Owen Flanagan - December 2016 Meeting Topic

Anger’s Reasons

What work does anger do across moralities? What work ought anger to do in a particular morality?  The first is a question in psychology, sociology, anthropology, and politics. It calls for thick description and explanation. The second is a question in ethics. It calls for reasons and normative justification.  How are the two questions and their answers connected?  Here I discuss one substantive and one methodological way the questions and the answers connect.  Substantively, anger, as we do it, is neither necessary for moral life nor normal in any robust psychobiological or statistical sense.  Methodologically, the method of reflective equilibrium whereby we bring our enacted norms of anger into alignment with our ideals can work in homogeneous cultures to recalibrate our practices, and to provide internal normative justification for our ideals.  In a culture that is Aristotelian about anger the process of reflective equilibrium permits us to remind ourselves of the kinds of anger that are justified, which abide the doctrine of the mean, and so on.  It is not clear how reflective equilibrium works in multicultural ecologies where there is disagreement about whether any kind of anger can be virtuous, unless it is performed as a method of settling on a majority norms and a common set of expressive or communicative tools.  The method of reflective equilibrium does not seem suited for radical critique, for asking questions about whether, in the present case, we should ever be angry, but only on fussing about how anger is done around here, by us, most of us.