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.

3 thoughts on “Justifying Anger

  1. I opened the link you mentioned (I highly recommend readers take a look). This sentence stood out for me:

    “What Thoreau, the Stoics, and the Vedics essentially advocate is to be present with complete attention by, where needed, interposing the judgment of your mind between desire and deed, between impulse and action.”

    I think this is an important aspect of employing philosophy in the cultivation of happiness. It is a skill that is developed with practice and I am wondering how you might differentiate it in these two examples:

    1. The flash of anger when driving and someone cuts you off
    2. The latest hypocrisy involving a political figure

    The are very different in that the first is an immediate reaction while the second is a slow burn.


  2. Hi Eric, thanks for your note. Those are indeed quite different situations. Although I could compose a long reply, for my next post I’ve been planning to write about the power of reflection, so I’ll endeavor to finish that sooner rather than later. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

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