The Problem of Feelings in the Modern World
“Expel nature with a pitchfork, but every time it will return as conqueress to stealthily break through bilious aversions” (Horace, Epistles, 1.10)[1] Modern discourse has expelled nature with a pitchfork only to replace it (preemptively, given Horace’s warning) with a manageable replica.  Old nature is a mysterious arena inhabited by the echoes of ancestral Gods;[2]… The post The Problem of Feelings in the Modern World appeared first on VoegelinView.




“Expel nature with a pitchfork, but every time it will return as conqueress to stealthily break through bilious aversions” (Horace, Epistles, 1.10)[1]
Modern discourse has expelled nature with a pitchfork only to replace it (preemptively, given Horace’s warning) with a manageable replica.  Old nature is a mysterious arena inhabited by the echoes of ancestral Gods;[2] new nature is a machine in which we project myriads of all-too-human feelings.  A modern Promethean Lucifer (“carrier of light”) having robbed nature of luminous speech, nature has seemingly returned as a vortex of irrational or absurd feelings.
Classical antiquity knows of feelings, sentiments (what minds sense, or receive mentally), echoes of the divine, received by bodies pre-reflectively—echoes of biblical logos shaping darkness from within darkness, or naturally, into organisms partaking in life eternal, the life of the source of discourse, discourse’s noetic cradle.  Sense is mind’s receiving, whether physically through grasping, or philosophically (phenomenologically), by letting go.[3]
The modern Machiavellian-Cartesian teaching about sense is a conceit.  Sense is not simply the particular physical counterpart of abstract universals.  Sense is mind’s receiving by grasping (physically) and its original alternative is a phenomenological gift in which alone is sensory grasping redeemed, as in mind’s receiving without grasping, by “letting go of grasping”; receiving what it gives of itself primordially.  Mind recovering its lost self-giving or original gift is mind’s retracing the objects of grasping back to a “Big Bang” through which mind gives itself to draw darkness into itself—or to manifest order in the midst of disorder; to show being in the midst of absence; to disclose the present in the belly of the past, realm of infernal disappearance.
The great lie of our modern age involves a dichotomy between physical particular senses and mental universal concepts.  It is in the name of the former that postmodernity relativizes the latter, thereby invoking “feelings” as answer to the alienation of divinity from speech.  The absence of the divine—the obscuring of the divine’s presence—from our daily speech is supposed to be compensated by the fueling of feelings (etymologically akin to the Old Norse fálma, or “grope/grasp”), of sentiment.  The modern world comes of age in the rise of divinized feeling as terminal replacement of divine being.  The apotheosis of mental grasping obscures mind’s receiving through self-giving.  Accordingly, compulsive rage eclipses natural candor, as civility (or civilization) yields to barbarism.
The modern world comes of age in the apotheosis of that physical grasping that Buddhists of old call upādāna, in Sanskrit.  The grasping is now universalized to dethrone abstract universals, the concepts that early-modernity invokes to eclipse Platonic forms (τὰ εἴδη), which are no less particular than they are universal, as Cosmo Guastella would show relentlessly.[4] Yet, the modern appeal to the senses, to the grasping characteristic of feelings/sentiments—a grasping that we discern only in the light of a reflective return to its source—feeds into a “synthesis,” rather than supporting the self-liberation of feelings.  For modern man’s feelings, being mediated (“channeled and fueled”) by modern “concepts” (forms that are, as the Latin conceptus [from cum-capere] tells us, grasped by the mind), return volens nolens to universal abstraction.
While modern feelings seem to be liberating themselves from abstract concepts, they systematically gather within the concepts ideologically, as within formae mentis defined over and against classical, Platonic forms (the εἴδη), forms that, unlike modern concepts, are naturally immanent in sensory life (even as they are transcendently free from its shortcomings).  The providence of Platonic forms is now supposed to be replaced by a new mode of providence, namely that of abstract-symbolic forms (Lockean-like concepts) that serve a new end.  While Platonic forms are mysterious ends in themselves (being none other than res ipsae, ultimate constituents of our world), modern concepts are mental shells to be nourished by the senses with what, in classical terms, we could speak of as the dark vortex of material chaos (which is the absence of order).  Modern feelings serve modern concepts by hunting-grasping external motion into conceptual gatherings, the laws (legis) that make up a new world beyond Old Providence, or beyond any mind underpinning all possible laws.[5]  Modern feelings work necessarily with modern concepts in the interests of the rise of a new world of mechanical providence, a world of laws without legislator, a world in which order is beyond question.
In the context of the contemporary rise of a (Machiavellian) world of machines standing as purported ultimate source of authority, we tend to ignore the tight nexus between sentiment and conceptual abstraction.  Indeed, we are publicly taught that sentiment frees us from abstractions; that our feelings run against the grain of intellect, a mental platform we are invited to disparage (as pompous expression of elitist conceit), if only tacitly in the name of freedom.  Intellect is thereupon accepted only as expedient means (at best a Wittgensteinian ladder), a necessary evil used for the empowerment—a fueling—of our feelings.  In this respect, schools are usually justified as providers of intellectual tools helping us empower ourselves, which is to say, our feelings.  For in feeling, we feel free—we feel “ourselves,” until being comes to be altogether identified with feeling.
The direct result of a supposed reduction of being to empowered feeling is forgetfulness of the role of concepts in shaping the fate of our feelings, or in limiting our freedom.  While we may feel free by turning our back on conceptual abstractions, if only in the act of using them as steppingstones, the “freedom” we thereby grasp is necessarily and systematically gathered into a conceptual world in the making, a world of “norms and regulations” functioning autonomously as their own guarantor.  In this new world, both concepts and feelings serve a common ideological end, namely the establishment of technocracy as consummate, universal society in which feelings are never free from a conceptual apparatus.
In sum, today the classical world of “natural intelligible forms,” or “the world of pure intelligibility” is eclipsed after Machiavelli by a technological world produced by the collaboration of abstract concepts and feelings using our concepts to propel themselves.  The end is supposed to be self-empowerment, while the means is a rule that we may adopt to help ourselves gain empowerment as we rise into a new universal spiritual world, a world in which we are all one.  Yet, the new world order in which we are supposed to be all spiritually unified is necessarily a techno-ideological one where feelings are ubiquitously managed, nay coerced to serve as fuel for their world, which is to say, for a System of Life in which all sentiment is safely formatted, inexorably digitized, invariably conceptualized.


[1]naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret mala perrumpet furtim fastidia victrix.
[2] Compare p. 247 of my “Mastery of Nature” (in Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, 45.2 [Spring 2019]: 223-48) and the last paragraph of Leo Strauss, The City and Man.  Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1964.
[3] To admit, with Aristotle, that all knowledge (ἐπιστήμη) comes to us through the senses, is to admit that all of our letting go presupposes a grasping, and even that we let go in the act of grasping, or that we grasp naturally for the sake of letting go, for the sake of restitution.  Our life itself appears as a letting go of all that we have grasped from the moment we “fell” into our world, even as a Socratic alternative, good or innocent life would entail a letting go—a restitution qua redemption—of the totality of what all men grasp in our fallen world.
[4] See Guastella’s Saggi sulla teoria della conoscenza: Saggio secondo: Filosofia della Metafisica. Supplement B: “Immanenza delle idee platoniche” (Immanence of Platonic Ideas).  Palermo: Remo Sandron, 1905.  Already Giambattista Vico had exposed the lie of the modern “scientific” view that the universal is something other than the particular.
[5] On the plebeian origin of “laws” (legis) as harvest of “legumes,” see Giambattista Vico, Principj di Scienza Nuova (1744), “Of the Elements,” 65.

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