3

Destructive Emotions —
a Western Perspective

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Western psychology and philosophy offer a wide range of views on the role of emotion in making a good life. Here are a few relevant views:

  • Secular moral philosophy focuses on democracy and reason.
  • Religious moral philosophy speaks of the destructive nature of some emotions and the improvement of human qualities through religious practice.
  • Science sees emotions as having a physiological basis, and this raises further questions as to human nature and the possibility of pacifying destructive emotions.

In the West, we see morality is essential for the functioning of society, and emotions play an important role in defining what is moral and what is not. Working with emotions is thus seen as important for social interaction.

We'll see in the next lesson that this is an important distinction between Western and Buddhist views of emotions. Westerners tend not to focus on having a harmonious inner emotional life but rather on self-esteem and self-accomplishment as positive emotions.

Why do we start an exploration of destructive emotions with a discussion of views on morality? We do so because our views on human nature — what are we really like deep down inside — profoundly affects our view of what is destructive as well as where to focus one's efforts to overcome destructive emotions

To explore what is and is not destructive we must also look at what we believe makes a good person and  whether we believe there is a goal that all humans seek.