affectivity feelings

Listening to the Self

11:40:00 AMMeredith Kuzma

Last time I talked about listening to other people as a way of loving them. This would be an appropriate response to the value of the other person for von Hildebrand. But what about responding to our own feelings? Von Hildebrand approaches the discussion first by pointing out that there has been an equivocation (p54, The Heart) of the word “feelings,” and goes on to distinguish three different types: bodily feelings, psychic states, and spiritual affective responses. We have a different type of responsibility for bodily feelings and psychic states on the one hand and spiritual feelings on the other. We can approve or disavow non-spiritual affections like jolliness or depression but we can prepare for spiritual affections by being recollected so that we can fully respond to an object.


When von Hildebrand says “bodily feelings,” what he means are feelings such as hunger, thirst, or exhaustion. When he uses the phrase “psychic states,” he refers to feelings that have a psychic component but that we experience in our bodies, for example depression or jolliness. “A state of jolliness clearly differs from joy, sorrow, love or compassion insofar as it lacks, in the first instance, the character of a response, that is, a meaningful conscious relation to an object. Intentionality, in this sense, is precisely one essential mark of spirituality” (p54, The Heart). Von Hildebrand also makes the distinction that bodily feelings and psychic states are “caused” whereas affective responses are “motivated.” For example, being hungry is a state caused by not eating, whereas sadness over the death of a loved one is motivated by the loss of that person. Responsibility for the non-spiritual feelings is characterized by how you respond after the fact.


A good example of a spiritual response would be going to the symphony. You know you're going to the symphony, so you prepare by clearing your mind of mundane concerns concerns and perhaps reading some information about the music you are about to hear. When you listen to the music, you respond to its beauty.

Popular thought in society today idolizes responses that lack any preparation or attention. 

Responses become automatic, a direct reaction to some cause. You are encouraged to go with “what feels good” and choose that which is merely subjectively satisfying. But these kind of responses are not grounded in anything! For von Hildebrand, spiritual affective responses are grounded in objectivity, the objective beauty in a painting or in a person. A life structured around the appropriate responses becomes fulfilling and beautiful.

  "Thinking RFID" by Jacob B√łtter on Flikr

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