This book develops the notion of a "culture of narcissism," a concept originally proposed by Christopher Lasch. The author puts forward a coherent theory of the role played by love in human attempts to grapple with the problems of finitude and the experience of the basic value of being—universal problems that are especially troublesome in a narcissistic culture such as ours. Ellis suggests that love is a way to experience the finitude of existence in a positive rather than negative way, making possible a resolution of the dilemma of finitude in a non-self-deceptive way. Love includes compassion for others in their vulnerability, and this compassion emotionally intensifies admiration, creating an inspirational appreciation of the intrinsic value of being, directly and intensely experienced as instantiated in others. Paradoxically, compassion for others’ finitude leads to a powerful positive value experience, whereas compassion for one’s own finitude (self-pity) is only negative. When this intensified value experience is then universalized, it is greatly strengthened by its derivation from individualized emotion.

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