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

English title Feel bad, live well! The value of negative emotions for well-being
Applicant Deonna Julien Amos
Number 176364
Funding scheme Project funding
Research institution Département de Philosophie Université de Genève
Institution of higher education University of Geneva - GE
Main discipline Philosophy
Start/End 01.09.2018 - 30.09.2022
Approved amount 451'906.00
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Keywords (9)

self-understanding; virtue; virtuous agency; self-knowledge; emotions; the good life; evaluative understanding; well-being; evaluative knowledge

Lay Summary (French)

Quel est le rôle des émotions dans la vie bonne? Peut-être y contribuent-elles en vertu de leur dimension ressentie ou peut-être motivent-elles la réalisation ou la promotion d’autres valeurs. Mais est-il possible que les émotions, même les émotions négatives, aient de la valeur en elles-mêmes ?
Lay summary

Dans ce projet, nous nous proposons d’étudier la question négligée mais fondamentale du rôle des émotions dans le bonheur ou vie bonne. Nous défendons l’idée que les émotions n’ont pas uniquement de la valeur instrumentale, par exemple en vertu de leur dimension ressentie, mais qu’elles ont également de la valeur finale en vertu du fait qu’elles sont des états dirigées vers nous-même, vers les autres et vers le monde. Ceci est vrai également des émotions négatives. En exploitant les intuitions qui sous-tendent les théories principales du bonheur, nous proposons de montrer comment les différentes façons de comprendre la complexité des émotions ont des impacts spécifiques et importants sur l’idée que l’on se fait de ce qui contribue à améliorer la vie des individus. Etant entendu que les émotions constituent des formes d’évaluations de l’environnement, nous poursuivons une suggestion répandue dans la littérature selon laquelle il est nécessaire de réconcilier la perspective personnelle de l’individu concernant le genre de vie qu’il souhaite mener avec l’idée qu’il y a des contraintes objectives sur ce qui fait qu’une vie est bonne qui sont indépendantes de cette perspective.  

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 02.07.2018

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Project partner

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
104897 NCCR Affective Sciences: Emotion in Individual Behavior and Social Processes (phase I) 01.09.2005 National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCRs)
169293 Knowledge, Action, and Factive Mental States 01.12.2016 Project funding
150265 Sensing as Activity: Its Impact on the Structure of Perceptual and Emotional Experience 01.08.2014 Project funding
152883 Emotions and the Understanding of Values 01.10.2014 SNSF Professorships


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.