18 June 2006

The Passions: Introduction and Anger.

I am just about finished with the 24-lecture course entitled "The Passions: Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions", by Professor Robert Solomon, copyright The Teaching Company. This is the second course I have listened to by Prof. Solomon, the other one being a course on existentialism: "No excuses!" Both courses have the underlying theme that we are responsible for ourselves and for our behavior and if we think about who we are and how we should act, our life experience will benefit.

The introduction of the Passions course begins: "We are not only ‘rational' creatures, as Aristotle famously defined us, but we also have emotions. We live our lives through our emotions, and it is our emotions that give our lives meaning. What interests or fascinates us, who we love, what angers us, what moves us, what bores us - those are the things that define us, that give us our character, that constitute our 'selves.' But this obvious truth runs afoul of an old prejudice, namely, that our emotions are irrational, even that they are incomprehensible. Our emotions present a danger and interrupt or disturb our lives, because we are passive with regard to them; they 'happen' to us. By contrast, this course is an attempt to understand our emotions - how they provide insight and meaning - and the extent to which we are not passive but active regarding them. Our emotions, according to a recent theory, are imbued with intelligence. And a person's emotional repertoire is not a matter of fate but a matter of emotional integrity."

Anger is one of the first topics in the course. Anger, one of the basic emotions, is an engagement with the world. It is not always wrong to feel or to show anger - if you are "wronged" it is a natural reaction - and if you use your anger appropriately you should not feel guilty for feeling it. An illustration of what he considers the proper use of anger is the anger that the women in the woman's liberation movement. They were being wronged, and by showing that anger, they were able to get a lot of policies changed for the better. On the other hand, anger is irrational if showing it serves no purpose. An illustration of irrational anger is road rage: Screaming at the car in front of you will not move that car. Another illustration that Prof. Solomon used was the ancient story of Achilles dragging the body of his enemy behind his chariot.

Angry people get their way: Think of a meeting where someone stares down someone who has disagreed with him, how others are intimidated and give in to the angry person's demands. Perhaps a habitually "angry person" is just someone who has found that by allowing his anger to show, he gets his way. (He brought up a vignette of a young couple coddling an angry toddler, perhaps teaching the toddler that anger is rewarded, and the child grows up knowing that showing anger gives him rewards.)

Direct quote from the course: "Think about situations when anger occurs. Typically, we are frustrated because we cannot do something. Maybe we have been incompetent, or maybe someone has insulted us. What good does anger do? A lot. When we get angry, we elevate ourselves into a judgmental position, sort of like a magistrate in court. At first, we felt humiliated, but now we pass judgment on the person who insulted us. Anger helps us save face."


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