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Ressentiment and Self-deception in Early Phenomenology: Voigtländer, Scheler, and Reinach

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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))


This chapter explores the early phenomenological accounts of Ressentiment provided by Else Voigtländer, Max Scheler, and Adolf Reinach. In particular, it examines the self-deceptive processes that lead to the “inversion of values” inherent to Ressentiment, i.e., how an object previously felt as valuable is denuded of its worth when the subject realizes that she cannot achieve it. For the comparative analysis of these accounts, attention is paid to three crucial issues: 1) the origins of Ressentiment (etiology); 2) its place in the taxonomy of the affective mind (ontology); and 3) the psychological mechanisms responsible for the inversion of value (psychology). The early phenomenological accounts are then analyzed in the light of recent accounts of Ressentiment elaborated by authors close to the phenomenological tradition. It is argued that the early phenomenological accounts provide central insights on the interrelation between affectivity and value.

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  1. 1.

    For a distinction between both phenomena, see Brudholm 2006: 14.

  2. 2.

    For an elaborated account of her view on feelings of self-worth, see Vendrell Ferran 2008 and 2020.

  3. 3.

    On the difference between pre-reflective and reflective forms of consciousness, see Gallagher and Zahavi 2012, chapter 3.

  4. 4.

    There are, in Voigtländer’s view, different subtypes of vital feelings of self-worth: (1) feelings of courage, confidence, and self-affirmation and their opposites (faintheartedness, insecurity, and self-negation) as well as the feeling of vitality, health, and buoyancy and their opposites (tiredness, decadence, and depression); (2) the feeling of the noble and the mean; (3) the feeling of superiority and inferiority; and (4) the feeling of ability and incapacity.

  5. 5.

    In my view, the recently initiated task of exploring the relation between Nietzsche and phenomenology (Boublil and Daigle 2013; Rehberg 2011) should be expanded by investigating Nietzsche’s influence on Voigtländer’s work.

  6. 6.

    Though my main focus here is on individual psychological processes, for Scheler, Ressentiment takes place also at the societal level and comes in collective forms.

  7. 7.

    See Reinach 2017: 197, and Smith’s instructive translator’s note on page 112.

  8. 8.

    Rodax et al. (2021) describe a gradual process. By contrast, Salmela and Capelos (2021) identify specific states in the process of transmutation. The “triggering stage” involves negative emotions with feelings of inferiority and/or powerlessness. The “initial stage” involves failed adaptive defenses and the adoption of partially adaptive or maladaptive defenses that give rise to the transvaluation. At this stage, the subject dislocates negative affects from cognition and evaluations that feed these affects (this happens via the repression of affect and isolation/dissociation) and reattaches these affects to other cognitions and evaluations (via displacement/substitution and reaction formation/reversal) (Salmela and Capelos 2021: 197). The “advancing stage” involves maladaptive defenses which lead to a transvaluation of the self and values which lead to a new self and new values. Finally, the “consolidation stage” involves defenses that strengthen the transvaluation and fragmentation of the self through social sharing, preventing relapse to the old self and old values (Ibid.: 195).

  9. 9.

    While processes of overgeneralization are typical of other affective attitudes such as certain forms of hate (as noted by Szanto 2020, but not for all, as Salice 2020 has shown), the deferral seems to be the hallmark of Ressentiment.

  10. 10.

    My usage of the term “attitude” here differs from the way in which it is employed by psychologists as a directly accessible reflexive structure (Rodax et al. 2021, on the basis of this psychological understanding, reject understanding Ressentiment in terms of an attitude). As I employ this term, attitudes are orientations toward the world and others and must not be reflexive structures.


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Vendrell Ferran, Í. (2023). Ressentiment and Self-deception in Early Phenomenology: Voigtländer, Scheler, and Reinach. 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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