A (Brief) Critique of Individual Feeling

I wanted to offer a brief reflection following an investigation of emotion on its own terms. By emotion I mean self-referential feeling, or the more comprehensive phenomenon of feeling insofar as its reference is circumscribed to the interest of a single individual. By “on its own terms” I mean that I will attempt a consideration of emotion as such, eo ipso, rather than an explanation of emotion through recourse to correlated neural activity, for instance in the way one might study music by reducing it to vibrations. A bona fide study of a butterfly* could take place neither in an Arctic winter (in which case it would be a snowflake) nor in a laboratory (in which case it would be a specimen) because a being bears not an accidental but an essential relation to its environment. In this regard, the site of an investigation of emotion must take place in the proper venue. The natural habitat of emotions can be nothing other than the waking soul in its incarnation between bodily birth and death.

Immediately evident to introspection will be that emotions do not appear ex nihilo in the soul. Quite the contrary, any given emotion is always situated in a context. More precisely, a given emotion will be presaged by one class of phenomena and succeeded by another. Contemplation reveals that the seed of a given emotion is in a preference or desire, which always intends a certain outcome. The positive or negative fulfillment of the desire’s intention determines the valence of the emotion to follow. This is a schematic description of the causal aspect of emotion. Where the causal aspect was of the nature of desire, the effectual aspect, in contrast, is of the nature of will. The genius of language reveals this aspect in the very etymological constitution of the word: emotion is ex (“out of”) + movere (“to move”). We can trace this sequence from its origin as (1) desire. The latter awaits fructification by (2) actual events. Following the union of inner and outer, the soul is then moved (3) to act accordingly. For instance, if (1) I am thirsty, I will be (2) happy if a comrade offers me a draught from his canteen, but neither happy nor unhappy if he offers me a potato, and distinctly unhappy if we receive marching orders from Uncle Joe. In the first case, I would (3) drink, in the second, likely receive the potato and save it for another occasion, and in the last case probably leave the Party.

With love to my readers,


*The butterfly is the symbol of Psyche, the Greek goddess of the soul. For an image of the soul, picture in your mind’s eye a butterfly whose wings unfold not into outer space, but into “The second space, which is within, possesseth no answers nor apologies nor tokens nor ciphers nor seals; but it possesseth only types and figures” (Pistis Sophia, Chapter 99).


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