Homer’s Illiad dramatically opens with Achilles’ anger and its destructive wake: Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures…
In light of its destructive outcomes, Stoic philosophers, such as Seneca, urge us to mitigate and avoid anger. Seneca emphasizes the harm to oneself and others, comparing an angry person to a “falling rock which breaks itself to pieces upon the very thing which it crushes” (On Anger, Part 1). Martha Nussbaum emphasizes the relative superiority of other emotions (generosity and love) as responses to injustice and wrongdoing, warning of the moral pitfalls that anger might lead us to. In further considering the moral implications of anger, philosopher Agnes Callard observes that “there are two problems with anger: it is morally corrupting, and it is completely correct” (here). Myisha Cherry offers some suggestions about how to categorize and understand different kinds of anger and rage, and recommends instances where rage is not only appropriate, but also instructive and important. Please listen to this episode of Philosophy Bites where Cherry highlights some of the different internal and external implications of anger and rage (if you would prefer an alternative to listening, here is a New Yorker piece by Cherry).
As you listen, here are some questions to consider:
- What kinds of mental states are emotions, and what are they for?
Some philosophers treat emotions as ways to understand and relate to the world and our evidence about it, and further as a means to instigate actions that further our interests. In this framework emotions can be understood as appropriate and fitting (and not just predictable and inevitable given certain conditions). How does that cohere with your own experiences of emotions and the emotions of others?
- Do you think of anger and rage as something to be managed, mitigated, and avoided? What kinds of things do you think it is appropriate to be angry about? Or angry at? When has anger served you poorly? When has it served you well? How does anger help or harm humans more generally?
- Third, Myisha Cherry makes the case for importance of Lordean rage, a response to oppression that spurs productive and effective action and is rooted in community solidarity. In outlining this type of rage, she focuses on four important aspects of emotion: the target, action tendency, aims and perspectives informing the emotion. How can using this framework help us understand rage (specifically), or other emotions more generally?