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Cognitive Feeling

Nigel Hoffmann (AU)


The well-established view is that feelings have no part of scientific method. Qualities like colour, taste, tone, shape and texture, as well as the living processes of growth and metamorphosis, only enter conventional scientific understanding to the extent they can be quantified. Holistic science recognises that qualities qua qualities cannot be excluded from phenomena; living beings reveal themselves through their qualities and transformations. Only a science which can think qualities and living processes can rightly be called a life science.


Feeling can participate in qualities and growth processes and bring them to life inwardly; this is cognitive feeling. Passions like desire, fear and disgust have an elemental power and typically oscillate between sympathy and antipathy. Feeling, however, has the potential to assume the exact nature of a quality or living process; this potential is essential to all artistic comprehension. Feeling can be likewise cultivated to become organs of highly differentiated scientific perception. Cognitive feeling has the character of thought but also of will to the extent that it is consciously directed toward a phenomenon. A highly conscious, cognitive feeling has the character of an inner experience; it is not abstract or merely conceptual.


This vivid inner experience is not subjective for through it we come to perceive the essential nature of a phenomenon. For example, the immediate appearance of the colour blue is not a cognitive feeling. Feeling which participates in blue will come to experience its essential aesthetic-moral nature, its gestural quality. We perceive that blue retreats into itself; it “radiates inwardly”. By contrast, yellow radiates outwardly in all directions. We can call this the gestural language of these colours. The moral nature of blue relates to its “cool” inwardness, yellow to its effusive outwardness.



Thus colours, and living beings in a much more complex way, reveal themselves as a “language of nature” which is read through cognitive feeling. Like the study of human physiognomy which reads the character of a person through outward “clues” like posture, gait and facial expression, so there is a physiognomy of natural form. As a poet Goethe was predisposed to develop a qualitative or physiognomic science.​


Further Reading:


Hoffmann, Nigel (2020): The University at the Threshold. Orientation through Goethean Science. Forest Row, UK 2020.

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