The Morality of Achilles: Anger as A Moral Emotion

Author:Adam Wallwork
Position:The University of Chicago Law School
Pages:333-365
e Indonesian Journal of International & Comparative Law
ISSN: 2338-7602; E-ISSN: 2338-770X
http://www.ijil.org
© 2014 e Institute for Migrant Rights Press
rst published online 06 December 2013
333
THE MORALITY OF ACHILLES
ANGER AS A MORAL EMOTION
ADAM WALLWORK
The University of Chicago Law School
E-mail: awallwo1@gmail.com
“I was angry with my friend: I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry
with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow.1
Anger is central to moral and legal decision-making. Angry individuals reason
dierently than people in a temperate state. Aristotle and the ancient Greeks
understood anger’s practical role in forensic argument and moral judgment—an
intuition modern psychologists have largely conrmed. Psychological experiments
show that people primed to anger will draw dierent inferences than people in a
tranquil state of mind from the same factual circumstances. As Aristotle understood,
our ability to reach conclusions about a set of facts is inuenced by emotional processes
such as anger. is article analyzes competing views of anger in contemporary moral
philosophy. It uses cross-cutting psychological, biological, sociological, anthropological,
historical and philosophical arguments about the experience and expression of anger
to critically assess leading philosophical accounts of the role of anger in moral and
judicial decision making.
Keywords: Legal Reasoning, Law and Psychology, Legal eories, Law and Moral eory,
Legal Philosophy, Jurisprudence, Legal Judgment eory, Crime and Punishment.
1. William Blake, A Poison Tree (1794), available at http://www.online-literature.
com/poe/622/ (last visited Mar 26, 2013).
The Indonesian Journal of International & Comparative Law Volume I Issue 2 (2014) at. 333–365
Adam Wallwork
334
I. INTRODUCTION
Anger is central to moral and legal decision-making. Angry individuals
reason dierently than people in a temperate state. Aristotle and the
ancient Greeks understood anger’s practical role in forensic argument and
moral judgment. In his Rhetoric, Aristotle advised prosecutors to make
speeches that aroused moral indignation (orge) in the minds of the judicial
decision-maker. Aristotle recognized that successful legal arguments
dispose judges and jurors toward particular attitudes. Prosecutors and
plaintis are most likely to win a verdict if their description of the case
rouses the judge’s sense of moral indignation.
Modern psychologists have conrmed Aristotle’s intuition about the
role of anger in decision making. Psychological experiments show that
people primed to anger will draw dierent inferences than people in a
tranquil state of mind from the same factual circumstances. As Aristotle
understood, our ability to reach conclusions about a set of facts is
inuenced by emotional processes such as anger.
Although anger is commonly viewed as an impediment to good
decision making, as, for example, when excessive anger leads to injustices,
like attacks on innocent parties, anger is also valuable to the process of
moral reasoning. Anger can reveal truths or values that would otherwise
remain obscure.
For example, I may believe that Judaism is no longer an important
part of my identity. Because I do not identify with Judaism, I do not
believe that impersonal verbal attacks on Judaism will anger me. If I
later become extremely angry at my friend for anti-Semitic slurs, this
emotional reaction could force me to revise my previously held beliefs.
Before my friend’s anti-Semitism aroused me to anger, I believed I no
longer identied with Judaism or cared about insults directed at Jews. If I
had been nonplussed by my friend’s anti-Semitism I could have continued
to hold both beliefs.
However, my surprisingly intense anger at my friend for his anti-
Semitism requires me to revise my belief that I am ambivalent toward
impersonal attacks on Jews or Judaism. My reaction also provides strong
evidence that I do care about my Jewish heritage because I took my friend’s
anti-Semitism as a personal attack. While it is possible my anger was
directed at my friend’s general disrespect for a historically marginalized
Adam Wallwork
The Morality of Achilles: Anger as a Moral Emotion
335
group, my acute anger at my friend’s attack implies a stronger identication
with Judaism than I had acknowledged. My intense experience of anger
at my friend for his anti-Semitism implies that I do continue to identify
as a Jew. In this sense, my angry reaction to my friend’s anti-Semitism
requires me to reconsider my beliefs about the nature and quality of my
Jewish identity.
e emotion of anger is epistemologically valuable to moral and
legal judgment in two signicant ways. First, it focuses the moral actor’s
attention on particular aspects or features of the data relevant to decision
making—for example, anger at an infringement of someone’s rights may
lead me to appreciate aspects of an interaction and its consequences that
I may otherwise not have noticed, such as the perpetrator’s disdain and
the various psychological and material harms inicted on the victim.
Second, the moral actor’s anger can provide circumstantial evidence for
the truth or falsity of particular beliefs. My reaction to a friend’s anti-
Semitism appears to conict with my belief that I had dis-identied with
Judaism and its corollary that anti-Semitic attitudes are less oensive than
I actually believe them to be.
is article analyzes competing views of anger in contemporary moral
philosophy. It uses cross-cutting psychological, biological, sociological,
anthropological, historical and philosophical arguments about the
experience and expression of anger to critically assess leading philosophical
accounts of the role of anger in moral and judicial decision making.
II. COGNITIVE AND NON-COGNITIVE
THEORIES OF ANGER AS A MORAL
EMOTION
To say that “anger” or “orge” is a moral emotion does not say much
about the way anger interacts with cognition to produce moral and
legal judgments. Cognitive and non-cognitive theories of the emotions
provide alternative views of anger’s relationship to evaluative judgments
or appraisals.

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