Affectivity and moral experience: an extended phenomenological account

Anna Bortolan* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of this study is to explore the relationship between affectivity and moral experience from a phenomenological perspective. I will start by showing how in a phenomenologically oriented account emotions can be conceived as intentional evaluative feelings which play a role in both moral epistemology and the motivation of moral behaviour. I will then move to discuss a particular kind of affect, “existential feelings” (Ratcliffe in Journal of Consciousness Studies 12(8–10), 43–60, 2005, 2008), which has not been considered so far in the discourse on moral and affective experience. Relying on the notion of pre-intentionality through which Ratcliffe characterizes existential feelings (Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 53(6), 602–626, 2010) and on some insights into the relationship between affectivity and ethics developed by De Monticelli (2003, 2006), I suggest that key to the role played by existential feelings in moral experience is that they determine the kinds of evaluations that it is possible for us to make and the range of our possibilities of action. I then illustrate and further develop this idea through a phenomenological analysis of some forms of psychopathological experience. More specifically, by considering some experiential features of depression and borderline personality disorder, I claim that, by acquiring an existential character, emotions such as guilt, feelings of isolation, anger and shame can radically alter the structure of the individual evaluative perspective, having a deep impact on both moral judgements and behaviours.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)471-490
Number of pages20
JournalPhenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences
Issue number3
Early online date17 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

I would like to thank Matthew Ratcliffe for his comments on previous versions of this paper. An earlier version of this study was presented at the conference Moral Emotions and Intuitions in The Hague in 2011, and I am grateful for the feedback I received from the audience on that occasion. Many thanks also to the anonymous reviewers for their comments.


  • emotions
  • existential feelings
  • moral experience
  • depression
  • borderline personality disorder


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