On Being Angry

Surely a person who has never been angry has to be from another plant.  Indeed, I am inclined to think that the person cannot in fact be a human being.  For at some point in life, every human being will have a very good reason to be angry.

Of course, anger can take many forms.  And it is clear that some forms of anger are completely inappropriate.  Yet, there are some inappropriate forms of anger that are surely understandable.  For example, if a parent beholds an individual killing her/his infant child, it will be perfectly understandable that the parent immediately sets out to tremendously harm—if not kill—that very individual.  In fact, many will surely think that something is quite wrong with that parent if the parent is not motivated so to behave.

Indeed, we can think of numerous instances when a lack of anger on a person’s part would suggest that the person has a serious problem.  lies been about Jones.  For example, Smith tells the lie that Jones has raped several 12-year old children.  If upon learning that Smith has told such a lie to others, Jones does not become absolutely furious with Jones, then surely it would be reasonable to suppose that Smith has a major psychological problem.  This is because raping a 12-old child is indisputably such a horrific wrong that any morally decent person would be utterly distraught that someone has falsely accused her or him of so behaving.  And it would be absolutely inexplicable if a person did not become incredibly angry precisely because she/he was the victim of such a horrific and false accusation.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, it should be noted that it is not at all a logical feature of a false accusation that anger on the part of the person falsely accused is warranted.  No, a false accusation can be so utterly ridiculous and so viewed that the wisest thing to do is simply to ignore the accusation.  For example, if Jack accused Susan of killing John F. Kennedy, clearly it would make perfectly good sense for Susan simply to ignore Jack; though, understandably, she might think it appropriate to inform others that Jack has made such a ridiculous accusation regarding her.  What is unmistakably true however, is that the accusation is so utterly ridiculous and incredulous that no one—other than an utterly warped individual—would believe the charge.  Hence, it is manifestly clear that the charge absolutely has no traction.  Accordingly, it would make more sense for Susan simply to ignore Jack’s false charge that she killed JFK—which essentially no believes—rather than to become angry with him on account of making that false charge.

Not surprisingly, I hope, a factor that plays a major role in living well is exhibiting marvelous self-command (to use the language of the great philosopher and economist Adam Smith [1723-190]) with respect to becoming angry.  Clearly, there are times when anger is absolutely justified.  Alas, a most fascinating truth is that one of the keys to living well is not to become angry when clearly doing so is not at all justified.  To be sure, that will not always be obvious.  But there can be no about: We give to ourselves a marvelous gift of life when we have considerable clarity regarding whether or not we should become angry.  That is a non-trivial aspect of living well.

© 2017 Laurence Thomas

About Laurence Thomas

Laurence Thomas is Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Department of Philosophy at Syracuse University. His most recent book is The Family and the Political Self and his most recent article in French is "Juifs et Noirs: Au-delà du Mal" in Trigano (ed.) Juifs et Noirs: du Mythe à la Réalité. Thomas has published numerous essays on the topic of friendship. The essay "The Character of Friendship" has appeared in volume on friendship, entitled Thinking About Friendship, edited by Damian Caluori and the essay "Friendship in the Shadow of Technology" has appeared in the anthology Moral and Moral Controversies edited by Steven Scalet and John Arthur. His most recent essay--entitled "Being Moral and Handling the Truth"--is about circumstances under which it is morally permissible to lie. Indeed, an example is given in Section IV of a lie being morally virtuous.
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