Plato on the Role of Anger in Our Intellectual and Moral Development

In Laura Candiotto & Olivier Renaut (eds.), Emotions in Plato. Brill. pp. 285–307 (2020)
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In this paper I examine some of the positive epistemic and moral dimensions of anger in Plato’s dialogues. My aim is to show that while Plato is clearly aware that retaliatory anger has negative effects on people’s behavior, the strategy we find in his dialogues is not to eliminate anger altogether; instead, Plato aims to transform or rechannel destructive retaliatory anger into a different, more productive, reformative anger. I argue that this new form of anger plays a crucial positive role in our intellectual and moral development. In relation to our intellectual development, anger is often part of people’s reactions to the Socratic interrogations and it often helps or hinders attempts to acknowledge one’s ignorance and become motivated to learn. For anger to play a positive role in the context of philosophical conversations, Plato suggests its transformation from being an outward-looking and reactive emotion oriented towards retaliation (refutation), into a mostly inward-looking emotion aimed at ones’ own moral and intellectual reform or self-betterment. In relation to our moral progress, anger is strategically linked both to the control of our appetites and to the virtue of courage, so anger is crucial to the psychology of the good citizen. Concretely, anger is needed both for the development of the right opposition to injustice and greed, and for the formation of an adequate sensitivity to justice.

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Marta Jimenez
Emory University


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