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Wednesday, 4 March 2009

the value of anger

I have written a few times before on the value of anger, so was interested to come across a recent piece in the Guardian by the philospher Julian Baggini in the Guardian which examined the role the emotion plays in our western psyches.

In it he noted the value of anger in communicating the importance of an issue and the dangers in repression of feeling to the self and the community.

To my mind he hit the nail of the head when he said the emotion was not bad in itself but that it was the appropriateness of the emotion to the situation that mattered. Not all anger expressed is wise, nor is bottling it all up. The wisdom lies is when and how it's expressed.

We have a danger of only thinking of anger in perjorative terms because it is not seen or described in our vocabulary as a positive emotion... Of course it is neither positive or negative!

He also sounded a very interesting note:

"Indeed, without emotion it seems unlikely we can even have morality. As the Scottish philosopher David Hume argued in the 18th century, intellect alone is insufficient to motivate any caring for ourselves and others. As he colourfully put it, "Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger." Cold-hearted ethics is an oxymoron."

I think it is true to a point but again it is a concept of morality that is trapped in the idea that emotion is a passion which contains no reason and that both are needed. But emotion already has reason in it. Cognitive scientists have shown emotion contains judgement and reason, so whilst the categories he starts with are in a sense wrong, his conclusion is right.

Our emotions are key to our morality, though the emotions themselves cannot be described as morally good or bad.


Linda S. Socha said...

I think as a Psychologist this is right on track and a look at the side of morality that begs for recognition of an empathy that is essential..Glad you are out there! I enjoy your writing...I think many folks have spend some time recovering from various winter ailments...glad that is almost behind us

scot in exile said...

thank you linda. bring on the Spring!