Anger: Virtue or Vice

Written By Thomas Perez. October 31, 2017 at 6:05pm. Originally Written May 16, 2017. Copyright 2017.

Many are the emotional capabilities of humanity. With each emotion is the backdrop of Free Will and/or the moral responsibility of the individual to themselves and to their fellow human beings. With regard to each emotion, or virtue, man chooses a certain path, or as some would see it a pre-ordained ideological path as Nietzsche insinuates in his First Essay when critical of the free will model. This free will or preordained path with regard to Humanities emotional capabilities demonstrates a worth and a value. In them we find the virtues of; love, charity, forbearance, benevolence, gentleness, long-suffering, patience, peace, self-control and self-restraint; to name a few. However, with everything there seems to exist a polar opposite. In religion and science we have light and darkness. In religion alone, we have God and the devil. In philosophy and religion we have ethics and morality. But in every phase of human consciousness, whether it is from the religious, philosophical or scientific field of academia, emotions; like love and hate, anger and happiness, are often based upon various degrees of exegesis. Within the field of religious and philosopical interpretations regarding emotions, one emotional element stands out the most, among many; namely that which is called “anger.”
 
To this very day anger is an emotion that varies in definition. The handling of anger is also a matter of scholastic opinion. The application of anger and how one should control it varies from culture to culture. However, in the Hellenized Western civilization of society, we will find that many major figures of antiquity all had something to say about the emotional value or devalue of anger. Figures of antiquities like Homer (c. 750BCE), Aristotle (384-322BCE), Jesus (4BCE-30/33CE), Seneca (4BCE-65CE) and even St. Paul, who wrote one third of the New Testament, all had something to teach in reference to the emotional element of anger. When we compare and contrast what they said about the “Beast” inside of us, we will find similarities between Homor and Aristotle, but contrasting differences to them in Seneca, and some similarities and variations between Jesus and St. Paul with that of Aristotle.
 
In reference to the Iliad, a poem on mythical gods and legends, Homer describes the poems first line of sentence as setting the stage for the entire poem. The stage is one of anger in the midst of angry warring gods and mortal men, in particular Achilles and his anger is seen as the catalyst for the whole poem. In the poem Achilles’ campaigns of ill-tempered rage and fury is seated in arrogance and pride. Although the Iliad is based upon a myth, the poem has a certain ambiguity of consequences when it comes to the issue of anger. In the case of the half mortal and half immortal being, Achilles, who according to Homer’s myth, was the Greek hero who defeated Troy during the Trojan War, was at best a well rounded yet self indulgent individual. A hero who chose the life of fame, glory and death instead of a long happy, but ordinary life. Achilles’ weakness was his anger. For someone to be killed by an arrow, or arrows, upon the back of his heel, truly represents all that he build his foundations of conquest upon; namely Troy, his arch nemesis Hector and his beast within. Thus the term “Achilles Heel.” For Homer, the emotions of anger, rage and wrath all seem to coincide with Achilles’ actions, responsibilities and general outlook concerning the gods and their warring counsels of anger among themselves. This traditional ongoing school of thought continued for three hundred plus years or so until the Greek Philosopher Aristotle, who took the Grecian general outlook on anger a bit further.
 
Aristotle’s approach to anger is somewhat similar in the fact that he considered anger to be a virtue, stating in his ‘Nicomachean Ethics,’ “the man who is angry at the right things and with the right people, and further, as he ought, when he ought, and as long as he ought, is praised.” Aristotle also considered the emotion to be a “mean.” According to Aristotle anger is a virtue that contains excess, deficiency and mean. The mean for Aristotle is that immediate state, a balance if you will, between that which is in extreme excess or extreme deficiency. For Aristotle, anger when properly executed, must be done in the right fashion, and to the right people; people who deserve “conspicous revenge.” Aristotle also makes the claim that when anger proper is not exercised in an orderly justifiable fashion and within the realms of all human rationale, then injustices upon one another can run amok among those who would simply sit, remain passive, or turn the other cheek, as Jesus, who is called the Christ, instructs us to do. Yet when one fully examines all what He and his Apostles said, namely St. Paul, one is left wondering about the true nature and teachings on the issue of anger as valued by them and their religious movement.
 
The issue and value of anger as it pertains to Jesus and St. Paul are naturally similar. Jesus being the head and founder of the Christian movement and Paul, His subordinate, viewed anger as an emotion that needed to be expressed by way of doing that which is opposite; “walking away” or “withdrawing” as the Gospel of Matthew demonstrates. In another citation Jesus is recorded as “calmly responding” to accusations by the officials of His day. Moreover, He is also recorded as “calmly asking questions” in response to criticisms and manipulated questions. According to the church and the catechism, Jesus is considered the perfect example to follow in reference to the virtue of forgiveness. Forgiveness can be seen as the opposite of anger. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” was the cry of Jesus as the Romans nailed Him to a cross. Instead of displaying His anger at the injustice of it all He simply said a prayer of intercession for His enemies. He also said to “turn the other cheek” when persecuted, something that St. Paul also recommends to all believers in his epistles, in particular the epistles to the Corinthians and Colossians.
 
St. Peter also said as much proclaiming, “follow me as I follow Christ.” However, when we read other passages of Scripture, we begin to see an Aristotelian concept. The concept I speak of is the concept of divine anger as recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke; “depart from me ye cursed into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” It is a concept that separates “the sheep” and “the goats;” an allegory of the righteous and unrighteous, the good and the bad. Similarly, St. Paul insinuates just as much when he says in his letter to the Corinthians; “we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ; so that each one of us can receive the things done in the body whether it be good or bad.” The concept of recompense is definitely implied against all vices, and for some that includes anger; as in anger toward your brother if such an emotion is found in your heart.
 
In Christianity, the concept of Justice and recompense is contingent upon Jesus as the final authority where the scales of Justice are sentenced, exercised and passed on the great day. The great day for Christianity is when the poor, the meek, the hungry and the persecuted will receive Justice on their behalf upon their enemies. The Sermon on the Mount illustrates this by indicating “a kingdom” to come where the defeated, poor and destitute ultimately become the first. But on the same token, the elite, or aristocracy as Nietzsche insinuates, will become subdued. But while Nietzsche belittles the idea of Christianity as being a smokescreen for the aristocracy to wave their free will models against us; Jesus insinuates a Justice long over due against them. It should be noted that many believe the kingdom to be here already, this is debatable. For many, the kingdom produces what is considered a righteous anger. It is a justifiable anger, especially to those who, like according to Aristotle, deserve a “conspicuous revenge.”
 
In Christianity this revenge is often seen in apocalyptic visions. Visions where the righteous and good finally triumph over unrighteousness and the bad; as recorded in the synoptic Gospels, epistles and Revelation. In this scenario anger, as well as other negative vices, are uprooted and destroyed. It is a scenario that will probably make Aristotle smile and Seneca wonder. The precepts of Christianity is similar to Aristotle’s balance of the “mean” and Seneca’s disdain for anger; good or bad. For Seneca, one must remain passive or even hopeful.
 
This contention, or aspiration of hope, is also echoed within the writing of Seneca’s ‘On Anger.’ In his book Seneca describes anger as, “the desire to avenge a wrong.” But how does one apply it’s applications to the avenger? This is where Seneca’s dialogue on anger gets a bit awkward, while claiming in general that anger is “hideous and Wild.” Seneca also claims that while emotions like love, kindness and patience have an “alloy of peace and quiet,” anger, on the other hand when in action, spits forth rage, blood, torture and death. For Seneca, it is humanities motivating factor behind our contentious lust for war. Anger ultimately hurts us, according to Seneca. “It is a madness.” Perhaps he is referring to the the beast that is within us all.
 
With this in mind, he also compares the anger and furioucity of the animal kingdom with that of the human element. But he also maintains a sense of correction through anger proper that may be sometimes necessary with regards to punishment. But he also maintains that since anger is a crime of the mind, then it shouldn’t be right that sin, as in angers vices, should punish sin or lawlessness. Moreover, Seneca compares the argument of punishment to a weapon, in this case a sword. The sword is not possessed by the man, but rather it is the man that is being possessed by the sword itself. In this is Seneca’s direct contrast to Aristotle’s “certain passions” and pre-Socratic poets prior, namely Homer. For Seneca, it is an ugly means of which vengence or poetic Justice is accomplished. It is nothing more than the same method in which the antagonist used. In other words, no one is better than the other with reference to anger and how it should be valued, devalued or applied.
 
For Seneca each contrasting philosophy, corrective and punitive, reveals the same ends to its means; in Seneca’s case, anger. To Seneca, anger is a vice more so than anything else. While Seneca tells us to respond to anger by avoiding it and by chance seek the alternative rational decision, he never really tells us how to do it in a practical fashion. After a lengthy discussion on the topic from every questionable mind set of inquiry with much success during his day that we’re rooted in Nicomachean Ethics, Seneca in the long run provides us with little remedy. Moreover, his conclusions, if I can call it that, leave room for non-practicality.
 
Yes, many are the emotional states and characteristics of a man and woman, anger is just one of them. With respect to all the great thinkers that came before me and my generation; anger has not evolved into anything more than what was described by the great thinkers of the past like those discussed in this paper. It is also interesting to know that Seneca, Jesus and Paul were all contemporaries in the first century. Jesus and St. Paul demonstrated the bad as seen an anger as a means to demonstrate; patience, charity, love, self-restraint, contentment and other peaceful emotions. Seneca on the other hand, rather than demonstrating how to counter balance angers attacks, gave examples on what to do when confronted with anger; namely holding your own and maintaining the peace without apocalyptic vengeance and cataclysms.
 
However, when one begins to evaluate the moral valuations of anger and it’s change from Homer to the New Testament one can immediately see the “supposedly” rise, fall and resurrection of anger as a “mean” to be reckoned with but controled. In Homer, we have the poem of ‘The Iliad’ where anger is seen as heroic and dangerous when uncontrolled in the “Achilles heel” of an individual. In Aristotle, we see the justification and proper place for anger as a virtue, not a vice. In the first century this idea maintained its ideological thought in Jesus’s teachings and sermons and that of St. Paul also. Ideological sermoms and teachings that demonstrated what Seneca desired, but thought and promised a vindication to come, which probably made Aristotle smile.
 
A vendication that Seneca seems to be ambiguous about regarding the issue of Justice and how it should be applied in a civilized society. Justice is a vindication. Vindication is anger justified when a wrong is committed, but only in that order. Proper justification of anger is the moral responsibility of society to protect and serve the good, the honest and the law abiding citizen. Therefore, anger today in it’s proper “mean” when controlled by what is moral, ethically correct and right, is a good beast to hide inside and reveal. But only when needed for self preservation, protection and law. But never to be taken to the extreme without good remedial remedies.

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