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Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame and the Law

By Martha Nussbaum

Professor of Law and Ethics in the Philosophy Department

University of Chicago

(c) Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey, 2004
Chapter 2, section IV. p. 99

Philosophical definitions of anger standardly involve the idea of a wrong done, whether to the person angered or to someone or something to whom that person ascribes importance.  Thus, the standard ancient Greek definitions reported and discussed in Seneca's On Anger are "desire to avenge a wrong," "Desire to punish one by whom one believes oneself to have been wronged," and "desire for retaliation against someone by whom one believes oneself to have been wronged beyond what is appropriate."[73]  (Aristotle's earlier account is very similar.) [74] Notice that the idea of a (believed) wrong is so important that the last Stoic definition includes it twice-over, by adding "beyond what is appropriate" to the word "wronged."  Most subsequent definitions of anger and indignation in the Western philosophical tradition follow these leads, [75] and psychology has taken a similar line.[76]

[73]  Seneca, De Ira, 1.3.3, 1.2.3b; the first is Seneca's version of the Aristotelian view, the second is Posidonius's version; the third is in Diogenes Laertius and Stobaeus: see Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta III. 395-97.

[74]  Aristotle, Rhetoric II.2.1378a31-33.  He adds that the desire is accompanied by pain, and he specifies the wrong as an inappropriate "slighting" toward oneself or one's own.

[75]  Thus Spinoza: "Indignation is hatred towards one who has injured another": Ethics III, Definition of the Emotions, 20.

[76]  See Richard Lazarus Emotion and Adaptation (1991, 217-34) defending and developing Aristotle's account of anger and showing that it is supported by recent experimental work.  See also Ortony, Clore, and Collins, (1988), defining anger as involving "disapproving of someone else's blameworthy action" (148); and Averill (1982), stressing the role of socially shaped norms in anger.