In Ausgewählte Vorträge und Aufsätze. Vol. 2. Bern: Francke, 1955: 174ff.

  17. Goethe, Johann Wolfgang The Natural Daughter. In Verse Plays and Epic. Ed. Cyrus Hamlin and Frank Ryder. Trans. Michael Hamburger, Hunter Hannum, and David Luke. New York: Suhrkamp, 1987: 191.

  18. Binswanger, 1955: 200–201.

  19. Ibid.

  20. Rudolf Bilz has emphatically drawn attention to the inner unity of bodily and psychic phenomena from a medical perspective: “Die Stimmung als leib-seelisches Phänomen: Dargestellt am Beispiel der Magenneurose.” Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift 68 (1942): 640–43. There Bilz defines Stimmung as nothing less than a “harmony between the physical and the emotional” (643). Also see Bilz, Rudolf Pars pro toto: Ein Beitrag zur Pathologie menschlicher Affekte und Organfunktionen. Schriftenreihe zur deutschen medizinischen Wochenschrift 5. Leipzig: Thieme, 1940.

  21. Carus, Carl Gustav Psyche: Zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Seele. Pforzheim: Flammer und Hoffmann, 1847: 270–71.

  22. Carus, 1847: 263.

  23. Baader, Franz von Seele und Welt: Franz Baaders Jugendtagebücher 1786–1792. Ed. Margarethe Jarislowsky and David Baumbart. Berlin: Volksverband der Bücherfreunde Wegweiser-Verlag, 1928: 37, 23.

  24. [In this footnote, Bollnow refers the reader to the introduction of Das Wesen der Stimmungen, which treats the concept and method of philosophical anthropology. The Introduction precedes the extract that is translated here.]

  25. For an explanation, see Bollnow, Otto Friedrich Einfache Sittlichkeit: Kleine philosophische Aufsätze. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1947: 107–8.

  26. On this, see the taxonomy of Stimmungen provided by Lersch, 1951: 251ff. In line with the book’s characterological aims, Lersch limits himself, however, to the habitual, foundational Stimmungen of life and so arrives at a comparatively small group. He distinguishes four main types: cheerfulness, merriness (amusement), sadness (melancholy), and sullenness (querulousness). Lersch then distinguishes this “atmospheric foundation of Stimmung” from “forms in which the feeling of life is aroused”, which, as “causes of a sudden disruption”, “interrupt the normal and ordered course of the rest of psychic life in a critical and shocking manner” (first edition, 1938: 55). For him, anxiety and ecstasy belong here to these two sides, respectively. They are “the dramatic outer poles of the feeling towards life” (1951: 260). On the side of subdued Stimmungen, see Binswanger, Ludwig Über Ideenflucht. Zürich: Orell Füssli, 1933. This work extends well beyond the problem named in its title into the domain of the non-pathological experiences of happiness, and in that regard above all treats what Binswanger calls “festive attunement”.

  27. On the forms of feeling happy, also see the chapter “Phenomenological Typology of the Experience of Human Happiness.” In Strasser, 1977: 349ff.

  28. On seriousness in greater detail, see Bollnow, 1947: 75ff.

  29. Lersch, 1951: 260ff.

  30. On solemnity and festiveness more thoroughly, see Bollnow, Otto Friedrich Neue Geborgenheit: Das Problem einer Überwindung des Existentialismus. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1955: 217ff.

  31. Heidegger, 2010: 131, [translation modified].

  32. Krüger, Felix Das Wesen der Gefühle: Entwurf einer systematischen Theorie. Leipzig: Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft, 1928: 20–21.

  33. Krüger, 1928: 21.

  34. Heidegger, 2010: 133.

  35. Raabe, Wilhelm “Zum wilden Mann.” In Sämtliche Werke, ed. Karl Hoppe, vol. 11. Freiburg im Breisgau: Verlagsanstalt Hermann Klemm, 1956: 189–90.

  36. Heidegger, 2010: 134, [translation modified].

  37. Bahnsen, Julius Mosaiken und Silhouetten: Charakterographische Situations- und Entwickelungsbilder. Ed. Albert Görland. Leipzig: Johann Ambrosius Barth Verlag, 1931: 150.

  38. Bahnsen, 1931: 154.

  39. See Bahnsen, 1931: 150; and Jensch, Ernst Die Laune: Eine ärztlich-psychologische Studie. Grenzfragen des Nerven- und Seelenlebens: Einzeldarstellungen für Gebildete aller Stände, vol. 15, no. 2. Wiesbaden: Bergmann, 1901/2.

  40. Heidegger, 2010: 131, [translation modified].

  41. Heidegger, 2010: 131, [translation modified].

  42. Baader, 1928: 160–61.

  43. Baader, 1928: 34.

  44. Heidegger, 2010: 132, [translation modified].

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Otto Friedrich Bollnow.

Additional information

[Translated by Angelika Krebs, Jochen Koenigsmann, Anthony Mahler, Stephan Meyer and Jan Müller from the German original ‘Der Begriff der Stimmungen‘, ‘Stimmungen als tragender Grund der Seele‘, O. F. Bollnow, Das Wesen der Stimmungen, Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1956, pp. 33–65, 256–259. Translators’ note: This translation of chapters two and three from Das Wesen der Stimmungen is based on the eighth edition (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1995). The German term Stimmung, plural Stimmungen, can be used to refer to the (internal) mood of a person and the (external) atmosphere of a place. We retain the German Stimmung, instead of mood, which is the term Stambaugh uses in her translation of Heidegger, Martin Being and Time. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. Rev. Dennis J. Schmidt. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010. Use of the German term Stimmung aims to underline the fact that, as far as this basic concept is concerned, Bollnow considers moods as equiprimordial to the “inner” and “outer” worlds and also invokes the meaning of Stimmung in music as the “tuning” of an instrument; see Section 3 of this chapter below.]

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Bollnow, O.F. The Nature of Stimmungen . Philosophia 45, 1399–1418 (2017).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Scheler
  • Moods
  • Phenomenology
  • Existentialism
  • Modes of being