Gernot Böhme’s Sketch for a Weather Phenomenology

In: Danish Yearbook of Philosophy
Author: Sune Frølund1
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The paper explores Gernot Böhme’s attempt to transform the concept of atmosphere into an aesthetical concept of the natural environment and follows his effort to outline a phenomenology of the weather based on this aesthetics. Böhme’s original project, prompted by a growing environmental concern, was to develop new forms of knowledge of nature to counter what he considered detrimental consequences of a one-sided rationalistic-scientific view of nature. Inspired by Hermann Schmitz’s phenomenology of the body and emotional atmospheres, Böhme developed his aesthetics to be a general theory of sensation and a phenomenology of the environment. His weather phenomenology is yet only a sketch, but, in light of imminent climatic changes, it might prove a sketch worth considering.


The paper explores Gernot Böhme’s attempt to transform the concept of atmosphere into an aesthetical concept of the natural environment and follows his effort to outline a phenomenology of the weather based on this aesthetics. Böhme’s original project, prompted by a growing environmental concern, was to develop new forms of knowledge of nature to counter what he considered detrimental consequences of a one-sided rationalistic-scientific view of nature. Inspired by Hermann Schmitz’s phenomenology of the body and emotional atmospheres, Böhme developed his aesthetics to be a general theory of sensation and a phenomenology of the environment. His weather phenomenology is yet only a sketch, but, in light of imminent climatic changes, it might prove a sketch worth considering.

The Original Project: New Forms of Knowledge about Nature

In the 1970s, Gernot Böhme (born 1937) was working on a research project at the Max Planck Institute to examine life conditions in the modern technical-scientific world. In view of the threat from the nuclear build-up and with a budding environmental movement, the challenge was to develop alternatives to the traditional natural sciences, that is, new forms of knowledge about nature that would better fit a democratic development of society.1 This project was subsequently formulated as a critique of rationality’s hold on knowledge and it sought inspiration partly from Freud’s psychoanalysis2 and partly from Max Horkheimer’s and Theodor W. Adorno’s enlightenment-critical work, which describes the mastery, displacement and alienation of nature – the ‘outer’ as well as the ‘inner’ nature – as the price for the enlightenment project.3

Böhme’s best-known work from this period is probably that which he authored with his brother, Hartmut Böhme, entitled Reason and Its Other, which was originally published in 1983.4 In this work, the two brothers identified Immanuel Kant as the quintessential representative of the ‘expansion of reason’ and, through him (and others), they described the flip side of rationalism as the repression of ‘the Other.’ The book identified ‘the Other’ as nature, the human body, the imagination, and the emotions. By adapting Horkheimer and Adorno’s project “remembrance of nature within the subject,”5 Böhme widened his scope of interest to include new philosophies of the body, the imagination, and the emotions, which he regarded as nature within the subject.6

In subsequent years, Böhme attempted to connect this widened scope of interest, grounded in Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s critical theory (the Frankfurt School), with the so-called ‘new phenomenology’ of Hermann Schmitz (born 1928) – an interesting yet challenging project, given the dismissive attitude that critical theory displayed towards phenomenology. In the years 1964 to 1980, Schmitz had published his ten-volume System of Philosophy 7 a comprehensive attempt at developing a phenomenological philosophy of the subject based on bodily sensations and emotions. The main idea Böhme took from Schmitz was, roughly speaking, that the subject should not only reflect on its own cognitive skills but should also reflect on its own body and affections, since “the ‘affective involvement’ seems to belong essentially to the cogito.8

The degree to which Böhme felt ‘obligated’ by Schmitz’s phenomenology is evident from his own statements9 and is underlined by the many times he lamented the lack of attention afforded to Schmitz’s philosophy within academic philosophy in Germany at the time. In Reason and its Other, the Böhme brothers praise Schmitz’s philosophy of the body and describe as “by now unbearable” the fact that the post-structuralist discussion about “the return of the body”10 neglects what they believe to be potentially the only consistent theory about the body, i.e., Schmitz’s phenomenology of the body.11 Many years later, looking back at why he was inspired by critical theory, Gernot Böhme repeats his lament that Schmitz’s philosophy was rejected by the proponents of critical theory. Böhme traces this rejection back to Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s firm unwillingness to make real their agenda for reflecting on the very nature of the subject. In his opinion, they simply refuse to deal with the body, which, according to Böhme, is “the nature we ourselves are.”12 And, in the subsequent phase of critical theory, Adorno’s dogma of ‘total mediation’ and his rejection of phenomenologists’ discussion of ‘immediate’ experience serve as barriers to drawing fruitful inspiration from Schmitz’s thoughts about the body.13

Phenomenology of Atmospheres and Weather

Böhme himself maintained the program of critical theory – “remembrance of nature within the subject” - by developing philosophies of nature, the body, and emotions. As its first main theme, the present article addresses one of the offshoots of this work: Böhme’s attempt to develop an aesthetic form of knowledge of nature, i.e. form of knowledge that is based on sensations and feelings. The distinctive feature of this form of knowledge is that it approaches the ‘outer’ nature, which we are not, through the ‘inner’ nature, which we are, i.e. through the body.

Böhme takes up Schmitz’s theory that feelings are not mental entities but spatial atmospheres, which makes it possible for him to develop his philosophy of nature in the direction of a phenomenology of atmospheres. Such a philosophy of nature can be expected to possess a particular affinity with weather phenomena and potentially with climate, which is the second main theme of the present article.

Böhme provides us with a form of knowledge about atmospheres and weather conditions that, in some ways, comes ‘closer’ to the weather than meteorology, because it is an aesthetic-corporeal knowledge. It is not directed at individual objects or phenomena in nature but is instead a kind of affective ‘proto-perception’ that comprises the atmospheric (the climatic, the feel, the temper) in nature. The atmospheric is the first thing that we sense of nature, says Böhme, and this aesthetic knowledge is a precondition for understanding individual objects and phenomena, and ultimately for the scientific approach to these.

The discovery of fatal anthropogenic transformations of nature and climate is frequently ascribed to natural science. One of the narratives attached to our current epoch – the proposed Anthropocene epoch – is that, owing to recent advances in science, man has moved from environmental obliviousness to environmental consciousness. However, this narrative has been criticized by historians of the environment.14 It has been argued that man has observed anthropogenic modifications since antiquity but, for various reasons, these observations have never evolved into a well-established corpus of knowledge.15 In addition, such a narrative about the Anthropocene epoch implies that the solution to climate change rests with science even if science can be regarded as the very instrument of these ominous anthropogenic changes. Regardless of the precise character of the pre-scientific discovery of anthropogenic nature, there is an urgent need to develop forms of knowledge of atmosphere and weather to complement the scientific forms, and Böhme’s work on atmospheres is highly relevant to this endeavor.16

I will begin this article by outlining Hermann Schmitz’s phenomenology of body and atmosphere. I will then examine Böhme’s aesthetic transformation of Schmitz’s key concepts and discuss the ontological consequences of identifying emotions with atmospheres. Finally, I will establish a bridge from atmospheres to Böhme’s weather phenomenology.

Hermann Schmitz on Body and Atmosphere

The basis for Hermann Schmitz’s phenomenology is the notion that Western culture has developed an incorrect anthropology – one that creates obstacles to human self-perception. Since antiquity, says Schmitz, we have had to live with a dualist anthropology that views man as consisting of a publicly available body and an inner, private soul. This type of anthropology has ‘introjected’ and ‘psychologized’ emotions by confining them to the closed-off space of the soul, where they have become ‘subjective’ entities with no relation to the collective, objective reality. Following philologist Bruno Snell’s work on the origin of the spirit in Greek culture, Schmitz even identifies a before and an after for this ‘psychologistic’ anthropology.17 According to Schmitz, the motive behind this misconception of man was to bring emotions under the control of reason by liberating the human person from the movements and passions of the body.18

Schmitz judges entities such as mind and soul to be fictions and he judges feelings to be non-mental.19 He claims that feelings are atmospheres that are “poured out in space” and, from there, grip and retune humans through their bodies.20 He argues that our experiences with emotions provide comprehensive evidence for this idea, and he builds up support for it by referring to both fiction and to psychiatric and philosophical literature.

The body clearly plays a central role in Schmitz’s idea of human existence, and he offers many insightful phenomenological descriptions of embodiment. Here I outline some central features of Schmitz’s idea of the body.

The corporeal is a dynamic pulsation between a widening trend and a narrowing trend, which communicates with the surroundings into which the body immerses itself or with which the body allows itself to be imbued. Schmitz distinguishes between the ‘felt body’ (Leib) and the ‘material body’ (Körper). The material body is the somatic thing, whereas the felt body is what one feels and feels as oneself, independently of the normal senses, in particular independently of sight and touch. His definition of the felt body reads as follows:

The felt body is what one can feel of oneself (as belonging to oneself here and now) in the vicinity of one’s material body (but not necessarily in the vicinity of its boundaries, as is obvious concerning sight), but without the use of the five sense faculties (sight, hearing, touch, olfaction, gustation) or the use of the perceptive body scheme (i.e. the normal image of one’s body) which is derived from the testimony of the senses.21

As can be seen from the definition, the body is, in effect, the way we feel ourselves. It is not a thing, and the body does not constrain itself to the limits of the material body.22 The body is felt partly as affectively impacted by purely bodily feelings such as hunger, thirst, fatigue, or pain, and partly as seized by emotions such as anger, happiness, anxiety, bitterness, or pity. The body is seized by these emotions and feelings in various degrees of intensity depending on the affects in question and on which bodily dynamic these influence. The individual is not entirely at the mercy of these affects but can embrace them or try to resist them and distance itself from them.

In the context of this article, the decisive factor for Böhme’s use of Schmitz is that emotions can be interpreted as spatially extended atmospheres that have a close affinity with the climate and weather.23 Just like the weather, atmospheres cannot be delineated or pinpointed in space, and we only feel weather and atmospheres when we are exposed to these phenomena and they change our condition or mood. However, to arrive at the surrounding natural environment, Böhme stresses the epistemic dimension of Schmitz’s phenomenology of the body and theory of emotions by adding an aesthetic dimension.

Böhme: from Bodily Sensation to Aesthetic Perception of the Environment

It is evident from Schmitz’s phenomenology that human beings become aware of the characteristics of their surroundings through their own mood or attunement. According to Böhme, this is equal to saying “that one senses the environment one is in on one’s own body.”24 As such, Böhme can develop an “ecological aesthetics” on the basis of Schmitz’s theory of emotions. Böhme understands this aesthetics as a general theory of sensory experience.25

This development has two implications. The first implication is that the relationship that Schmitz argues exists between the feel of the felt body and spatial atmospheres can be described as a sensory relationship. The second implication is that the concept of sensory experience is expanded from being directed exclusively at entities in the surroundings to including emotional or affective roots, which, according to Böhme, sensation has in man’s attunement to his environments, i.e. to the atmospheres.26

According to Böhme, we sense or perceive atmospheres and the mood they put us in before we observe and identify objects or people.27 However, many theories of sensory experience overlook this, because they take their point of departure in sensory experience of objects, and they appear to take an objectifying, visual sensory experience to serve as the textbook example of sensory experience. One such example, Böhme suggests, is when sensory experience is likened to the I observing a tree. Such an example emphasizes the object character of the tree and reduces the I that sees the tree to a mere vantage point or an abstract subject-pole of the sensory experience. Reduced to this, the ‘I’ is not itself being sensed but merely serves as a prerequisite for the act of sensing.

Böhme therefore proposes looking at other examples of sensory experience. He describes a situation in which the ‘I’ is situated near a tree on a hot or rainy day. In this example, the visual observation of an object is only a minor element in the overall sensory experience or sensation of the tree’s voluminosity, its force or immensity. Rather than being seen, these properties are felt or sensed in the body without the possibility of ascribing the act of the sensing to any single faculty, e.g. sight. In other words, the example reveals a strongly emotional dimension to sensory experience.

According to Böhme, this emotional element introduces man into the equation. In this way, the human subject is not an abstract vantage point facing an object but is affectively present in the world together with everything else. Böhme argues that analyzing other examples of sensory experience would provide the same result. For example, if one examines the sensory experience of feeling pain or freezing, it would be difficult to differentiate between a subject-pole and an object-pole in the sensory experience, because what is being sensed does not manifest itself as an independent object. Moreover, the ‘I’ is not an entity that ‘owns’ the sensory experience of pain or cold. The ‘I’ is these sensory experiences. It is this identification of the ‘I’ and the sensation that forms the core of the sensory experience. From here, Böhme argues that we can differentiate a subject and an object but that this involves an act of objectification or distancing; an objectification and distancing of which we are actually capable, thanks to our ability to think. When, for example, the pain decreases or disappears, I can distance myself from it; I can separate my ‘I’ from the sensory experience and refer to this experience as ‘it’ and to myself as ‘me,’ just as I can go into detail about which senses were involved and how the pain felt. However, this distancing is only possible on the basis of an affective experience of identity, such as being at one with the pain or with the cold.

Böhme’s claim is that the example in which the I stands and observes a tree is a relatively unusual example of a sensory experience and therefore unfit to demonstrate general characteristics of sensory experience. Like many other analyses of sensory experience, the example is based on the conviction that sensory experience occurs between two distinct entities (the subject and the object). However, according to Böhme, this type of sensory experience is a derived and intellectualized type of sensory experience. He goes on to describe sensory experience before this intellectualization:

The fundamental sensory phenomenon is the atmospheric sense of presence. By virtue of being affective, the sensory experience is an experience of being present there, and it is an experience of ‘how I feel’ and ‘where I am’. From the basis of this feel, specific sensory observations, and ultimately an ‘I’-pole and observed object can be differentiated. What is sensed is primarily something atmospheric. It does not present itself as differentiated sensory qualities but can subsequently be specified to correspond to individual senses. However, the sensory experience itself will always have an affective tint, i.e. it is imminent, uplifting, oppressive, tempting, etc.28

A sensory experience that cannot be attributed to one specific sense organ or type of sensing – e.g. sight, touch or taste – can be referred to as a ‘synaesthetic sensory experience.’29 Böhme’s analysis aims to show that all sensory acts are primarily synaesthetic sensations and that the identification of contributions from the specific senses is secondary to the synaesthetic sensation or experience. The conclusion to Böhme’s analysis can therefore be expressed as follows: The basic sensory experience is a synesthetic sensation of something atmospheric.

Are There Feelings which Nobody Feels?

Having connected sensation with emotions and atmospheres, Böhme encounters problems with the ontological status Schmitz allots to emotions and atmospheres. On this point, Schmitz and Böhme disagree.

As described above, Schmitz de-mentalizes emotions and defines them as “poured out spatially, corporeally encroaching forces” or as a “rimless occupation of a surfaceless space within the sphere of what is experienced as present.”30 Schmitz seems fully aware of the controversy of his thesis, for example, when he claims, “emotions are no less objective than roads, merely more difficult to pin-point.”31 Indeed, his identification of emotions and spatial atmospheres is disputed.32 Schmitz, however, attempts to justify his claim through analyses of various experiences of emotions. Here are some of his examples.

Anger is experienced as a sort of heaviness that “strikes like lightning,” that drives you forward, and with which you allow yourself to be carried away, at least for a while, until you are able to tear yourself away from the feeling again;33 Solemn gravity is a “powerful feeling, which manifests itself in particular as an atmosphere in the form of a broad, calm and dense silence, and with an authority that prohibits obtrusive talk.”34 And joy is experienced as an “elevated atmosphere that causes the body to soar in exhilaration as if the body had wings, to jump for joy, although nothing has changed with respect to the body’s weight.”35 Furthermore, Schmitz describes the atmospheric expansion of a feeling with an example in which a group of people are embarrassed by another person’s shameless behavior. According to Schmitz, such expansion is not attributable to “emotional contagion” but is rather due to the fact that “shame is an atmosphere that radiates from its area of density, i.e. from the person who is ashamed and has been made to feel shame and out into the sphere of felt presence.”36 Schmitz believes that the atmospheric intensity decreases as one goes beyond the atmosphere’s area of density. Here, the shame still radiates but now merely as an “embarrassment which, although it does affect you, does not completely and entirely seize you.”37

Using the example of grief, Schmitz demonstrates that two emotions/atmospheres can occupy the same space and compete for power. He claims that grief has “authority as an atmosphere that fully and exclusively claims the space of experienced presence and that, with its overweight of authority, more or less suppresses the atmosphere of cheerfulness, which also enforces a rimless occupation on the space of felt presence.”38 With this example, Schmitz also seeks to refute the objection to his theory which argues that, if feelings are atmospheres in space, it is unclear how individuals can resist the grip of these feelings and, for example, stay cheerful in the company of someone who is sad. His answer to this objection is that, even though the emotion of grief dominates the space, the emotion of cheerfulness has not necessarily been entirely displaced and is therefore still able to maintain a grip on somebody.

Böhme agrees with Schmitz’s theory of emotions/atmospheres to some extent, but he disagrees with at least two points linked to the ontological status that Schmitz affords to emotions/atmospheres.39 Schmitz alleges that emotions/atmospheres can empower themselves and exist without anyone feeling them. According to Schmitz, the

morning is the time of day that provides the best example of how emotions can become independent of the affective involvement of the experiencing subject. In the dim, delicate light of the dawn there are sometimes atmospheres which have yet to, or have only vaguely begun to haunt somebody’s bodily condition; atmospheres that are leading a shy, yet strong, own-life in a type of enchanted seclusion.40

In contrast, Böhme is of the opinion that the atmospheres “can only be had in current sensory experiences”41 and that you can therefore only sense them if you expose yourself to them bodily, i.e. if you allow yourself to be involved with them affectively. This means that, phenomenologically speaking, it makes no sense to deny that emotions/atmospheres have a “subjective element to them.”42 Emotions and atmospheres have to be felt by someone. Böhme attributes to them “a peculiar intermediary status … between subject and object.”43

It is easy to follow Böhme’s criticism of Schmitz with regard to emotions, because it seems counterintuitive that emotions and feelings that nobody feels should exist. Furthermore, considering the fact that Schmitz’s theory of emotions is so closely interwoven with his phenomenology of the body, it would seem surprising or paradoxical if feelings were able to exist independently of someone to bodily feel them. It is most likely easier to accept that there are atmospheres that nobody feels. For example, it does not seem odd to talk about the atmosphere of a church or a classroom as something that remains in the room even when everyone has left – an atmosphere that is not currently being felt but that could be felt the moment somebody re-entered the room. One reason this does not seem odd could be that we know that the church or classroom was intentionally created to signal specific atmospheres. When it comes to (more) natural phenomena like the morning, a forest or a moor, it seems somewhat harder to attribute to them autonomous feelings or atmospheres. Besides, it is altogether questionable if such attribution can be performed without implicating an imagined subject that is exposed to these atmospheres, hence depriving them of their autonomy. In summary, Schmitz’s theory seems to become problematic once he identifies bodily felt emotions with atmospheres and at the same time argues that atmospheres exist independently of anyone experiencing them.

Are Atmospheres ‘Half-Entities’?

The disagreement about the ontological status of emotions and atmospheres continues in Böhme’s discussion of Schmitz’s concept, half-entity.44 Schmitz rejects the notion that emotions or atmospheres can be ‘full-things’ (which I will henceforth refer to as ‘things’). However, since they are not nothing either, Schmitz chooses to call them “half-entities.”45 There are two characteristics that separate half-entities from things: 1) they have no stable, substantial existence over time but can come and go without losing their identity, and 2) the effects of half-entities occur immediately and cannot be separated from the half-thing itself.46

Schmitz illustrates half-entities with the example of the voice, which should not be understood in a physical sense as vibrating air molecules but as an experiential phenomenon. You hear the voice of a person as one and the same voice every time you hear it, and you do not ask where the voice was in between hearing it on different occasions (which you could ask about real things that were temporarily lost). Furthermore, the voice encroaches directly on your experience, with no intermediary, and is identical to its encroachment. Schmitz also mentions the gaze and the wind as examples of half-entities (here the wind is not to be understood as moving air but as a felt or sensed quality). Other examples of half-entities are dimness, the night, cold, or chilliness.

Half-entities are obviously something between things and properties, as Böhme alleges.47 They are less stable than things and do not have the substantial permanence of things. Yet they are more stable and more independent than attributes, which depend on the things they are attributes of and can even themselves have attributes, as Böhme observes. For example, voices can be shrill or comfortable. Furthermore, half-entities have an autonomous power or force with which to affect us. However, unlike actual things, this power cannot stay latent as a potentiality that can either be realized or remain unrealized. Half-entities are pure actuality as soon as they manifest themselves (and, when they do not manifest themselves, they simply do not exist), while things are still potentiality once they manifest themselves, since they have only made a fraction of their properties present. The existence of things is very much potentiality: things are capable of much more than they present at any given time.48

The decisive difference between half-entities and things in Schmitz’s view is that half-entities are defined in relation to our bodily sensation of them, whereas things are defined as independent from our experience. However, when Schmitz then describes emotions and atmospheres as if they have their ‘own life,’ independent of our experience, he attributes them the same status as things proper. In other words, there seems to be an ambivalence or self-contradiction in Schmitz’s theory of emotions and atmospheres. Böhme believes he can avoid this ambivalence by introducing a new distinction: a distinction between “atmospheres” and “the atmospheric.”

Atmospheres vs. the Atmospheric

Before introducing Böhme’s distinction, it is worth repeating that, from the outset, Böhme’s general project was to develop new forms of knowledge of nature as an alternative to the traditional natural sciences. His “ecological aesthetics” is but one of the results of this endeavor. To qualify this aesthetics as a form of knowledge of the natural environment, Böhme is forced, somehow, to attribute a quasi-objectivistic or “thing-like” status to atmospheres. If atmospheres only exist when actually felt by someone, they lose too much independence or “otherness” to be experienced as part of the natural environment. By introducing the concept of “the atmospheric” and by differentiating between “atmosphere” and “the atmospheric,” Böhme aims to establish a sphere of half-entities which can only be accessed through bodily experience but which, unlike atmospheres, is not dependent on current experiences. In doing so, Böhme not only avoids Schmitz’s ambivalence with atmospheres but also expands Schmitz’s phenomenology from a phenomenology of subjective experience to a phenomenology of “otherness,” i.e. of environmental phenomena, some of which are natural phenomena.

Böhme illustrates this expansion with a new example of a sensed atmosphere: a mosquito that I suddenly sense is buzzing around out there in the dark as I am drifting off to sleep. The primary sensation here is the feeling of an imminent atmosphere that this buzzing emits to the room. Subsequently, I manage to register that the atmospheric feeling is a sensation of something thing-like in the room, which also has an existence independently of my experiencing it. Finally, I manage to identify the thing-like, imminent atmosphere to be produced by a definite thing, a mosquito that could potentially bite me. Böhme refuses to use Schmitz’s concept, half-entity, to describe the first stage in this analysis, which confers a genuine experience of an atmosphere. The next stage, however, is the experience of a half-entity, namely “the atmospheric” which is based on the actual experiencing of the atmosphere but is now disengaged from the subject and identified as something ‘out there’ in the room. The third stage is the experience of the thing proper that has created the atmosphere.

Böhme admits to the vagueness of his distinction between stage one and stage two, i.e. between “atmosphere” and “the atmospheric.”49 Still he insists that the sphere he identifies with the atmospheric has acquired a sufficiently stable and independent existence in relation to the experiencing subject to deserve its own term. It is a kind of object-pole that is detected by means of our senses in the subjective feeling of an atmosphere. Whereas the atmosphere is non-reducible subjective, the atmospheric is experienced with a certain detachment as ‘outside’ in the space.50

Böhme also appeals to the example of dawn to illustrate the difference between atmospheres and “the atmospheric” (which is potentially more insightful, since, unlike the mosquito, the dawn is not a thing). The dawn can be understood both as an atmosphere and as something atmospheric, depending on the approach: The dawn is something atmospheric when we can detect it is approaching, but there is also a dawn atmosphere, which I will not feel until I am at least partially engulfed by it.51

With these remarks, Böhme believes that he has achieved his goal of establishing a sphere of half-things that, unlike atmospheres, are not dependent on being currently experienced. Atmospheres are sensed on our own body, which is a piece of nature that we ourselves are, whereas “the atmospheric” is a piece of nature that we are not. Admittedly, as a half entity, the atmospheric is not actually physical nature; however, it is just as much nature as physical nature is.

Links from Atmospheres to the Weather?

Can these subtle analyses of the body’s sensory experience of atmospheres be developed into a description of a form of knowledge of phenomena that we consider natural, such as the climate and the weather? Can this form of knowledge be developed into a phenomenology of the weather, i.e. a theory about the relationship between the natural phenomenon of the weather and our equally natural (qua bodily mediated) atmospheric sensations?

Schmitz has never associated a weather phenomenology with his phenomenology of atmospheres. According to Böhme, Schmitz has no interest at all in nature. Böhme regretfully observes that, even though Schmitz has provided the necessary basis for a phenomenology of nature in terms of a phenomenology of the body, Schmitz has never touched upon the question of nature.52 The same applies to the majority of phenomenologists. According to Böhme, phenomenologists do not accept the notion of a human nature, they are not interested in how the bodily experience relates to nature, and they are not at all interested in philosophy of nature, as such. This means that phenomenologists willingly leave the entire question about nature to natural science.53

Despite his seeming disinterest in nature and the question about the naturality of atmospheres, Schmitz nonetheless addresses the weather as a natural phenomenon in a single paragraph in his work. Here, he describes how hot, humid, warm, fresh, cool, spring-like, or thundery weather may seem to excite and incite our feelings. Furthermore, he adds that the weather is “in the air and can be felt even though it is not actually a condition in our body, but one of these engulfing, total and rimless outpoured atmospheres.”54

Even though Schmitz clearly sees similarities between feelings, the climate, and the weather, he answers “no” to the question of whether “emotions and climates – both understood as phenomena - might naturally belong to the same species.”55 He refers to the fact that the person who feels the weather can better detach himself from the weather than he can detach himself from his emotions and atmospheres. The weather is something you can simply move away from, i.e. it is independent of the emotional impact it has on you. Accordingly, Schmitz never puts forward a weather phenomenology.

Curiously, however, the anthropologist Tim Ingold (born 1948) has presented an outline for a weather phenomenology. Ingold has worked with atmospheric phenomena under the title “the weather-world.” According to Ingold, this weather-world is the “meshwork” of lines and interactions between man, nature and everything else in the world.56 Ingold regrets that many anthropologists have settled with describing people’s lives as processes that take place in landscapes interpreted as empty geometrical surfaces. This results in poor descriptions, because people do not only live on the surface of the landscape but instead inhabit the entire firmament, which includes land and sky and everything in-between. In support of this perception, Ingold refers partly to anthropological studies and partly to Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. He borrows Heidegger’s and Merleau-Ponty’s concept of habitation and uses it as the activity that creates the natural environment by weaving the skies, landscape, mountains, valleys, oceans, plants and animals together into a weather-world. When we sense the weather-world, Ingold says, we do not sense it as an object but we rather sense in and through it. In this way, Ingold’s weather-world resembles Heidegger’s concept of ‘world’ as well as Böhme’s description of ‘the atmospheric’ being our primary experience of nature.57

According to Ingold, the changing weather-world changes our perceptions of the world; the visual, auditive, and haptic as well as our emotional perceptions. He seems to be paraphrasing Heidegger when he says “the weather-world is the world’s worlding” and when he emphasizes the ontological pathos of his concept by adding that “the weather-world is the very temperament of being.”58

Böhme’s Weather Phenomenology

Returning to Böhme, we find outlined elements of a weather phenomenology in a short article from 2011.59 The article starts by claiming that there is undoubtedly a certain correlation between the weather and feelings. The weather can be both depressing and uplifting, and language has several adjectives that can easily be applied to describe both the weather and emotions, such as gloomy, imminent, cool, bright, and fresh. When asked what weather actually is, most people will likely appeal to meteorological terms such as pressure, temperature, wind direction, or humidity. However, individually, these terms do not constitute the weather, because the weather is a totality or a whole that goes beyond these meteorological parameters. Furthermore, Böhme argues, if you ask people to describe the weather on a specific day, they will typically provide you with a total impression of the weather. For example, they will say that the weather is bad, gloomy, heavy, bleak, windy, spring-like, refreshing, balmy, or fine, and they will use concepts taken from the register of corporeal-sensory emotions of being in the weather or being exposed to the weather.

Böhme summarizes this by saying that the weather is something that is singular and radically regional. In other words, it is a whole that corresponds with our corporeal-sensory feelings, i.e. with aesthetic rather than with meteorological categories. Thus perceived, the weather is not actually an objective entity or an object in the sense given by natural science, despite the fact that we can specify meteorological conditions to describe what type of weather it is or could develop into.60 To support these statements, Böhme draws an analogy between the weather and the landscape. The landscape can also be perceived as an aesthetic experiential phenomenon, i.e. as a physical-sensory phenomenon, rather than as something that manifests itself as an object, although we can again specify natural scientific (geological) conditions for its manifestation and structure.

We cannot accurately capture the close relationship between the weather and emotions if we think that our adjectives for the weather are only used in a metaphorical sense when we use them to describe emotions. According to Böhme, such an interpretation of the adjectives only makes sense if we unreflectingly accept the introjection of emotions, rather than, like Schmitz, understand emotions as atmospheres present in space.61 And, even though the concept of atmospheres was originally a meteorological concept (atmós = vapour; sphaíra = ball, globe), over the last two to four centuries, the term has also denoted moods and emotions with the same flexibility and the same right. Böhme therefore believes that ‘atmosphere’ is both a concept for the weather around us and a concept for the emotional space in which we are present. Thus, because the weather and feelings are such closely related phenomena, Böhme seeks to reflect this kinship in his definition of the atmosphere as “the sphere of the felt bodily presence.”62

These comments about the weather only make sense against the backdrop of Böhme’s work on a concept of knowledge that links the experience of ‘own nature’ (the body) to the experience of ‘foreign nature’. The weather as atmosphere is both the weather as it is felt through the experiencing subject’s own body and as an atmospheric half entity that has a ‘life of its own.’ In Böhme’s analysis, it is precisely the relative independence of the weather which merits calling it a piece of ‘foreign nature’ that, with a relatively detached attitude, we can observe and detect as something ‘outer.’ And this we can do without thus implying that the weather is identical to the parameters that meteorology uses to describe it. Meteorology can tell us about individual conditions for the weather, but the weather as a whole is something we sense and feel through our bodies.

Böhme defines his weather phenomenology as the application of the theory of atmospheres on the weather, and he describes that which it has to offer as the ability to “categorise the law-governed nature relative to the bodily emotion” (157). Yet, however promising such services may sound, the weather phenomenology has currently only a limited number of findings to offer.

According to “The weather and the emotions. For a phenomenology of the weather,” the weather phenomenology covers three main topics: weather characteristics, weather events, and the description of the physical conditions for the production of atmospheres.

The weather characteristics determine the overall impression of the weather through the way in which they are sensed, and they are usually applied when describing what the weather is like (for example, it is threatening, it is clearing up). It is the synaesthetic and the “mood-like” sides of the weather that form the basis for describing these characteristics, and, according to Böhme, these characteristics can be included under the spatial aspects of the weather.

With weather events, Böhme refers to the temporal aspects of the weather. In this group, he rearranges the same phenomena as described as weather characteristics, only now in their capacity as verbs. Whereas the nouns ‘snow,’ ‘rain,’ ‘storm,’ and ‘sunshine’ apply to weather characteristics, the phrases ‘it is snowing,’ ‘it is raining,’ ‘it is storming,’ and ‘the sun is shining’ apply to weather events. Böhme explains how weather events are a kind of dramatization or condensation of weather characteristics and that weather characteristics are primarily experienced through our bodily condition or moods, while weather events are experienced in our way of life, which is obviously not separate from our bodily condition.

The final topic in Böhme’s weather phenomenology is an account of the physical conditions for the manifestation of certain weather characteristics. This is linked to the objective weather data that is also used in meteorology to determine the weather; however, Böhme interprets this data differently. Meteorology interprets this data as the factors that cause the weather and that make the weather appear to us in our sensory experience without itself manifesting, whereas weather phenomenology interprets the data as an integral part of the overall impression of the weather as it appears sensorily-corporeally to us. Agreeing with Böhme, one could say that the phenomenology reads this data aesthetically as included in the weather atmospheres, rather than as their underlying cause.63


The fragmentary character of Böhme’s weather phenomenology should not be read as a sign of its insignificance. A weather phenomenology is only one of many aspects of his ambition to advance a general aesthetics of nature. We still need, he claims, to better understand and articulate how the weather affects us. Even if the outcome of such an aesthetics is atmospheric facts with a certain ‘to-us’ character, it addresses the weather just as validly as the meteorologist. A phenomenology of the weather addresses the weather as a total phenomenon whereas the meteorologist addresses the measurable data behind the experience.

A comprehensive view of what the weather does to our general condition must be of interest for at least two reasons. The first is that, due to urbanization, the primary experience of nature for the majority of the world’s population is not the experience of natural objects such as rocks, mountains, or landscapes, but of atmospheric phenomena such as wind and weather.64 The second reason is that the increasing average temperature on Earth will change the climate and weather in the upcoming decades and centuries. This should urge us to work out and systematize the scattered knowledge of the consequences of such a change for our general wellbeing.


Böhme, G, van den Daele, W. & Krohn, W.: Experimentelle Philosophie [Experimental philosophy] (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp 1977), p. 10.


Böhme, G.: Alternativen der Wissenschaft [Alternatives to science](Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp 1980), pp. 13, 54ff.


Böhme, G. & Böhme, H.: Das Andere der Vernunft [Das Andere der Vernunft] (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp 1985), p. 20; Böhme, G.: Philosophieren mit Kant [Philosophizing with Kant](Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp 1986), pp. 233, 240.


German title: Das Andere der Vernunft”, i.e. Böhme & Böhme (1985). A chapter of this book is translated as: “The Battle of Reason with the Imagination” in Schmidt, J. (ed.): What is Enlightenment? (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), pp. 426–452. See also Freundlieb, D. & Hudson (eds.): Reason and Its Other. Rationality in Modern German Philosophy and Culture (Providence: Berg Publishers Inc., 1993).


Horkheimer, M. & Adorno, T.W.: Dialectic of Enlightenment. Philosophical Fragments [1944], transl. E. Jephcott (Stanford: Stanford University Press 2002), p. 32.


Böhme & Böhme (1985), pp. 19, 24.


Schmitz, H.: System der Philosophie (Bonn: Bouvier Verlag, 2005). Quotations from this work are furnished with the volume number (Roman numeral) and issue number, i.e.: Schmitz (2005, iii, 2).


Böhme (1986), pp. 242, 243. The ”affective involvement” is central to Schmitz’s theory of subjectivity. Only a small text of Schmitz is translated into English; cf. Schmitz, H., ­Müllan, R.O. & Slaby, J. (2011): “Emotions outside the box – the new phenomenology of feeling and corporeality,” In: Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, June 2011, Vol.10, Issue 2, pp. 241–259.


Böhme (1986), p. 242.


Here, the Böhme brothers are presumably referring to the Foucault inspiration in Kamper, D. & Wulf, Ch.: Die Wiederkehr des Körpers [The Return of the Body] (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1982).


Böhme & Böhme (1985), p. 499.


Böhme, G.: “The Concept of Body as the Nature We Ourselves Are,” The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, Vol. 24, No. 3, 2010. Böhme traces Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s rejection to a specific sentence from the Dialectic of Enlightenment that is difficult to translate into English, because there are not two concepts for the body in English as there are in German, i.e. ‘Körper’ (material body) and ‘Leib’ (felt body). The original German sentence says: “Der Körper ist nicht wieder zurückzuverwandeln in den Leib.” Unfortunately, the meaning has disappeared in the English translation: “The body cannot be turned back into the envelope of the soul” (Horkheimer & Adorno (2002), p. 194). A better translation would be: “The material body cannot be turned back into the felt body.”


Böhme, G.: Ethik leiblicher Existenz [Ethics for the bodily existence](Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 2008), pp. 140ff.


Bonneuil, C.: “The geological turn: narratives of the Anthropocene,” Hamilton, C., Bonneuil, C. & Gemenne, F. (eds.): The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis. Rethinking modernity in a new epoch (London: Routledge 2015), p. 23; Bonneuil, C. & Fressoz, J.-B.: The Shock of the Anthropocene, transl. D. Fernbach, (London: Verso 2017), pp. 72ff.


Glacken, C. J.: Traces of the Rhodian Shore. Nature and Culture in Western Thought from Ancient times to the End of the Eighteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967); cf. Frølund, S.: “Climate and Human History of Nature,” Kemp, P. & Frølund, S. (eds.): Nature in Education, (Zürich: lit Verlag, 2015), pp. 31–49.


A collection of Böhme’s essays is translated into English, cf. Böhme, G. (2017): The Aesthetics of Atmospheres, ed. Thibaud, J.-P. (New York: Routledge, 2017).


Schmitz’s allegation is that, in Homer’s Iliad, feelings and emotions are external powers that take hold on man and force him to reconcile with them. However, since Democritus and Plato, emotions have been trapped within the soul and deprived of any bearing on the surrounding world; cf. Snell, B.: The Discovery of the Mind. The Greek Origins of European Thought [1946], transl. Rosenmeyer, T.G. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1953).


Schmitz, H.: Der Gefühlsraum. System der Philosophie. Studienausgabe Bd. iii. 2 [The emotional space](Bonn: Bouvier Verlag, 2005:iii:2), p. 10.


Schmitz, H.: Leib und Gefühl. Materialien zu einer philosophischen Therapeutik [Body and emotion. Sources to a philosophical therapeutics] (Paderborn: Junfermann-Verlag, 2008), p.93; cf. Schmitz, Müllan & Slaby (2011).


Schmitz (2005:iii:2), pp. 98ff.


Schmitz, H.: Der Leib [The body] (Berlin: de Gruyther, 2011), p. 5.


Schmitz’s refusal to grant the classic senses access to the body can be interpreted as a comment on Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s concept of the body as outlined in his Phenomenology of Perception. Schmitz points out that Merleau-Ponty unreflectingly mixes his concept of ‘own body’ (corps propre) with a physiological concept of the body that can be ­perceived through objectifying sensory acts, in particular sight and touch. This ambivalence in the concept of the body suggests that Merleau-Ponty fails to consistently overcome the traditional dualistic anthropology. See Schmitz’s critical assessment of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of the body: (Schmitz 2011, pp. 162ff.).


Schmitz (2005, iii, 2), p. 98; however, it seems that Schmitz backtracks at a later point in the same work. See the section below on weather and atmospheres.


Böhme, G.: Für eine ökologische Naturästhetik [Towards an ecological aesthetics of nature](Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1989), p. 10.


Böhme, G.: Aisthetik. Vorlesungen über Ästhetik als allgemeine Wahrnehmungslehre [Aisthetics. Lectures on Aesthetics as a General Theory of Sensation] (Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2001), p. 29. Since 2001, Böhme has employed the term ‘aisthetics’ to denote his theory of sensory experience, as opposed to the term ‘aesthetics,’ commonly denoting the theory of art.


This feature of Böhme’s theory of atmospheres has attracted considerable interest from disciplines like anthropology, sociology, archaeology, architecture, urban planning, design, scenography, advertising, and art (cf. Emotion, Space and Society, Vol. 15, May 2015: Special Issue on ‘Staging atmospheres: Materiality, culture, and the texture of the in-between”).


Böhme (2017), p. 23. Schmitz seems to agree; cf. Schmitz, H.: “Anthropologie ohne Schichten” [Anthropology without layers], in: Identität Leiblichkeit Normativität [Identity Corporeality Normativity] (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1996), p. 133.


Böhme (2001), p. 42; Böhme (2017), p. 74.


Böhme (2001), pp. 43, 87ff.


Schmitz, H.: Kurze Einführung in die Neue Phänomenologie [A short introduction to the new phenomenology] (Freiburg im Breisgau: Verlag Karl Alber, 2014), p. 78; cf. Schmitz, Müllan & Slaby (2011), p. 247.


Schmitz, H.: “Entseelung der Gefühle” [De-mentalisation of the Emotions], in: Andermann, K. & Eberlein, U.: Gefühle als Atmosphären. Neue Phänomenologie und philosophische Emotionstheorie [Emotions as Atmospheres. The New Phenomenology and ­Philosophical Theory of Emotions] (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2011), p. 30.


Demmerling, C.: “Gefühle, Sprache und Intersubjektivität. Überlegungen zum Atmosphärebegriff der Neuen Phänomenologie” [Emotions, language and intersubjectivity. Reflections on the concept of atmospheres in the new phenomenology], in: Andermann & Eberlein (2011), pp. 43–55.


Schmitz (2014), p. 56.


p. 79.


p. 80.


p. 80.


p. 80.


p. 80.


Böhme (2017), p. 17.


Schmitz (2005, iii, 2), pp. 393, 363.


Böhme (2001), p. 50.


p. 52.


Böhme (2017), p. 12; Böhme (2001), p. 54. Martin Heidegger seems to have a similar perception of moods or attunements, which he links to “atmospheres”: “[…] the attunement imposes itself on everything. It is not an ’inside’ in some interiority […] but for this reason it is not at all outside either”, Heidegger, M.: The fundamental concepts of metaphysics: world, finitude, solitude, transl. McNeill, W. & Walker, N. (Bloomington: Columbia University Press, 1995), p. 66.


Böhme, G.: “The Phänomenologie von Hermann Schmitz als Phänomenologie der Natur” [The phenomenology of Hermann Schmitz as a phenomenology of nature], in: Böhme, G. & Schiemann, G.: Phänomenologie der Natur [Phenomenology of Nature] (Frankfurt a.Main: Suhrkamp, 1997), p. 142.


Schmitz (2014), p. 60. The literal translation of Schmitz’ “Halbding” is “half-thing.”


p. 60.


Böhme (1997), p. 142.


pp. 142ff. For Böhme’s ontology of things, see: Böhme, G.: “Das Ding und seine Ekstasen” [The Thing and its Ecstasies], in: Böhme, G. (2013): Atmosphäre. Essays zur neuen Ästhetik [Atmosphere. Essays on the new Aesthetics] (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 2013), pp. 225–246.


Böhme (2001), p. 59.


Böhme (1997), p. 144.


p. 145.


pp. 13, 133.


Böhme, G.: Leibsein als Aufgabe. Leibphilosophie in pragmatischer Hinsicht [Bodily being as a task. Philosophy of the body from a pragmatic point of view] (Küsterdingen: Die Graue Edition, 2003), pp. 25ff. At least Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty are exceptions to this harsh verdict.


Schmitz (2005, iii, 2), p. 361. Cf. Böhme, G.: “Das Wetter und die Gefühle. Für eine Phänomenologie des Wetters [The weather and the emotions. For a phenomenology of the weather]”, in: Andermann & Eberlein (2011), pp. 153–166.


Schmitz (2005, iii, 2), p. 362.


Ingold, T.: Being Alive. Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description (London: Routledge), pp. 126–135.


Böhme (2013), p. 260. Ingold has a single reference to an article by Böhme about atmospheres. However, the reference does not appear in the context of his deliberations on the weather-world.


Ingold (2011), p. 130.


Andermann & Eberlein (2011), pp. 153–166.


Andermann & Eberlein (2011), p. 154.


p. 155.


p. 155.


p. 166.


Böhme (2013), p. 84.

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