Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice

The celebrated University of Chicago 000001secondchancebutton-smaller_0philosopher Martha Nussbaum just dropped a new book on anger and its uses and abuses: Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice. Her essential thesis is that anger, while initially useful for demolishing what doesn’t work, is ultimately a flawed tool for designing public policy or changing people.

Anger has embedded in it the idea of payback, she contends. And the payback idea represents a kind of magical thinking. It imagines that by having the perpetrator of a crime suffer, the victim or the victim’s family is helped. That’s a fallacy–there’s no evidence to suggest that backward-looking retribution repairs any of the harm done, Nussbaum says.

She does believe that prison terms are necessary, but only as a way to prevent future crime. In all of this, she draws on the work of our Greek friends Socrates, Seneca, and Aeschylus, who considered anger the province of the weak-minded. She does see a place for “transitional” anger that motivates people to lobby for future-oriented solutions that prevent the harm from happening again. That is, you might use dynamite to clear the lot, but you need bricks and mortar to build the house. To read the rest of this post at “Life on the List” click here


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