Can Philosophy Help Us Get Beyond Anger?

Anger is an emotion that has (sadly) seemed to imbue our politics and culture.  Thankfully, claims Martha Nussbaum —  Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicagophilosophy can help guide us out of this “dark vortex.”

In this timely article, Nussbaum considers anger and its key characteristics and, further, how the struggle against anger often requires lonely & relentless self-examination in conjunction with the tireless application of reason.

“There is no emotion we ought to think harder and more clearly about than anger.” — Martha Nussbaum

She offers Nelson Mandela as a prime example of someone who did exactly this (and much, much more).  During his 27 years of imprisonment Mandela reported that had to practice a disciplined type of meditation — one inspired, in fact, by the works of Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius — to keep his personality intact and avoid the trap(s) of anger. Mandela understood, says Nussbaum, that “The payback idea is a deeply human, but fatally flawed as a way of making sense of the world.” 

“One would never have found [Mandela] proposing…to convert Hitler by charm. And of course he had been willing to use violence strategically, when non-violence failed. [After all,] Non-anger does not entail non-violence (although Gandhi thought it did). But he understood nationhood and the spirit that a new nation requires. Still, behind the strategic resort to violence was always a view of people that was Transitional, focused not on payback but on the creation of a shared future in the wake of outrageous and terrible deeds.” — Martha C. Nussbaum

Nussbaum goes on to say:

Whenever we are faced with pressing moral or political decisions, we should clear our heads, and spend some time conducting what Mandela (citing Marcus Aurelius) referred to as ‘Conversations with Myself’. When we do, I predict, the arguments proposed by anger will be clearly seen to be pathetic and weak, while the voice of generosity and forward-looking reason will be strong as well as beautiful.” — Martha C. Nussbaum

To read this article in its entirety, click here!

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