Martin Heidegger

Heidegger, Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, §17

Professor William Blattner

§17. Preliminary Characterization of the Phenomenon of Mood: Mood as a Fundamental Manner of Dasein, as What Gives to Dasein Constancy and Possibility. Awakening Mood as Taking Hold of Being-there as Being-there*

A person we are with is overcome by grief. Is it then just that this person has an experiential state [Erlebniszustand] that we do not have — and otherwise everything remains the same as before? Or what happens here? The person who suffers from grief shuts himself off, he becomes inaccessible, without necessarily showing us any severity. Nevertheless, we are with him as otherwise, perhaps even more often and more cooperatively. He does not change his behavior towards things and towards us. Everything is as before and yet different; it is not as if it is only different in this and that respect, but rather the way in which we are together is different, notwithstanding the sameness of what we do and what we are engaged in. But this [difference] is not an after-effect of the mood of grief that occurs in him, but rather belongs to his grief.

What does it mean to say that attuned in this way, he is inaccessible? The manner and way in which we can be with him, and he with us, is different. The grief constitutes this way (in which we are together). He takes us along with him into the manner in which he is, without our necessarily having to be grieving as well. Being-with-one-another [Das Miteinandersein], our being-there [Da-sein], is different, is disharmonious [ungestimmt].1 From close consideration of this context, which we cannot pursue any further here, the following is already apparent: mood is so little inside the soul of another person, and what is more, is so little inside our soul, that we should rather say, and do say, that mood indeed suffuses everything; it is not at all "inside" in an inwardness only to appear in the look in one's eye. However, for this reason it is also just as little outside. Where and how is mood then? Can we ask where and how this mood (grief) is? Mood is not an entity that occurs as an experience in the soul, but rather is the manner of our Dasein-with-one-another.

Or let us take other possibilities. A well-disposed person brings spirit [Stimmung] to a group. In this case does he produce in himself a psychic experience in order then to transfer it to the others, like the way infectious germs wander from one organism to others? Indeed, we do say that his spirit [Stimmung] is infectious. Or another person is in a dampened and depressed group; no one is outgoing. What do we learn from this? Moods are not epiphenomena; rather, they are the sort of thing that attunes [bestimmt] being-with-one-another in advance. It seems as if, so to speak, a mood is in each case already there, like an atmosphere, in which we are steeped and by which we are thoroughly attuned. It not only seems as if this were so, it is so. In light of all this, it is necessary to dispense with the psychology of feelings and experiences and consciousness. It is necessary to see and to say what happens here. It is apparent that moods are not things that are only occurrent, but rather they themselves are fundamental manners and ways of being, indeed of being-there, and this always immediately includes being-with-one-another. They are ways of being-there and thereby also of being away [Weg-seins].2 A mood is a way, not merely a form or a mode, but rather a manner, like a melody, which does not float above the so-called actual being occurrent of a person, but rather sets the key of this being, that is, it attunes and determines the manner of his being.

Thus, we have the positive correlate to the first negative thesis, that mood is not a an entity:3 positively, it is a fundamental manner, the fundamental wayin which Dasein is as Dasein. We also already have a response to the second negative thesis, that mood is not an inconstant, fleeting, merely subjective [element in our lives]: because mood is the original way in which every Dasein is as it is, it is not the most inconstant [element], but rather what from the ground up gives Dasein constancy [Bestand] and possibility.

From all this we must learn to understand what it means to take the so-called "moods" in the right way. It is not a matter of pitting oneself against psychology and more correctly delimiting a type of psychic experience and thereby improving psychology, but rather of opening up our view of the Dasein of people for the first time. Moods are the fundamental ways in which we find ourselves thus and so. Moods are the manner in which things are thus and so for a person. For reasons that we cannot explain yet, we certainly take this "things are thus and so for a person" as often being something irrelevant to what we intend, to what we are busy with, what is at stake for us. Indeed, this "things are thus and so for a person" is not first the effect and epiphenomenon of our thinking, acting, and suffering, but rather — crudely stated — the presupposition for them, the "medium" in which they first happen. In the same way, the most powerful moods are those that we do not at all attend to and examine even less, those moods that attune us as if there were no mood there at all, as if we were not at all attuned.

Primarily and usually we only meet up with specific moods that tend to "extremes:" joy, sadness. A faint uneasiness or a gliding contentment are already less noticeable. But that not being in any mood, in which we are neither in a bad mood nor in a good mood, seems not to be there at all and yet is there. But all the same, in this "neither-nor" we are never not attuned. But why we take not being in any mood for not being attuned at all has reasons of a wholly essential sort. If we say that a well disposed person brings spirits to a group, that only means that raised spirits or a boisterous mood is produced. It does not mean, however, that there was no attunement there beforehand. There was a not being in any mood there, which apparently is difficult to ascertain and seems to be something irrelevant, but which in no way is irrelevant. We see again that moods do not suddenly emerge in the empty space of the soul and then disappear again. Rather, Dasein as Dasein is from the ground up always already attuned. There is always only an alteration of moods.

We said preliminarily and roughly that moods are the "presupposition" and the "medium" of thinking and acting. That says as much as that they reach back more originally into our essence; in them we first meet ourselves — as a being-there.4 The essence of mood remains hidden from us, or better, distorted, precisely because the essence of mood consists not in being an epiphenomenon, but rather in leading back into the ground of Dasein. For this reason, we grasp the essence of mood primarily and usually from what primarily strikes us, namely from the extreme eruptions of mood, from what bursts open and vanishes. Because we take note of moods from their eruptions, they seem to be events among others, and we overlook the characteristic being attuned, the original thorough mood of the whole of Dasein as such.

On this basis it becomes clear that to awaken5 moods is a way to take hold of being-there with respect to the current "way" in which it is, to take hold of being-there as being-there, or better, to let being-there be the way it is or can be as being-there. Perhaps this awakening is a strange action, hardly at all perspicuous and carried out only with difficulty. If we have grasped our task, then we must stick precisely to this: that we now will no longer blindly talk about mood nor even about awakening, but rather act in the manner of this awakening as an action.6

Translation by

William Blattner

Georgetown University

* This is a translation of §17 of Heidegger's 1929/30 Freiburg lecture Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik (GBM) (Gesamtausgabe, Bd. 29-30). §17 is in the First Chapter ("The Task of Awakening a Fundamental Mood and the Indications of a Hidden Fundamental Mood of our Contemporary Dasein") of the First Part ("The Awakening of a Fundamental Mood of our Philosophizing"). It is pp. 99-103 of GBM.

1 Heidegger's word for mood is "Stimmung." Unfortunately for the task of translation, the verb "stimmen," from which "Stimmung" is derived, has many uses. It can mean to tune, as in to tune a piano. It can mean to attune or bring into accordance, as in to bring our opinions into accordance. Hence, the past participle, "ungestimmt," "unattuned," can mean disharmonious or out of step. Moreover, not only does "Stimmung" have the very general meaning of mood, but also more specific meanings, such as, spirits ("in good spirits," "in high spirits"). I will translate "Stimmung" and related words as seems appropriate to each context, but will also provide German equivalents.

2 "Weg-sein" is used to describe the way in which a person can "not be there" while participating in a discussion or listening to someone else. He discusses the notion in §16(c) of GBM: "How often do we find that we were 'not there' ['nicht da'] during a discussion in a group; how often do we find that we were absent [abwesend] without thereby having fallen asleep" (GBM, p. 95)? He notes later (p. 98) that one must be there, that is, exist as Da-sein, to "not be there" in the sense of Weg-sein. In English we have an expression for this that perfectly ties in with Heidegger’s metaphors: “being tuned out.”

3 This is the first of two theses with which Heidegger closes §16. (1) "Moods are not entities, not somethings, that somehow take place in the soul." (2) "Moods are just as little, as one says, the most inconstant and most fleeting [elements of our life]." See p. 99.

4 He does say here, "als ein Da-sein."

5 The guiding task of this part of the GBM is to "awaken the fundamental mood of our philosophizing." This is why he ends with a discussion of awakening attunement.

6 "Wenn wir unsere Aufgabe begriffen haben, dann müssen wir gerade darauf halten, daß wir jetzt nicht wieder unversehens über die Stimmung und gar über das Wecken verhandeln, sondern in der Weise dieses Weckens als Handlung handeln."

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