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THE SOCIAL LIFE OF ANGER

AGNES CALLARD DECONSTRUCTS arguments about the “dark side” of anger as a social emotion. While she agrees with critics that anger can motivate grudge-holding and punishment, she shifts the conversation by suggesting these are moral features of anger, not bugs. Some philosophers suggest anger’s perseverance and link to vengeance mean anger should be dismissed as a moral guide, unless it can be somehow “purified.” Callard suggests this may not be possible, or even morally desirable.

We agree with much of Callard’s argument, which echoes ongoing debates in psychology about the dark sides of emotions such as outrage. Outrage—anger at moral transgressions—has been criticized for seeming to foster viral mob behavior online. Yet as Callard notes, anger can provide useful information about the world. Many scholars in affective science would agree that emotions can be rational guides. Indeed, we have argued against the tendency to vilify emotions such as outrage and empathy, because such interpretations overlook important social functions of these emotions. Focusing on anger’s “impurities” may be the wrong approach. Instead, we might ask, why do people choose to engage with their anger or not?

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About Boston Review

Anger looms large in our public lives. Should it? Reflecting on two millennia of debates about the value of anger, Agnes Callard contends that efforts to distinguish righteous forms of anger from unjust vengeance, or appropriate responses to wrongdoing from inappropriate ones, are misguided. What if, she asks, anger is not a bug of human life, but a feature—an emotion that, for all its troubling qualities, is an essential part of being a moral agent in an imperfect world? And if anger is both troubling and essential, what then do we do with the implications: that angry victims of injustice are themselves morally compromised, and that it might not be possible to respond rightly to being treated wrongly? As Callard concludes, “We can’t be good in a bad world.” The contributions that follow explore anger in its many forms—public and private, personal and political—raising an issue that we must grapple with: Does the vast well of public anger compromise us all? FORUM Lead essay by Agnes Callard. Responses by Paul Bloom, Elizabeth Bruenig, Desmond Jagmohan, Daryl Cameron & Victoria Spring, Myisha Cherry, Jesse Prinz, Rachel Achs, Barbara Herman, Oded Na’aman. Final response by Agnes Callard. ESSAYS Judith Butler interviewed by Brandon M. Terry, David Konstan, Martha C. Nussbaum, Whitney Phillips, Amy Olberding.