Aug 15, 2012

Hate and Anger in Aristotle

When we come to what are often called "negative emotions" -- things like fear, jealousy, anger, hatred -- feelings, affective responses, moods -- there seems to be a strong tendency in our contemporary society, particularly when it's a matter of politics or culture -- to do three different but connected things.  One of these is to easily, even automatically, project these onto others, typically others against whom we sense ourselves as being opposed.  Another is to deny or rename them on our own parts, or failing that, to excuse them in ourselves by displacing responsibility to those other people who "started it," i.e. who provoked the reactive emotion on our own parts.  The third is to employ and invoke language or concepts of emotions and morality in careless, uncritical, simplistic ways.

A prime example of this is the indiscriminate use of the term "hate."  As of late, the Left has proven itself more effective than the Right in misusing this term and notion, extending it to their opponents, whether real, assumed, or only imagined -- but they certainly don't have a monopoly upon it.  With a few exceptions -- typically those glorying in it -- it seems most people are willing to take for granted that "hate" or "hatred" is always bad, so accusing another of it, or being accused oneself, takes on a status almost of a logical deduction.  Hate is bad.  So-and-so hates.  Thus, So-and-so is bad (and we're justified in hating them, or maybe just expressing our outrage, or disapproval, or pity, or. . . )  Aristotle said several useful things about hate -- and about the closely associated emotional dynamic of anger -- which would well be worth considering in our current cultural situation.

What is Hatred?

An excellent question to explicitly ask, isn't it, given that so many people throw the word around so offhandedly?  We are all -- unless we're totally unintegrated or have completely repressed our experience and affectivity of it -- familiar with the actual emotion of hate, because to some degree, at certain moments we've felt it, and likely have felt it directed against us.  We've seen it awaken against others.  We've heard words, perhaps spoken or shouted by ourselves, expressing, even embodying hatred.  Gestures, expressions, postures, even over time facial features likewise recognizably convey, stem from, communicate enmity.  There are courses of action, campaigns or seized opportune moments, plans and motivations, in which hatred becomes discernible.

If you want to get technical about it -- and without doing so, there's no way to adequately understand it, as opposed to relying on some vague sense or notion about it -- there's five distinguishable aspects of hatred that tend to blur together in our experiences and our diagnoses.
  • Hate is an affect:  It involves a feeling, which can become a sustained, pervasive mood.
  • Hate is for harm:  The affect does not just involve aversion, repugnance, disvaluing.  It is desire for harm to or the non-existence of the hated object.
  • Hate expresses itself in action: When one hates, possesses means, and doesn't choose otherwise, the hatred flows into attitudes, decisions, discourse, and even hostile actions.
  • Hate lasts and remains:  Genuine hate is not a fleeting, momentary condition.  Unless something changes the situation or person, hate continues, and may grow and consolidate, over the course of time.
  • Hate has its reasons:  While at some level, hate may be irrational, spontaneous, even seemingly random, as an oriented affective response, it has its reasons, its logic, its explanations.  In being carried out in action, hate also involves some practical reasoning. 
Does it make sense to speak about people as motivated by hate against a group or class of other people because they don't support social, political, or institutional changes that group desires, regards as overdue rectification granting them rights?  Can one be said to hate a person or a class of people simply for not making a deliberate effort to become involved with them?  Is poking fun at a person, or making a tasteless joke about a class of people, a sign of hatred?

Are these cases where one can legitimately talk about hatred in the same strict sense as a hard-hearted vendetta, generation-spanning violence along ethnic or religious lines, ruthless persecution directed against one's opponents, bitterness and enmity creeping into a marriage or partnership, growing over the years, expressed in withering gestures of contempt, sabotage of the other's prospects and peace?  Or are these latter kinds of examples at the core of hatred, whereas the others can be called "hatred" only in an extended, analogical, polemical sense?

Aristotle's Evaluation of Hatred

One of the most interesting -- and to many, surprising -- features of Aristotle's discussions of hatred, striking right from the start, is that he does not seem to evaluate hatred in any consistently negative way.  In fact, if the goal is to be virtuous, one will have to hate to some degree, in some cases, on certain grounds, at least certain people -- and not just classes of people, in the abstract, but also actual, real, individual people, at the level of practice and action.  Towards the end of the Politics while discussing emotions, mimesis, and music, he remarks that "virtue has to do with feeling delight, and loving and hating."

This makes sense, given that for Aristotle virtue and vice, as acquired habitual dispositions, states of character, involve more than just habits of doing the right or wrong thing in a given kind of situation, concerned with given types of actions, emotions, relationships, external goods.  Even adding to this that the habit must extend to choosing the right or wrong thing. does not go far enough.  Virtue and vice are also matters of feeling the right or wrong ways.  This doesn't go just for virtues and vices explicitly focused on emotions, those concerned with how one feels and what one does with one's anger, for example.  In order to actually be virtuous in a full sense, a person has to feel pleasure and pain in right ways -- pleasure in doing the right thing, pain in doing the wrong thing.  One ought also to feel pleasure in seeing another do the right thing -- and not just because it benefits one, but out of recognition of it as the right thing -- and likewise feel pain in witnessing another do wrong.

As Aristotle tells us in the Nicomachean and Eudemian Ethics, when it comes to emotions, it's not simply whether one feels or doesn't feel a particular emotion that makes a person good or bad -- or put another way, it's not just what emotions we feel that is morally relevant.  It is how we feel them, when we feel them, the extent to which we feel them, the reasons (or assumptions) for which we feel them.  Accordingly, you can scan through his texts, and you'll not find any condemnation of hate as intrinsically wrong or bad.  True, as an emotion, it is opposed to the emotion of love, affection, or friendliness (philia in the Rhetoric, explicitly distinguished as philesis in the Nicomachean Ethics), but, though friendship is a great good, we're not called upon to feel or be friendly towards everyone -- in fact, for Aristotle, that would denote a serious lack of practical wisdom.  And, granted, hatred is noted as one main passional cause of social discord in the Politics.  But, that doesn't mean that Aristotle changes his position there -- it's rather that he recognizes that, both for legitimate and illegitimate reasons, fissures of enmity will run through political communities.

Though he doesn't spell it out, one implication an Aristotelian can draw is that we ought to look very carefully at what hatred is and what it is not.  We ought just as much think very carefully about whether there might be occasions where hate is the proper affective response -- and not just the easy, more or less uncontroversial, cost-you-nothing limit cases like Adolph Hitler  or Osama Bin Laden (though, there are indeed people who far from hating them, love and revere them -- the one fistfight I know of my father ever getting into was a bar brawl in northern Wisconsin provoked in part by the other patrons' insistence that Hitler was quite a good guy, and his contesting that point).



What is Hate?

The only place in his works where Aristotle devotes sustained attention to analyzing hatred lies deep in the heart of the Rhetoric, fairly early on in book 2, the "treatise on emotions."  There, variously opposed emotions are paired off, since the study of one also illuminates the other.  Interestingly, hatred ends up being contrasted with two different emotions, along two different planes -- first, against friendliness, friendship, or love (philia) then against anger.

Friendship consists in wishing or intending good to another person, for the sake of that person rather than for one's own sake.  There's considerably more to Aristotle's depiction of friendship, much of it contained in the Nicomachean and Eudemian Ethics, but quite a bit as well in the Rhetoric and Politics.  What seems particularly germane here, in thinking about love and hate, are just two passages.

First, if love or friendship is a feeling or state which wishes good to another for his or her own sake -- an excellent characterization, in my view -- hatred is the opposite, wishing, desiring, willing evil upon another.  It is in a similar way, if not entirely disinterested, at least disengaged from a preoccupation with one's own interests.  It is one thing to come into conflict, and to dislike, someone through competition over needs, wants, desires -- where interests clash.  Hatred can, of course, arise out of those sorts of clash.  And one might well hate those with whom one will, by virtue of the kind of person they are, inevitably end up in conflict.  But, how can you tell if someone really hates you?  Take away those types of differences, and see whether the emotion, the intention, the attitude, the actions dissolve or not.

Second, there is complex dynamic between objects of love or friendship and objects of hate.  In characterizing the concord or similarity between friends, Aristotle notes:


Friends are those to whom the same things are good or bad, and those who are friends or enemies to the same people.
Friends are:
people who are friends with our own friends, and people who like those we like, and people who are liked by those we like.  And, those who have the same enemies, and those who hate the same people who we hate, and those who are hated by people we ourselves hate.
Why is this?
It seems as if the same things are regarded as good by those people and by us, and so they wish what is good for the other person.
An inevitability of hatred appears to be inextricably bound into social life, moral judgement and discrimination, and the existence of affective, friendly, common relations.  This highlights all the more, among other things, that naive identification of every instance of discrimination as a sign of hatred, always bad, deplorable, puts the cart before the horse.  If we must, in some sense, hate, then we had better be discriminating -- and develop good discrimination, if we don't immediately start with that sensibility -- about who we love and who we hate, how much, and why.

Hatred and Anger

Anger is connected with hatred in Aristotle's view, not least because, along with spitefulness and condemnatory talk (diabole), anger is one of the main causes of hatred.  As many other moral theorists note -- particularly after the sharpening of perspectives on love and hate brought by Christianity -- when anger is nourished, held onto, repressed, even indulged for an extended period of time, it tends to congeal and cool into the less immediate, more enduring affect of hatred. 

Once hatred has taken root -- and it may well be inherited by a person, absorbed as part of their culture and the entire network of values and assumptions accompanying it, or even assumed as the price for belonging to a particular group -- it differs from anger in not needing provocation.  We get angry, Aristotle notes, when we think someone has done something.  Although people filter their anger responses through all sorts of more general assumptions, at its root, anger is particular. The working of hatred occurs through generality, which perhaps is why it is more tenacious and dangerous than relatively straightforward anger.
If we assume a person to be of such-and-such a type, we hate that person. . . . Hatred is directed to classes of people (gene).
The examples Aristotle uses -- thieves and informers -- hardly exhaust the range of classes, types, that people -- or at least certain groups -- tend to hate, feeling and expressing hatred against them, taking action against them when possible or necessary.

If, indeed Aristotle is correct, that at the essence of hate is that what it aims at or desires for the hated other is "evil" (to kakon) or that the other "not exist," literally their non-being (to me einai), and if hatred assumes substantive form through affect, attitude, words, and actions, then it's not hard to discern hatred held, felt, expressed by all sorts of individuals and groups against other groups and the individuals regarded as belonging to them.

Anger differs from hatred in its aim.  Easily, often wrongly aroused, disturbing to witness, feel, or be the object of, anger is nevertheless more limited, more restricted than hate.  the angry person feels him or herself wronged in some manner by the person against whom they are angered, and they want the other person to feel pain, to be punished, to experience retribution, to suffer in return -- all of these are ways Aristotle describes anger's direction.  It can, of course, feed into a variety of vices, which extend, harden, intensify, or give a hair-trigger to the emotion of anger and its response in action, and these can extend or remove its natural limits, but considered on its own, anger does possess internal limits lacking to hatred.

Another interesting difference between anger and hatred, at least for Aristotle, is that there is actually more affectivity involved on the surface in anger, less exhibited in hatred.  As Aristotle mentions in the Politics, while anger and hatred tend to produce the same kind of actions -- hostile, in some way aggressive, damaging, angry people feel pain, are more empassioned, and don't really think things through.  The person who hates can be more calm, reasoned, even calculating.  They simply desire that the other -- because of who or what they are, what kind of person they have been decided to be -- not exist, or that evil befalls them.

As a post-script, I'm not going to debate at this point whether Aristotle's is an entirely adequate perspective towards negative emotions like anger and hatred.  I'll just say that it is better than just a vaguely articulated perspective selectively labeling others -- on the basis of the kind of people they are or are assumed to be -- as hateful, and therefore to be regarded and treated in a manner that from Aristotle's perspective is itself clearly a manifestation of the very hate that is decried and deplored.  I suspect that even if a "hate the sin, not the sinner" virtuous structuring of hatred might not be teased out of Aristotle's texts, it could still be teased into an Aristotelian perspective -- more conceptual work to be done later -- but I don't see anything like that going on in much of our culture's contemporary hating, even when its doers wrap themselves in the mantle of that maxim.

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