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SavoirFaire's avatar

Can anger ever be virtuous (see details)?

Asked by SavoirFaire (25086points) January 23rd, 2018

This is a major dispute between Aristotle and the Stoics. The Stoics say that anger always indicates a deficiency in one’s character, while Aristotle says that it would be a mark of bad character not to get angry in certain situations.

There is room in the logical space between these views for other positions, of course, but I’m mostly interested in your thoughts on the dispute between Aristotle and the Stoics. Arguments for each side are available upon request.

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25 Answers

Mariah's avatar

I’m with Aristotle on this (based on your description of the two views). When something is wrong, one should get angry and take actions to correct the situation. Though I guess one could argue that it’s also OK if you’re still taking actions but not necessarily feeling the emotion of anger.

Anger is a big driving force for change, and I think it is important in that sense.

Kardamom's avatar

I’m with Aristotle. Just look at the women’s marches. They were created out of anger. That anger is helping to force positive changes.

Rarebear's avatar

I am okay with anger as long as it is very controlled.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I’m okay with anger used to help others. I personally don’t believe the women’s marches were constructive to their cause, but I understood the anger.

“Rage — whether in reaction to social injustice, or to our leaders’ insanity, or to those who threaten or harm us — is a powerful energy that, with diligent practice, can be transformed into fierce compassion.”
― Bonnie Myotai Treace

Soubresaut's avatar

I’m not sure if this answers the question, but here’s my current perspective on anger:

I don’t think any emotion, simply for being had, is virtuous or unvirtuous. I think it’s just one of the ways we experience the world.

I think anger can give someone a strong or urgent need to act, to solve a problem. And for that impetus, it might be useful if channeled in the right way.

But anger has an instinctive/go-to problem-solving strategy—destruction—that leaves much to be desired. If something (or someone) is a problem, get it (or them) out of the way. Kick. Push. Knock down. Drive away. Kill. Be physically or socially violent until things go your way.

I imagine that’s a legacy of evolution: face problem; get angry; destroy problem. It’s a simple survival strategy, which I imagine means it’s easy enough to implement. And when it works, it stops an immediate problem from being an immediate problem. But I don’t think it’s usually the most effective strategy even when it “works,” if for no other reason than how self-centered it is at the expense of the larger context. And anyway, it’s usually insufficient for addressing/solving problems in meaningful ways, especially the problems we face daily in our lives and societies.

Basically, I look at anger itself as neutral. What’s virtuous or unvirtuous is how people choose to (and learn to) act on their anger.

Soubresaut's avatar

I think the woman’s marches are, on the whole, positive. They’ve given women the momentum, for example, to speak out about harassment and to run for office in higher numbers than previously. The one I went to last year—didn’t make it this year—was also incredibly upbeat. People were laughing. People were energized. People were channeling anger and hurt into real plans for positive change.

LostInParadise's avatar

I have discussed this with others. I take the minority view in line with the Stoics. What seems to be inseparable from anger is the immediate desire to get even. It does not mean that you will act on it, but it seems to be inseparable from anger. Our justice system considers retribution as one of the factors in meting out a punishment to a criminal. I do not see anything wrong with feeling hurt and being motivated to recover from whatever damage has been imposed. I just don’t see why this should be accompanied by a desire for revenge. From an evolutionary point of view, I can see anger as being a protective deterrent against being hurt by others, but that does not justify it.

Zaku's avatar

Pure anger is a healthy emotion – an alert reaction so something problematic – and is best allowed to be felt and expressed. Done cleanly, that’s a very healthy thing to do.

Anger starts to become a problem when it’s combined with targeting things that aren’t purely the problem, such as a person (it makes sense to be angry that a person does X, but targeting person X is at best a compromise to correct the thing X is doing that’s causing the problem).

Anger also becomes a problem when it’s converted to inappropriate blame, shame, or other forms of unnecessary attack.

Worst of all though is when a person makes their anger wrong and represses it and seals the feelings and expression inside themselves, where it builds and festers and can make the person sick and/or explode in terrible fury (often on people unrelated to the original source of the anger).

tinyfaery's avatar

Anger is a legitimate human emotion and functions like all other emotions: to incite us to act. It isn’t the emotion of anger that is the problem it is the actions taken in response to that anger. Some responses to anger are inappropriate others are very constructive. I agree with @Soubresaut on this one. And Aristotle, obviously.

Aethelwine's avatar

If I may quote Mark Twain for my thoughts on this subject.:

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

Dutchess_III's avatar

I’m with Aristotle too. Being angry is the trigger for change, like the civil rights movement. As long as it’s a reasonable and controlled anger.
It’s also useful in controlling a classroom. You get that steel in your eye and the authority in your voice and the kids know you mean business.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It’s an emotion that all animals have. It’s for protection.

funkdaddy's avatar

I was with Aristotle until I tried to think of actual examples where anger is virtuous. Everything I could come up with was either:

- actually about the next act, which could stand on it’s own and be virtuous without anger (if you’re moved to change, the change can be virtuous, but would be the same without the anger to trigger it)
– using anger as a shield from overthinking or fear (anger can help you plow through things you would normally not do, but so can intoxication)

I believe I just proved Aristotle was in favor of drinking as a virtue, but who knows. ~

So I think the Stoics might have it. Anger has to be controlled before it can be useful and seems to only damage the person as a whole by itself. Injustice doesn’t have to make you angry to make you act. You can keep your zen and still do everything you can while angry.

Maybe the other side, and the argument from Aristotle, might be that anger’s close cousin outrage seems to signal others that something is not acceptable, and that you’re aware of it. This might be why the argument is framed as “bad character in certain situations”, those situations would almost certainly be social. So socially anger can be useful on it’s own, but it would seem to replace a more complete response, maybe?

Sounds like real world Aristotle vs perfect world Stoics.

@SavoirFaire I’d love to hear the more classic arguments on each side

rojo's avatar

Is it truly anger if you do not act on it? Is there a point to anger if you do not act? Can it be called anger?
Actions prompted by anger are often impulsive and can be either positive or negative. Is impulsive action a positive character trait or does it reflect a defect in character?

Dutchess_III's avatar

If you act upon your anger in the heat of the moment, that is bad. You don’t have to feel enraged while you’re working on correcting whatever injustice. Martin L. King was full of righteous anger, as he should be, and it is what motivated him. But it was controlled.

flutherother's avatar

It’s a conflict between the rational and the emotional, which is a false choice as both play a role in life. So, I would say anger can be virtuous. The soldiers who liberated the concentration camps sometimes swore at what they discovered, but to the inmates who heard them they were holy words.

Patty_Melt's avatar

I would argue that anger is not what damages the person feeling it, rather their failure to face that anger and take action is what leaves us damaged.
Anger is a virtue, if for no other reason than to prove to ourselves that we have passion, and an ability to comprehend when a wrong has been committed. We can act with that passion as a driving force behind our actions, or store that anger with the knowledge that there is some matter which may require action in the future.
Anger does not require immediate, or any action to be beneficial. However, if action is taken, anger is indeed a good source of fuel.

MrGrimm888's avatar

Lots of great responses. I would just be rephrasing some well articulated points to cover the same territory. I can make an additional comment or so…

It is a virtue. In and of itself. One’s temper, or fuse, can be a problem. As mentioned above, anger can reduce rational thought. So. Someone who gets angry easily, may be acting irrationally frequently. Irrational thought can lead to unintended, or unwanted consequences of the irrational actions. Anger is indeed a sort of defense mechanism. Walking around angry would be like walking around with a gun… It’s overkill, and unwarranted. In most cases…

Anger can be a deterrent too. It can make someone back down from a fight. I’ve seen a momma bear make a much larger bear back down, when projecting her anger to protect her cubs. It’s a risky card to play though, as it’s like bluffing in poker. If you go all in, you better have an ace in the hole.
When I’m working as a LEO, or bouncing, I am generally stoic. Or at least I appear to be. I keep a stone face, until the situation calls for anger. I use the anger. Either to intimidate someone who might hurt/kill me, or to override my fear. I don’t want to fight five guys, but sometimes I have to. Anger gives me incredible power. I can literally feel it start coursing through my veins. It could be described as addictive. Or drug like in effect. There’s even a crash l, of sorts, after the adrenaline wears off.

Some people seem addicted to being angry. They subconsciously search for things to be angry about. These people make bad roommates…

The biggest problem is misdirected anger. I deal with that ALL THE TIME…

Someone mentioned alcohol. That can erode a person’s judgement. Making someone more likely to interpret a situation incorrectly. Leading to anger, and potentially violence.

It’s like most emotions. There’s a time, and place for it…

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
RedDeerGuy1's avatar

Yes. When defending against an animal attack.

Pandora's avatar

I think of anger as the other side of passion.
The lack of anger is indifference.
Like everything in life there must be a balance. Too much passion/ anger can blind you to finding a proper solution because it will lead to frustration.

And too much indifference can lead to sloth and most definitely a boring life. And if you are indifferent, what would motivate you to finding solutions? To learn? You just accept life as it is and just exist in it till you die.

Both are necessary to live a life with all it’s joys and pain and to learn along the way.
They are both right and both are wrong. Stoics point is correct that it is a flaw. Emotions are what make humans flaw to begin with. But its a necessary flaw. It motivates us to grow and change and evolve and protect.
So I would have to side with Aristotle as well.
But mostly I believe in the Chinese philosophy of Ying-Yang.

dabbler's avatar

Anger, like any emotion or feeling, is innocent.
What you do with the feeling makes all the difference between virtuous and… not so much.

Getting in touch with anger is an important step for anyone who has a history of suppressed emotion. But some people pat themselves on the back for being angry and believe they have finished with their thinking because they arrived at anger, while in itself anger almost never solves a problem by itself.
Anger is NOT the place to stop on your journey to empowerment, press on and use the energy of anger for action to solve the cause of the anger.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It so much depends on the context. For some people anger is their go-to emotion, and that’s a misery for everyone around them.

Judy15's avatar

I think feeling anger is fine – it’s when people manifest it in a way that leads to them taking it out on others that’s a problem or even on themselves.
Just the feeling of anger on its own is neutral (could be good or bad depending on the ACTION it leads them to take…)
It’s how a person handles this energy and feeling that’s important.
They could feel angry and then take a positive action..or..they could be totally reckless and potentially destructive.
I think an evolved person might get to the point where they experience anger only in proportion to the cause. For example, they wouldn’t get angry because of dropping something on the floor. Or even if they FELT angry, they would immediately repress that feeling because they have perspective.

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