Stimmung and wholeness

The main principle of the hermeneutic circle is that the sum is more than its parts. From a nursing researcher’s perspective, this principle also serves as the fundamental distinction between qualitative and quantitative research.

Unlike Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger did not use the scientific findings on human psychology and physiology to illustrate even the ontic aspects of being-in-the-world; instead he relied on insights from everyday experience as well as from unsettling experiences such as Angst and, via Hölderlin, the problematic of madness (which is not discussed in Being and time). One example from psychology, which is used in an article called On the madness and charm of crushes from the website of The philosopher’s mail (founded and possibly also co-written by Alain de Botton, a popular Swiss-British “philosopher of everyday life”), talks about the ability of our brain to fill out the missing details when looking at, say, the sketch of a face instead of a true-to-life portrait. The main point of the article is to discuss the everyday phenomenon of crush: just perceiving a few attractive details of a stranger in public or in a fleeting encounter is enough for us to project our idealisation of that man or woman on to that other whom we actually know nothing about.

In phenomenological terms, crush – Schwärmerei in German – is an example of what Heidegger calls Stimmung in Being and time; and like falling in love, it is not a topic discussed in his magnum opus. Yet crush as Stimmung can throw light on the workings of the hermeneutic circle, which supposedly comes naturally to Dasein: the wholeness of another, desirable person is projected based on perception of a few physical details. Yet once we get to know this person, perhaps even after the success of starting a love affair, he or she may turn out to be someone completely different from the one that we initially imagined and fantasised about.

And yet, given that the traditional theory of truth is replaced by the phenomenology of aletheia in the hermeneutic circle, is not Stimmung the only guideline that Dasein has in order to experience “truth”, even if turns out to be something quite other than truth as we normally understand it? Aletheia is phenomenological precisely because it stops us from thinking about truth as an object that can be attained with certitude: religious or ideological dogma can never be aletheia. Coming back to crush, its imaginative or illusory quality has nothing deficient about it – as cynics and Buddhists would put it – but entails the wholeness of the truth experience. Resonating with Nietzsche, we can say that in hermeneutics, truth is appearance; for aletheia is what is shown, i.e., the essential meaning of phenomenon itself. It naturally leaves us very vulnerable, perhaps even frightened, because of this complete absence of guarantee for our needs, dreams and desires in aletheia. The projecting open of Dasein is precisely that, and the temporality of futurity (Zukünftigkeit) can only come to us under the guise of the unknown.

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