Emotions in Continental Philosophy

Adapted from Dreyfus and Wrathall, eds., Blackwell Companion to Phenomenology and Existentialism, Blackwell, 2006



Although the topic of emotions was long ignored in British and American analytic philosophy and psychology, it remained a rich and exciting subject in Continental Philosophy. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche celebrated the passionate life. In phenomenology Martin Heidegger, Max Scheler, Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Gabriel Marcel, and Paul Ricoeur all made major contributions. Heidegger pursued a highly original thesis concerning the vital role of moods in human life, notably angst and boredom. Jean-Paul Sartre added the tantalizing thesis that our emotions are strategies to help us cope with the difficulties in life. Max Scheler gave us the stunning expression, “the emotional a priori,” the idea that emotions are basic structures of human existence. In this essay, I want to expand on the contributions of the classic phenomenologists and existentialists and do more of what they were doing by way of an “original” project of phenomenological investigation. (This follows publication of the first two volumes of a three-part study of the emotions, Not Passion's Slave and In Defense of Sentimentality, both published by Oxford University Press.)