Justifying Anger


In my last post, I extrapolated from the philosophy of Epicurus to indicate how to avoid unjustified anger and its less virulent siblings (annoyance, frustration, disappointment, etc.). Indeed, Epicurus seems to have been the first person to identify what centuries later became the seven deadly sins - one of which was anger.

Aristotle, by contrast, recognized that sometimes anger is the most appropriate reaction to what happens in your life - say, a reaction to blatant injustice. (No, Aristotle never said "moderation in everything"!) The key is differentiating between justified anger and unjustified anger.

The requirement for justification introduces considerations that philosophers call epistemic: how do you know that anger is the correct thing to feel and act on in this situation, with this person, to this extent, etc.? This is hard because it requires reflection, good judgment, the ability to formulate a true account of what's happened, awareness of the conceptual appraisals underlying your emotions, the ability to interpose thought between your immediate reactions and the actions you take, as well as long-term self-training and self-improvement in each of these activities. It's much easier to just go with your immediate feelings, isn't it? Unfortunately, that wouldn't be consistent with philosophy as a way of life.

(Cross-posted at philosopher.coach.)


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal