Tag Archives: emotions

The Obituary of Albert Ellis

(originally published in the Obituary Section of The Guardian on August 10, 2007)

Albert Ellis (1913-2007)

Shyness was among the many problems successfully treated by the American psychotherapist Albert Ellis, who has died aged 93. But it was not an affliction that it was wise to bring along to his legendary Friday night workshops, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side: there, patients were hauled up on stage in front of an audience of hundreds, to be rigorously cross-questioned by Ellis, usually with plenty of swearing. “Let me tell you why people are always making you so angry,” he informed a troubled young woman, one warm evening in 2005. “Because they’re screwed up! They’re out of their fucking minds! We’re all out of our fucking minds!”

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A Brief Survey of Step Four

Step 4:  Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

In the essay, On Human Nature, three basic human instincts — the survival instinct, the social instinct, and the happiness instinct — are described as the foundation of all cognition, behavior and emotion.  Though the means by which we endeavor to satisfy these innate end objectives vary greatly by individual and by society, the most common manifestations thereof were first noted by the renowned psychologist, Andrew Maslow.  In a 1943 article entitled A Theory of Human Motivation, Maslow proposed a universal hierarchy of instrumental needs which exist as means to satisfy instinctual end objectives.

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On Human Nature

Discourse on human nature tends to focus on those natural characteristics which appear to distinguish humans from other forms of life. The general theme is usually anthropocentric and goes something like “that which makes us different is that which defines our humanity.”  While comparing differences is informative in some contexts, it is an exercise that is too often undertaken as a means to demonstrate a special, preordained standing in nature for mankind and moral supremacy.  In fact, the essence of human nature is not that which sets us apart from or above other forms of life, but those characteristics which we share in a common evolutionary history.

It is along this continuum that core human operational modules — such as survival, socialization, and the pursuit of happiness — have developed by natural selection.  Thus, it is from the broad perspective of unity and inclusion that human nature is best described and from which an understanding of morality may be gained.

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