Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Phenomenological understanding is not primarily gnostic, cognitive, intellectual, technical but rather it is pathic, that means situated, relational, embodied, enactive.


The term “pathic” derives from pathos, meaning “suffering, and also passion and disease or the quality that arouses pity or sorrow.” In a larger life context, the pathic refers to the general mood, sensibility, and felt sense of being in the world. Buytendijk draws a close relation between the pathic experience and the mood of the lived body. The pathically tuned body perceives the world in a feeling or emotive modality of being.


Heidegger used the notion of Befindlichkeit to refer to the sense that we have of ourselves in situations. Literally, Befindlichkeit means “the way one finds oneself” in the world. We have an implicit felt understanding of ourselves in situations even though it is difficult sometimes to put that understanding into words. Gendlin suggests that this kind of understanding is not cognitive in the usual sense. “It is sensed or felt, rather than thought–and it may not even be sensed or felt directly with attention.” And yet, our sense of the pathic in our own or in other people’s existence can become a topic for our phenomenological reflection. The important point for phenomenological inquiry is that cognitive insights by themselves cannot address noncognitive meaning. Thus we may need to employ noncognitive as well as cognitive methods in order to address pathic experience.


In our professional practices we may distinguish several modalities of pathic understanding: situated, relational, embodied, and enactive.