emotion heart

Feelings in the Hearts of Men

6:00:00 AMMarisa Ramos

In high school I was always told to say what I think and not what I feel. Feelings in discussion were unwelcome because we were trying to understand what the author was saying, not what we all felt about what he said. This idea persisted and came with me to college. Due to this my roommate would tell me quite often that “it is ok to live with your heart and get out of your head sometimes.”


Why would someone look down upon feelings so much and convince themselves that they did not need to feel at all? In The Heart Dietrich von Hildebrand discusses this very matter. “As soon as the affective response is deprived of the object which has engendered it...the affective response is reduced to a mere affective state, which is even lower ontologically than a state like fatigue or alcohol-induced conviviality.” (6)


Firstly Hildebrand talks about the “affective response.” An affective response is responding with the heart in the current situation such as joy at the finding of a lost friend or sorrow at the destruction of our childhood home. But the only way for a joy or sorrow to be truly spiritual is for it to be understood in its relation to its object, namely what made these responses come about. If the motivation of our joy or sorrow is removed, then our responses are no longer based in an object, making them free floating feelings with no meaning. Consider the sorrow we might have at the loss of a dear relative. Due to our sorrow we have a fuller response to the situation at hand. If we only have affections completely detached from an object then we are left fatigued and sorrowful for no reason, living simply in an affective state.


If we separate the affective responses from their motivations, then we get free floating feelings that are not based in an object thus making them non-spiritual responses. The human heart is meant to respond meaningfully to the world and all the objects in it. If man discredits spiritual affections, he turns cold and robotic in his doings. On the other hand, if man takes non-spiritual emotions as a replacement for truth, thus making them the only means of propelling his existence foreword, then he spends his entire life searching for them and right as he gains them they fly away because they lack the motivation which grounds them.


Both of these extremes really deny man what he was made for, which is happiness. By the first extreme you boil all things down and say that there is nothing important beyond the cold facts from which man is completely emotionally detached. So man does benefit from these feelings, which could aid him to respond more fully to the situation. For example, to sorrow at the destruction of his home or to rejoice in friendship. But by the second way man relies solely on meaningless feelings and is led to an extreme sentimentality which separates him from reality, making him expectant of feeling and only feeling. Man is meant to live within reality on earth. By overlooking meaningful affective responses, he does not give the full response that is due to the object.


It seems that Dietrich is saying that the heart cannot be excluded from philosophy because it is absolutely necessary in responding to reality as reality demands. But the heart and its affective responses must remain grounded in their objects and motivations otherwise they are trivialized and made to be much less than what they actually are.




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