Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

The ubiquity of moods

By Matthew R. Broome and Havi Carel


Philosophy is often caricatured as one of the most disconnected and anemic academic enterprises. Yet in philosophers’ own accounts of what drew them to the problems they have sought to address they answer, typically, in two broad, passionate, ways: wonder or anxiety. As such, philosophy, and philosophers’ self-understanding of themselves and their enterprise, can serve as a way to address some of the important topics raised by Rosfort and Stanghellini. Even for philosophers, the emotional experience of moods and affects is employed in narrativity, or at least, employed when one is called to give an account of oneself. One could envisage a party conversation along these lines:\ud \ud So why did you become a philosopher?\ud \ud Well, I wanted to go to university but wasn’t interested in science or in the humanities and I’ve always been dreadful at languages.\ud \ud (Laugh) But you must like something about it as you wouldn’t have become a professor?\ud \ud You know how it is . . . you drift into things. I did well as an undergraduate, my tutor suggested I should do a PhD. Found an excellent supervisor, and got a few papers published and then a teaching post. . . .\ud \ud You must be very committed to the subject.\ud \ud Ummm—I guess so. I thought about joining the civil service after my PhD, but always managed to find work and the hours are much more flexible at universities!\ud \ud Well I think it is amazing: to think and teach about such important things.\ud \ud Do you?\ud \ud There is something slightly baffling here that may simply be part of the inherent irony and self-deprecation of some academics. The philosopher's interlocutor is asking about what philosophy means to the philosopher: why he has given his life to it. As such, she is alluding to a deeper, philosophical question that, after decades of falling out of favor, is returning to the attention of philosophers: namely, how has philosophy given your life meaning? The philosopher responds with possible irony, banality, or superficiality and invokes luck rather than meaning in his narrative. He serves as Nietzsche's feared nihilist. The account offered also seems to fail to meet normative standards, and depending on how the philosopher carries it off, this gap between expectation and reality in the conversation may generate humor.\ud \ud However, the greater likelihood is that the conversation engenders perplexity and disappointment in the interviewer. Rather like the characters in Evelyn Waugh's early novels, the philosopher is buffeted passively by life and luck and eschews agency or meaning. In Waugh's skilled hands this becomes tragic comedy; for the philosopher and his interlocutor we have disconnection and sadness. The crucial reason for this is that we need to use terms referring to moods, affects, meaning, and emotion when we offer an account of ourselves and when we try to understand ourselves. Otherwise, something is missing and the reason a person gives for their actions either look like poor reasons or not reasons at all (Bortolotti and Broome 2008). Further, agency, rationality, and self-knowledge may themselves be dependent upon reason-giving.\ud \ud In invoking moods and affects in one's narrative the practical understanding (or ‘affordances’) of the world one inhabits are laid open in clear view. Hence Aristotle's account of wonder as the stimulus for philosophy. Aristotle says: ‘For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters’ (1984, 1554). Conversely, given the experience of transcendence, of ambiguity, of finitude rather than wondrous awe, the philosopher may be motivated by anxiety (Kant's awakening from his dogmatic slumbers, Heidegger's battles with ‘Crisis’ and the flight of the gods). Either manner..

Topics: BF
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Year: 2009
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (1984). Complete Works of Aristotle, doi
  2. (2007). If you did not care, you would not notice: recognition and estrangement in psychopathology.
  3. (1973). Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics. doi
  4. (1994). Mind and World. Cambridge MA: doi

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.