Session 10: The Philosophy of Anger – Revisited

Guest speaker: Farhad Taraz (Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy, Cornell University)

NOVEMBER 17th, 2022 


There has been a resurgence of interest in anger in philosophy. Deemed for centuries to be deadly, sinful, morally wrong, and practically problematic, anger was classified as a negative emotion: something that we should do our best to get rid of. Some contemporary philosophers, however, are having second thoughts about this classification. Among the reasons for this reassessment are: the preeminence of the Strawsonian framework in ethics and moral psychology, the demand for justification for the righteous anger of the recent feminist and racial equity movements, and the abundance of empirical data showing that anger is not as destructive and harmful as we once thought. To reject the dismissive view of anger, and to reconcile the contradictory intuitions about it, philosophers have offered taxonomies of anger. My aim in this paper is to evaluate three prominent taxonomies offered by Nussbaum, Shoemaker, and Cherry. After showing why these taxonomies fail to adequately address the normative question about anger, I will offer my own version. Finally, I will revisit the normative question.

Suggested reading before the meeting 

Meeting report

It is tempting to think of anger as a negative emotion. After all, anger seems to be the cause of much harm, and perhaps that is why we are preached to avoid it. But many moral psychologists think otherwise: not all cases of anger are bad. Farhad discussed how the influential philosophers Martha Nussbaum, David Shoemaker, and Myisha Cherry have tried to individuate the good type of anger from the bad type. After showing the shortcomings of their views, Farhad called for a new taxonomy of anger as a basis of our inquiry about the moral status of anger. In Farhad’s view, anger is a result of value violation. He identified three kinds of value violation and so three kinds of anger. Farhad argued that his taxonomy has the features that the literature expects to find in an apt descriptive account of anger. He then illuminated the three kinds of anger identified by his taxonomy by providing tangible examples.

In the Q&A section, Farhad was asked to clarify whether his account of anger is descriptive, normative, or both. Farhad explained that his account is a descriptive one as it only helps us to understand what kinds of anger are out there, not what type is good or bad. He said that developing the normative dimension of his account remains a task for the future. The audience also raised a question on whether there is any substantial link between one’s linguistic-conceptual resources and one’s anger. Farhad argued that these resources contribute to one’s mode of expression of anger, not its presence or absence.

Farhad is a passionate philosopher with an exceptional ability to present his sophisticated ideas in simple terms. It is hard to understand how his account of anger could be useful to understand his own character, as he seemed to be the kind of person that can never get angry! But it is not hard to understand the significance of his works for having a better understanding of our social world, which can be the basis for improving it in the right way. We already miss his warm presence and humility, and we cannot wait to see him back at the Fly-Bottle!