Aug 31, 2012

Blogging About Anger Past and Future

One topic -- or rather, when you start looking into it, sprawling network of nodes and notes -- I've long been interested in. . . and by "long" I mean most of my life. . . is Anger.  I'll admit that my interest was much more of a predominantly practical rather than detachedly speculative nature from the very start.  As far back as I can remember, I've struggled with and been puzzled by, suffered from others' and indulged in my own states or spells of anger.  I've held grudges, been righteously indignant, choked anger down, attempted to dispel or quell it with reasoning, by acts of forgiveness -- sometimes even did feel it less-than-expectedly ebb away or immediately dissolve.  I've fought with my fists and feet -- though thankfully not for a long time -- nursed and nourished silent resentments until the moment to strike back, shouted vile things, ran off in a rage, sometimes even -- as I got to understand anger's contours and lines of force both in general and in myself -- removed myself from situations.

To employ a distinction made first (as far as I know), by the great Christian Existentialist philosopher Gabriel Marcel, for me the topic of anger as such is not a problem, but rather a mystery.
A problem is something which I meet, which I find completely before me, but which I can therefore lay siege to and reduce. But a mystery is something in which I am myself involved, and it can therefore only be thought of as a sphere where the distinction between what is in me and what is before me loses its meaning and initial validity.
A mystery is in effect a special kind of problem, a deeper one, one whose results cannot be so easily expressed in universal, objective, uncommitted terms.  Notice though that it is possible to treat aspects of anger, or for instance to carry out exegesis of texts about it, not as a mystery, but as a problem -- or even to reduce it further to simply technique -- but then, at least for someone like me, at the same time a scholar and a plain person, such a limitation would involve a restriction of scope.

For several years, I've been researching and writing a book about anger, looking at it specifically  through a composite lens provided by assembling Aristotle's scattered but not entirely unsystematic treatments of and remarks about anger and related matters.  It's slow but rewarding work, precisely because of the challenges involved -- his discussions bearing on anger being scattered all across his corpus, sometimes in surprising spots; the need to go back to the Greek to note all of the connections missed in a body of work split asunder over countless differing, extrapolating, paraphrasing translations, but then having to outline those connections again in English; an imperative to compare his reconstructed views with those of other great thinkers as well as with our common everyday experience -- following Aristotle's own dictum that "we must love our friends, but truth even more."

There's little call for me to write much about a book still in the process of being written.  I will say just this, though, that I found myself attracted to Aristotle's account of anger particularly because of its richness and complexity on the one hand -- I like to think of him as essentially carrying out a phenomenology of moral life -- and because of his clear realization that at its essence anger is connected with our sense of justice and injustice.  This is an insight pregnant with many implications, a few of which I've explored in various papers on Aristotle (one on forgiveness, another on punishment, another one on social discord, and still another on rule of law), but in recent years exploration of anger -- not only in Aristotle's thought but in those of other philosophers and theologians as well -- has become a recurring and seemingly inexhaustible theme in my blogging, primarily on Orexis Dianoētikē.

I've decided its about time for me to return to that theme again, not least by making good on a promise so long ago to write a followup post to my first one on Epictetus on Anger (part 1).  Over time I've gradually become much more disciplined and organized in my blog-writing, and what you can expect to see coming up in Orexis Dianoētikē in the next few months are many more posts exploring how anger is treated by Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and even a few moderns -- I've got in mind Thomas Hobbes and Rene Descartes so far.  I'll also be blogging about anger more topically as occasions arise here in Virtue Ethics Digest.

So, for the time being, I'd like to highlight some of the posts I've written about anger.  Read them -- or I'll be smoke-coming-out-the-ears mad!  Here's the posts about specific thinkers and their views on anger:
I also penned a few other pieces along the way:  Ethics of Anger and Rejection, Anger, and Productive Responses

I'd also be particularly interested in hearing from readers what specifically -- and why -- they're interested in reading about, thinking about, and discussing when it comes to anger.  It's always interesting, often useful, and frequently enlightening, to find out -- especially when it comes to emotions and desires -- how other people experience and envision what we all too easily assume to be the same phenomenon.

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