Experiences of Depression, Existential Feelings, and Existential Change
Devin Fitzpatrick

November 17, 2023, 3:30pm - 5:00pm
Philosophy Department, Lewis & Clark College

John R. Howard Hall, Room 202
615 S Palatine Hill Rd.
United States

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November 17, 2023 3:30 - 5:00p PST


Some feelings seem to color everything. While an emotion like fear is typically “intentional” or directed, being a fear of something, feelings like anxiety or dread are characterized by the vagueness of their object and by the way they pervade consciousness, potentially making any object appear as a threat. Matthew Ratcliffe defines these pervasive feelings as “existential feelings,” senses of possibility like “feeling alive” or “feeling deadened,” and argues that these feelings are “pre-intentional,” conditions of the possibility of the scope and valence of intentional states like beliefs or desires. Change in existential feelings, or “existential change,” may thus have sweeping effects upon a subject’s mental states. The category of the pre-intentional seems promising in accounting for experiences of depression. However, there remains a question of “bi-directionality”: how or if intentional states might affect the pre-intentional, such that changes in, say, beliefs might affect the possibility of existential change. I propose the introduction of a feeling-disposition distinction: existential feelings are not pre-intentional structures but ways of becoming aware of the “existential dispositions” that are pre-intentional structures. I then argue that existential dispositions, and the pre-intentional generally, are a category of states that are introspectively opaque and so ambiguous between being an intentional state, like a “quasibelief,” or non-intentional state, like a reflex. I will show that this redefinition clarifies how beliefs about what one’s experiences of depression signify may induce existential change that alleviates the suffering of these experiences.

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