Current Specific Research Projects

Feel bad, live well! The value of negative emotions for well-being

Pr. Julien Deonna, Pr. Fabrice Teroni - FNS encouragement de projets

What exactly is the role that emotions play in an individual’s leading of a good life? Perhaps they contribute to her well-being through the way they feel, or perhaps they motivate action towards achieving other prudential value. But is it possible that emotions themselves, even negative ones, have final value of their own? In this project, we propose to investigate the understudied yet fundamental role of emotions in well-being. We defend the bold claim that emotions not only have instrumental value or value through the way they feel, they also have final prudential value because of their nature as world- and self-oriented intentional states. This is true, we claim, even of negative emotions.


We will deliver a thorough theoretical analysis of how understanding the complexity of emotion can impact conceptions of what makes a life go well for the person living it, exploiting the core intuitions governing different dominant approaches to happiness and well-being. To do so, we will draw on two insights from current – and, in particular, our – research on emotions as the basis of our investigation:


1)            Emotions are, to varying degrees, world-oriented intentional states, and as such they can constitute forms of evaluative knowledge, evaluative understanding, and virtue.

2)            Emotions are, to varying degrees, self-oriented intentional states, and as such they can constitute forms of self-knowledge, self-understanding, and virtuous agency.


Against the backdrop of the growing consensus that emotions are forms of evaluation, we will pursue a prevalent trend in the literature on well-being: reconciling the role of the subject’s own perspective on the kind of life she wants to pursue with the thought that there are constraints to what is worthy of pursuit independently of this perspective. In order to inform our analysis, we will conduct case studies on two negative emotions, anger and guilt, chosen to illustrate how the world-oriented and self-oriented aspects of emotions, respectively, can impact well-being. Through these in-depth case studies, we hope to provide solid examples for the claim that negative emotions can indeed have final value for well-being.


Finally, drawing together the theoretical analysis and the case studies, we will put forward an informed conception of the role that emotions play in what is a good life for the individual living it. Our project thus addresses the real need for a revised theory of well-being that takes into account recent advances in emotion research, and in particular the claims that emotions have an intricate connection to knowledge, understanding, virtue, and virtuous agency.


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