Lecture 2: Anger: Down-ranking, Weakness, Payback
Professor Martha Nussbaum (University of Chicago)

May 14, 2014, 5:00pm - 7:00pm
Magdalen College, Oxford University

Oxford
United Kingdom

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Given by Professor Martha Nussbaum (Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago)

Wednesdays, from 7th May-4th June, 5pm to 7pm at Magdalen College (Grove Auditorium), University of Oxford (map: http://goo.gl/maps/tp6VI; entrance from Longwall Street)

An abstract for the lectures follows below.  The manuscript which supports the lecture series will be made available on the Philosophy Faculty Websitehttp://www.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/lectures/john_locke_lectures/>.

Lecture 1:  Furies into Eumenides (7th May)

Anger is not just ubiquitous, it is also popular - even among philosophers.  Many people think it is impossible to care sufficiently for justice without anger at injustice.  Many also believe that it is impossible for individuals to vindicate their own self-respect adequately without anger.  These lectures will argue that anger is conceptually confused and normatively pernicious.  It is neither normatively appropriate nor productive in either the personal or the political life.  The first lecture introduces the core ideas, using as a metaphor the end of Aeschylus' Oresteia, in which goddesses of retribution are transformed into guardians of social welfare. It also introduces a sub-argument concerning forgiveness: rather than being the normatively benign alternative to anger that many people believe it to be, forgiveness (at least as standardly defined) all too often proves a covert form of anger, extracting humiliation as a condition of forgoing angry attitudes.

Lecture 2:  Anger: Down-ranking, Weakness, Payback (14th May)

This lecture (a very short form of the chapter 2 available on the website) analyzes the cognitive content of anger, starting from, but not totally agreeing with, Aristotle's definition.  With the help of an example, I argue that anger is almost always normatively flawed in one of two ways.  Either it wrongly supposes that punishing the aggressor could make good a past damage - an idea of cosmic balance with deep roots in the human psyche but nonsensical - or, in the case where the angry person focuses exclusively on offense to relative status, it may possibly make sense (a relative lowering of the offender does effect a relative raising of the victim), but the exclusive focus on status is normatively problematic.  Although anger may still be useful as a signal, a motivation, and/or a deterrent, its flaws compromise even this instrumental role.  I then discuss a concept that I call the Transition: a constructive segue from backward-looking anger to constructive thought about the future.  And I identify one species of anger that I do consider normatively unproblematic, which I call Transition-Anger.  I also discuss the connection between anger and a displaced sense of helplessness, and examine a possible role for empathy in extricating oneself from the trap of anger.

Lecture 3:  Anger in the Personal Realm (21st May)

It is commonly thought that people who have been wronged by intimates ought to be angry, because they owe it to their self-respect so to react.  This lecture (a very short form of chapter 4 on the website) contests that claim, discussing anger between intimate partners and anger between adult children and their parents (but focusing on the latter for reasons of time).  I end with a discussion of self-anger.   In all cases I pursue my sub-theme of forgiveness, arguing that generosity, and not the extraction of apologies, Is what we need.

Lecture 4: The Political Realm: Everyday Justice (28th May)

Many people think that the institutions of the legal system ought to embody the spirit of (justified) anger, and they defend a picture of criminal punishment along these lines.  In keeping with the forward-looking and constructive attitude I have defended previously, I criticized criminal law retributivism and defend a Millean (not exactly Benthamite) form of welfarism, looking at the implications of these ideas for several specific aspects of the criminal justice system (victim impact statements, shame-based penalties, juvenile justice conferencing, mercy at the sentencing phase).  I insist, however, that the ex post focus of the criminal justice system is actually a narrow part of the task of a good society in dealing with crime.  Forward-looking strategies should focus above all on education, health care, nutrition, and inclusion in the political process.  (This lecture is a short form of chapter 6 on the website.)

Lecture 5:  The Political Realm: Revolutionary Justice (4th June)

When there is great injustice, it is very tempting to think that righteous anger is the best response, and even a necessary response.  On the other hand, it is noteworthy that the three most successful revolutionary freedom movements in the past century have been conducted in a spirit of non-anger (distinct from, though sometimes joined to, non-violence): Gandhi's independence movement, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s role in the U. S. civil rights movement, and Nelson Mandela's freedom movement in South Africa. Studying the thought and practice of these three leaders, I argue that non-anger is both normatively and practically superior to anger.   (This lecture is a short form of chapter 7 from the website.)

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