Process And Feeling


Susanne K. Langer’s Philosophy of Feeling:
A “Hardcore” Process Thinker —Almost Undetected

Contribution from the XVII IAPh symposium (International Association of Women in Philsophy) on Women and Philosophy in the Era of Globalization Aug. 9th-12th, at Tsinghua University Beijing, China.

In twentieth century philosophy, Susanne K. Langer (*1895; †1985) hypothesized a scandalous thought: She proposed the human capacity for feeling equal to that of reason. In 1957, she even suggested—from her position as logician and later turned aesthetic theorist—to be “scouting the possibility that rationality arises as an elaboration of feeling.

Langer was not only tackling the mind-body problem ever since Descartes divided mind from its flesh, but suggesting that mind—in continuation of Whiteheadian process thought—was a product of and dependent from nature itself. Yet (and most likely therefore) her proposition encountered strong criticism from dominating Pragmatists, who accused her of arguing in favor of a sentimentalist theory and deliberately misjudged her use of the term feeling. Langer, indeed, followed a sincere quest for the intricate processes in and outside (non+human)organisms, yet her contributions to the field of analytic philosophy—the idea of an autonomous art symbol “isomorphic” to feeling—plus her later empirical studies involving arts and sciences were more than theorizing emotions. It was an attempt to naturalize the (transcendental) mind. The scope of her ideas remained, more or less, undetected.

In continuation of process philosophy, Langer shifted music to the center of her semantic theory. As twentieth century philosophers were mainly involved looking through picture theory’s glasses, this aspect proves of a significant turn in her philosophy for current thinkers in epistemology and post-enlightenment critique. Bottom line, Susanne K. Langer assumed all knowledgeable thought to result from a matrix of events and acts that, first of all, involve feeling to become form.

This presentation proposes impulses to re-read Susanne K. Langer’s philosophical legacy and re-evaluate her endeavor in the greater quest of a philosophy of mind. Very unfortunately, this female thinker’s 'sex' stood between the correct reception of her core concept of FEELING.