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Ancient Philosophy. Aristotle and Seneca on Anger Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Dec 13th, 2021

Ralph W. Emerson once said that “for every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness” (Zubko 21). However, the feeling of anger is well-known to everyone; even the kindest people can become angry for a certain reason. Even some minor event or somebody’s glance and inappropriate word or statement can make a person angry. At the same time, anger is called one of the Seven Deadly Sins and the author says that anger has always aroused interest in human mind (Thurman unpaged). Philosophers are not exceptions to the rule, since ancient time they have been engaged in the search of the nature of anger. Thus, the present paper is devoted to the comparative analysis of the accounts of anger of Socrates and Seneca since their attitudes towards this emotion differ a lot.

It is known that classical Greek philosophers “prioritized reason over emotion” (Lester 117), they were firmly convinced that anger had to be ruled and controlled by reason. Aristotle gives a definition of anger as “a desire, accompanied by pain, for a perceived revenge, on account of a perceived slight on the part of people who are not fit to slight one or one’s own” (Aristotle as cited in Braund and Moust 100). The philosopher wrote in his The Nicomachean Ethics that “anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not easy” (Aristotle as cited in Lester 117). As it can be judged by the given quotation, the wiseman considers anger to be an appropriate emotion when it is reasonable and suitable for certain circumstances. Though there are conditions when anger is beneficial and useful, such as the feeling of anger that inspires the soldiers to fight abandoning hesitation and fear, Aristotle believes that the emotion of anger is constantly trying to evade the control of reason and, if it succeeds, this will definitely provoke the behavior that can be characterized as irrational and chaotic. In his opinion, ager can become destructive if it finds expression in punishment, vengeance, and retaliation (Lester 118).

The point of view of the outstanding philosopher, Seneca, can be clearly observed in his essay that is entirely devoted to anger. The philosopher’s adherence to the ideals of Stoicism accounts for his concept of anger. Probably, the most eloquent Seneca’s statement pertaining to anger is that it is “most hideous and frenzied of all the emotions” (Seneca as cited in Thurman 41). The philosopher’s view differs from Aristotle’s idea of the possibility of control of anger by reason as he compares the emotion to temporal insanity and its uncontrolled nature is evident in this comparison. What is more, Seneca ascribes such qualities related to an angry man as obstinacy, groundlessness of actions, inability to differentiate fairness and truth, uncontrolled agitation. Seneca writes about the ability of anger to cast down and empty cities, he mentions “whole peoples condemned to death in an indiscriminate devastation” (Seneca as cited in Thurman 42).

In fact, Seneca agrees with Aristotle on the definition of anger as the desire to pay back for the given pain. However, the philosophers’ views on the other matters differ a lot. If Aristotle approves of some cases of anger, Seneca remains adamant in his opinion that there is nothing good about anger and there are no conditions under which it can be justified. One more interesting idea is that Seneca ascribes anger to human beings only, implying that this emotion has some connection with human reason, the one that differs us from animals. It is evident that this idea contradicts the comparison of anger with brief insanity.

Seneca also rejects Aristotle’s idea that those who abuse should be punished and paid back under the influence of anger. He assumes that punishment can be much more effective if it is administered without anger, when the mind is clear and when a person can act out of reason. He also disapproves of the above mentioned idea of useful anger that can help warriors abandon cowardice and make a fierce attack. If Aristotle states that anger in this case can clear up mind, Seneca holds the opposite opinion: anger can never be a tool of reason since it is eager to conquer it. Instead of anger, only positive emotions and feelings, such as courage, endurance, wisdom should be resorted to make a right decision. In addition, Seneca attacks Aristotle’s idea about usefulness of anger at war, mentioning that it can be compared to a spear that has two points; it attacks the enemy and the one who attacks as well. What is more, it should not be the driving force of the attack as anger is not steady, it is violent at first but it weakens and vanishes soon like a poisonous snake that emits its venom on the one bite and then becomes harmless (Thurman 44).

Finally, it is necessary to mention that it is necessary to give Seneca credit for his offering some sort of therapy for anger. The philosopher states that it is necessary to realize that anger is entirely bad. This is the first step to getting rid of it. Aristotle does not offer any therapy for anger.

Drawing a conclusion, it is possible to state that Aristotle should be given credit for his formulation of the notion of anger and his philosophic views on anger have a right to exist. However, Seneca’s account of anger seems more reasonable and it has a lot of ideas that contradict Aristotle’s position. The key difference of the accounts of the philosophers is that Aristotle admits the existence of reasonable and useful anger while Seneca rejects all types of anger as harmful and violent emotion.

Works Cited

Braund, Susanna Morton, and Glenn W. Most. Ancient Anger: Perspectives from Homer to Galen. UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Lester, Andrew D. The Angry Christian: A Theology for Care and Counseling. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.

Thurman, Robert A.F. Anger: The Seven Deadly Sins. NY: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Zubko, Andy. Treasury of Spiritual Wisdom. : Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 2000.

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