affectivity dietrich von hildebrand

The Heart Inside Out

6:00:00 AMAlexander S. Anderson

I recently took some time to myself, drove out to Pittsburgh, and ended up seeing Pixar’s fantastic new movie, Inside Out. For those that haven’t seen it or aren’t familiar with it, Inside Out takes Pixar’s usual wild imagination and turns it on the inside of our own heads: it follows the anthropomorphized emotions of 11-year-old Riley as her life changes, using imaginative contraptions to represent the inner workings of consciousness and subconsciousness. The film does magic in re-representing our own inner experiences, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The film’s representation of our consciousness is so potent that it opens up a new sort of “model” to understand the inner workings of ourselves, and from that a number of philosophical questions arise regarding the film's depiction. Film Crit Hulk points out one of these questions (which he himself encountered during discussions of the film) in his short review of the film. Basically, the film has characters for five major emotions, named, appropriately, Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger, and Sadness. Some have asked why “Reason” or “Logic” wasn’t given a character.

If the film seeks to show the internal mechanics of our mind, why are emotions given characters to personify them while reason is not? We could certainly reimagine the movie  containing a Spock-like character, correcting our heroes with impenetrable logic. But I think, by and large, the movie gets our psychology right in a way that a film that put logic or reason in a more central place would not.

Part of the problem of elevating a “Reason” or “Logic” character to direct or be ignored by the personified emotions is that it greatly undervalues the affective sphere of human experience. This sort of move really reveals a very longstanding problem. “The affective sphere, and the heart at its center, has been more or less under a cloud throughout the entire course of the history of philosophy,” as Dietrich von Hildebrand reminds us. It conjures up Plato’s chariot allegory from the Phaedrus, where the intellect commands the unruly passions, either subduing them to his will or letting loose all chaos.

This sort of way of picturing our psychology seriously undervalues our affective nature. Instead of fostering a vision where each of the “characters” in our psychology work together, it offers one of complete submission to the intellect. Our affective passions become nothing more than submissive slaves or unruly brutes.

It’s clear that our goal should not be to squash the affective passions at every turn. “Time and again the Church prays in her liturgy that God may grant that we be deeply moved by the infinite love of Christ displayed in his passion and death on the cross.”(1) From its very beginning, Christianity challenged the Stoic ideal of apatheia, in which all emotions are silenced in favor of cool detachment.

Obviously, the Stoic solution would hardly work within the setup of Inside Out. Film Crit Hulk suggests a different solution, one in which reason is not an outsider that lords over our unruly emotions. Rathe, reason and logic are the level of coherence between our emotions, and analysis actually reveals our emotions instead of hiding or suppressing them.

This sort of answer goes well with the film, where each attempt to hide certain emotions is met with catastrophe, while the attempt to [rationally] come to terms with these same emotions leads to the breakthrough at the end of the film.

“The real antithesis to sentimentality is neither neutral indifference which excludes feeling, nor the cramped virility of the man who believes every feeling to be a concession to weakness and effeminacy.” von Hildebrand continues, “The real antithesis to sentimentality is the genuine feeling of a deep and noble heart, such as the contrition of David, or the deep sorrow memorialized in the liturgy of the Holy Innocents...”(2)

This “genuine feeling” is not something squashed by reason or logic or intellect, nor does it squash these things in favor of nothing but free flowing feeling. It is “rather a deep, genuine affective response, a true luminous love or holy joy.”(3) This is something perfectly in accord with our rational nature, in fact lifting our human nature to new heights. The place of the heart should not be seen as irrational, in the sense that we should simply abandon any framework that seeks a primordial opposition in our psychology, as opposed to one that embraces the whole person.

(1) Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Heart, pp. 11-12.
(2) The Heart, p. 15.
(3) The Heart, p. 15.
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