Dancing with the Devil: Why Bad Feelings Make Life Good

New York: Oxford University Press (2024)
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Negative emotions like anger, spite, contempt, and envy are widely seen as obstacles to a good life. They are like the weeds in a garden that need to be pulled up before they choke out the nice plants. This book argues that bad feelings aren't the weeds; they are the worms. Many people are squeamish about them and would prefer to pretend they aren't there, but the presence of worms mean the garden it thriving. I draw on insights from the history of philosophy to show what we've gotten wrong about bad feelings and to see how we can live better with them. The first half of the book argues that there is nothing wrong with negative emotions and that their bad reputation is undeserved. Philosophers have long argued that our emotions are part of how we value things and bad feelings are not different. Negative emotions are expressions of self-love-not egoism or selfishness, but the felt attachment to ourselves and our lives. We feel negative emotions because our lives matter to us. The second half of the book takes a detailed look at individual bad feelings: anger, envy and jealousy, spite and Schadenfreude, and contempt. I show how all our negative emotions are valuable parts of our attachment to our lives. We don't have to battle negative emotions or "channel" them into something productive. Bad feelings aren't obstacles to a good life; they are part of what makes life meaningful.



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Krista Thomason
Swarthmore College

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References found in this work

Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny.Kate Manne - 2017 - Oxford University Press.
Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy.Bernard Williams - 1985 - Cambridge, Mass.: Routledge.
The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory.Marilyn Frye - 1983 - Trumansburg, NY: The Crossing Press.

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