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WHAT’S PAST IS PROLOGUE

I CAN SEE THE POINT in Agnes Callard’s observation that being the victim of wrongdoing is often worse for us than the harm done. The question is, even so, why not get over it? Callard thinks that even though the wrong recedes into the past, and even if there has been a sincere effort to make amends, we still have reason to be angry and to want revenge (whether or not we act on that desire). But why should the wrong in the past be eternally present and potent?

Many things happen that affect us and cause strong emotions. I discover wood rot in the window of my house and I am upset, even angry. I arrange to get the window fixed, and the feelings recede. A better paint job can make me think it was all to the good. It would make no sense to find that past event eternally upsetting even though, in a sense, the wood rot, as past, is eternally present. Why does Callard think the example of theft is different? The eternal reason for anger can’t just be about the eternal present of the past. It must be that a wrong was done and apology is inefficacious in mitigating that.

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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.