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Between Love and Benevolence. Voigtländer, Pfänder, and Walther on the Phenomenology of Sentiments

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Else Voigtländer: Self, Emotion, and Sociality

Part of the book series: Women in the History of Philosophy and Sciences ((WHPS,volume 17))


The present chapter aims at reconstructing Else Voiltänder’s philosophical relationship with one of her teachers, Alexander Pfänder, and to another female student of him, Gerda Walther. Focusing on the phenomenology of sentiments, the author attempts to show the following claims. Voigtländer follows Pfänder in a considerably precise manner when she gives a general account of sentiments. However, in her analysis of particular sorts of sentiments, love and benevolence, Voigtländer proposes a view that is not found in her teacher. This idea is novel and significant because it calls for certain revisions or refinements of Pfänder’s and Walther’s ideas, respectively.

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  1. 1.

    Voigtlänger attended Pfänder’s course entitled “Logic Seminars [Logische Übungen]” already in her first semester in Munich (see the archival document at Universitätsarchiv München [UAM], STUD-BB-237 WS 1905/06). It is not clear whether they personally knew each other at that moment. It seems that Voigtländer had got acquainted with Pfänder as late as in the winter semester of 1907/08, in which she attended a discussion group organized by him (cf. Voigtländer, 1910: 92). It remains a mystery, however, what role Pfänder formally played in Voigtländer’s formation as an academic philosopher/psychologist, because his name is not on the list of the examiners of her dissertation. Be that as it may, the present chapter will make clear that Voigtländer had good reasons to mention Pfänder as a teacher of her in her Lebenslauf. For a detailed reconstruction of Voigtländer’s early career, see also Heffernan (2021: 1–3).

  2. 2.

    The present chapter does not deal with some other topics shared by Voigtländer and Pfänder. Their shared interests in Nietzsche (cf. Heffernan, 2021: 8n53) and their views on characterology will remain out of the scope of my discussion here.

  3. 3.

    What complicates the situation here is that Voigtländer has started to discuss sentiments already in her dissertation in 1910, even though she does not call them “sentiments” yet (cf. Vendrell Ferran, 2020: 102). Therefore, my way of raising questions might not be entirely fair. Possibly, we could and should to ask whether and to what extent Pfänder’s account of sentiments in 1913/16 is new and significant compared to Voigtländer’s in 1910. Leaving open such questions, however, I will attempt to pin down her contribution to a theme from Pfänder. For, as she makes explicit in her paper dedicated to Pfänder (see below), she aims at developing Pfänder’s theory of sentiments in a certain direction.

  4. 4.

    For this issue, see Yaegashi’s chapter in the present volume.

  5. 5.

    Here, Voigtländer follows Pfänder’s demarcation of sentiments from other mental states too. In this chapter, I follow the two phenomenologists and take it granted that the extension of sentiments is well-fixed. For the relevant discussions of Pfänder, see Uemura and Yaegashi (2020: 66–67).

  6. 6.

    The idea of the primacy of phenomenology is already found in Pfänder’s 1911 piece on motivation (cf. Pfänder, 1911: 141 [tr. 27]; see also Uemura, 2021, 29). It is likely that the same idea guides his discussion of volition in Phänomenologie des Wollens (Pfänder, 1900), even though the term phenomenology and its cognates appear nowhere in the main text of that book. These pieces of textual evidence, which are indeed not conclusive, give us a certain reason to assume that Voitgländer knows the idea of her teacher already in her student years. With this assumption, we could make sense of the occasional appearances of “phenomenology” and “phenomenological analysis” in her dissertation, to which, as Heffernan (2021: 7–8) observes, she does not explicitly give any particularly determined sense. It would turn out that she responds to Pfänder when she discusses the extent to which the feeling of self-worth could be analyzed phenomenologically (cf. Voigtländer, 1910: 34, 38, 45, 46–47, 48n1); when she talks about a need to deal with the whole problem of self (das Ich) on the basis of phenomenological investigation and observations (cf. Voigtländer, 1910: 68); when she holds that the serenity of the sky has phenomenologically peculiar way of being (cf. Voigtländer, 1910: 81); when she remarks on a phenomenological account of the expression of feeling by hysteric patients (cf. Voigtländer, 1910: 115–116n1); and when she concludes her discussion with the claim: “A satisfactory solution of the problems touched upon in [this work] is possible only in the context of a general phenomenological psychology, epistemology and characterology” (Voigtländer, 1910: 119, my emphasis).

  7. 7.

    Unlike some other early phenomenologists, Pfänder does not use the adjective virtual (virtuell) for subconscious mental states. For this issue and its relation to psychoanalytic notion of unconscious emotions, see Vendrell Ferran (2008: 120–126, esp. 121n69 for Pfänder’s position).

  8. 8.

    Contrary to what one might expect from the given example, Pfänder admits that the object of a sentiment may not be a person (cf. Pfänder, 1913: 337–339). Thus he would disagree with Edith Stein when she holds that sentiments has only to do with persons (cf. Stein, 1917: 113; 1922: 245–246). On this issue, Voigtländer seems to stand on Pfänder’s side because, according to her, a war may be an object of hate (cf. Voigtländer, 1920: 185).

  9. 9.

    “The centrifugal stream of feeling makes up the essence of actual sentiments” (Pfänder, 1913: 364).

  10. 10.

    Here, Pfänder seems to make an implicit reference to his previous work on motivation, in which he analyzes more in detail the centripetal experience of arousal (Erregung) (cf. Pfänder, 1911: 128–130 [tr. 16–18]).

  11. 11.

    “One type of sentiments is favorable to the objects to which they are directed; it shall therefore be called the type of positive or friendly sentiments. The other type, on the contrary, is unfavorable to the objects to which it is directed; it shall therefore be called the type of negative or hostile attitudes” (Pfänder, 1913: 335, my emphasis).

  12. 12.

    For further on Pfänder’s method of phenomenological description, especially for its reliance on the analogy with space, see Uemura (2021: 30–32). Note further that the matter (Stoff) in Pfänder’s sense should not also be confused with the matter (Materie) or act-matter (Aktmaterie) in Husserl’s sense. While the latter is supposed to determine the intentional object of the relevant act (cf. Husserl, 1913, vol. II/1: 415 [tr. vol. II, 121]), such a function is not attributed to the former.

  13. 13.

    Elsewhere Pfänder talks about some other character of the same sort by using terms which appear in the above quote from Voigtländer. “The stream of feeling here consists of a matter of feeling that has a promoting, warming, animating feature” (Pfänder, 1913: 364). The use of “burning [verbrennend]” and “destructive [zerstörend]” is also found in his discussion of negative sentiments (cf. Pfänder,1916: 123).

  14. 14.

    Regrettably, it is difficult not to notice a certain elitism and perhaps sexism in the examples Pfänder gives for his claim. “What flows out in the actual sentiments, the matter of sentiment, so to speak, is of a finer feature one time, of a coarser one the other time. Consider, for instance, the actual love of an Oberbayrian peasant boy for his peasant beloved, and compare it with the actual love which stirs in a more finely differentiated personality for one of the same kind. Or one may compare the coarse hate of the furniture carrier against the one who has given him too little tip with the finer hate with which a noble person hates a similar one. But even the actual movements of sentiment [Gesinnungsregungen] of one and the same person show the same differences. First of all, his movement of love as well as his movement of hate will be different in this respect of coarseness or fineness according to the object to which they refer at the moment. The movement of love for a fleshly blooming peasant girl will generally be more coarse-grained than, for instance, the intimate love for a painting by Giovanni Bellini. And the hostility against a brutal animal abuser will also generally be a coarser one than the hostility with which one receives, for example, the contradictory assertions of a scientific opponent” (Pfänder, 1916: 63).

  15. 15.

    As discussed in the footnote 6, in Voigtländer includes some occasional mentions to phenomenology or phenomenological analysis, of which we could make better sense with the assumption that she implicitly refers to Pfänder’s idea of phenomenology and its role in psychology. As far as her 1933 paper is concerned, Voigtländer’s analysis of sentiments could more unambiguously be called phenomenological in Pfänder’s sense. In this paper, she makes explicit that she follows Pfänder’s general methodological remarks concerning the phenomenology of the mental (Phänomenologie des Psychischen) (cf. Voigtländer, 1933: 143). As this suggests, points she make about sentiments have to do with how we undergo experiences of sentiments, or so I shall argue through my reconstruction of her discussions.

  16. 16.

    It is not certain whether Voigtländer would say that the authorization of existence is also absent in benevolence. Even if she admits that such authorization is found in benevolence too, that would probably to be characterized negatively in terms of the absence of the denial of the existence of the relevant object.

  17. 17.

    Very likely, Voigtländer here has in mind Pfänder’s use of the phrase “to nod inwardly affirmatively [innerlich bejahend zuzunicken]” to someone in the passage on acts of affirmation quoted above (cf. Pfänder 1913: 368).

  18. 18.

    Perhaps such an indifferent attitude to others is similar to one I have when I ignore strangers in passing by them in the middle of crowds. This does not mean that Voigtländer’s account would conflate benevolence to such a sort of ignorance. Being a sentiment, she would say, the former exhibits some characteristics such as the centrifugal stream, which is missing in the latter.

  19. 19.

    For Walther’s discussion of habitual sentiments, see Caminada, (2014).

  20. 20.

    For Pfänder’s discussion of genuine and non-genuine sentiments and its relation to the dissertation of his student Willy Haas (1910), see Uemura and Yaegashi (2020: 68, 69–70). Note that Voigtländer discusses genuine and non-genuine feeling of self-worth (Selbstgefühl) in her dissertation before the publication of Pfänder’s and Haas’ works (cf. Vendrell Ferran, 2020: 99–100; recall that Voigtländer finished her doctorate in November 1909—see Introduction of this chapter). Further on the notion of genuine and non-genuine emotions in early phenomenology and its relevance to contemporary debates, see also Vendrell Ferran (2008: 103–110) and Mulligan (2009).

  21. 21.

    Such a suspicion would definitely get a support from Pfänder, who dismisses an appeal to unconscious striving in his phenomenological analysis of motivation. On this point, see Uemura (2021: 33).

  22. 22.

    A general account of non-genuine experience has already been developed by Pfänder (1913: 399–404).

  23. 23.

    Walther calls this kind of experience “social acts in the most pregnant sense” (Walther, 1923: 104). For her seemingly odd use of the term of art for Reinach, namely social acts, see Salice and Uemura (2018).

  24. 24.

    I do not mean to say that Walther would take this solution. There seems no textual evidence for presuming that it was feasible for her. My point here is only that of the four solutions, the last one seems the most coherent with what Walther says explicitly.

  25. 25.

    Note that, the worry itself would remain for Walther even on the fourth solution. I claim only that the worry would not undermine the revised version of Walther’s idea that inner unification as involved in love play the essential role in the formation of communities.

  26. 26.

    There might be few exceptional cases: Inner unifications in sentiments of socially genuine but personally non-genuine love might play the role in the formation of a new group that is different from any of the communities relevant for the social genuineness of those sentiments. Such a case is arguably seldom and, if the third reason is admitted, would turn out to be impossible.

  27. 27.

    It is noteworthy that something similar happens to the endnote 19 of the same paper, where Voigtländer cites a work of yet another female phenomenologist, namely Edith Stein’s “Beiträge zur philosophischen Begründung der Psychologie und Geisteswissenschaften” (Stein 1922; cf. Voigtländer, 1933: 164n19). For this endnote, there also seems to be no counterpart in the main text. Most probably, however, the number 25 in the footnote on mental causality (psychische Kausalität), which is the central topic for the first treatise of Stein’s 1922 work, is to be understood as the reference to the endnote 19 (cf. Voigtländer, 1933: 150). This would be a counterexample to the first conjunct of Heffernan’s claim: “there is no reference to Stein in Voigtländer none to Voigtländer in Stein” (Heffernan, 2021, 36). However, it would still remain a tragedy, as Heffernan observes, that the two female phenomenologists could not engage in a collegial dialogue about their shared topic (cf. Heffernan, 2021: 36).


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I am grateful to Alessandro Salice and Íngrid Vendrell Ferran for their helpful comments on drafts of this chapter. The author’s research is supported by a grant-in-aid for scientific research (KAKENHI) from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Project No.: 20H01177).

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Uemura, G. (2023). Between Love and Benevolence. Voigtländer, Pfänder, and Walther on the Phenomenology of Sentiments. In: Vendrell Ferran, Í. (eds) Else Voigtländer: Self, Emotion, and Sociality. Women in the History of Philosophy and Sciences, vol 17. Springer, Cham.

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