Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics

In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle contemplates at human virtues and their correlation with happiness. He believes that being ethical provides an opportunity to be happy; at the same time a true virtue lies between two extremes. Thus, he believes that a person has to be angry in some situations, while being angry is not appropriate in other situations. Aristotle’s argument sounds reasonable because being always angry or being never angry are two extremes that should be balanced, so he resolves this conflict peacefully.

When dealing with anger as a human trait, Aristotle avoids classifying it either as totally negative or totally positive. He is right when believing that a human is a sum total of many qualities, which determine him as a personality. Moreover, he thinks that a person is a sum total of all situation, in which his virtues and faults are revealed. Thus, according to Aristotle, it is not reasonable to label a person either good or bad for his anger expression. Instead, he suggests that the whole situation should be treated when drawing a conclusion about human behavior.

His general statement about anger runs as follows: “The man who is angry at the right things and with the right people, and, further, as he ought, when he ought, and as long as he ought, is praised. This will be the good-tempered man, then, since good temper is praised” (Aristotle). This means that such factors as time, place and longevity determine whether a person is good-tempered or not when expressing his anger. In other words, Aristotle believes that there should be a certain rule about how to be angry in a proper way, which should guide a person. So, good temper is related to system, while bad temper is related to chaos. Hence, being angry is not bad as it is; the bad thing about being angry is doing it in an unpredictable and chaotic way.

 

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By saying so, Aristotle states that being angry in an improper way means that a person is lazy and cannot discipline his mind. So, he demonstrates his weakness and laziness by being angry because he cannot control and does not want to control the flow of his mind. The philosopher claims that a person, who is a slave to his own passions, cannot be considered a free man. Thus, anger is the result of lack of discipline and emotion control in this case. Under such circumstances it is impossible to be equally away from the two extremes: being angry and being passive. Aristotle believes in “the mean”, which is in between of two extreme qualities. A person who feels this balance is praiseworthy even when he is angry because it is a matter of choice for him, and he does it in a conscious way. So, Aristotle highly estimates a person’s ability to express emotions carefully, and when a person is so accurate about his choice, it helps avoid becoming ruled by emotions.

Today’s life is full of stress, so it is natural that emotional reaction is hard to avoid. It is up to a person if he or she can make anger a friend or an enemy. Today psychologists believe that emotional competence is no less important than intellectual abilities. Without being able to express emotions in a proper way, it is impossible to succeed in any sphere of life. For example, if spouses are unable to express their anger that is inevitable, their marriage can be in danger. The good solution would be to agree on specific time to discuss the issues that appear, otherwise anger is going to explode and have more serious consequences. Expressing emotions in an adequate way is an art that is worth studying. Speaking openly about anger is quite different from insulting another person.

What happens when a person is angry in a proper and improper way? Aristotle believes that absence of anger in some situations is negative. It is related to self-esteem and character strength; he believes that a person does not respect himself when he refuses to be angry in some situations. Thus, this does not correspond to his philosophy of the mean.  He believes that it is foolish if a person is not angry when there is something to be angry for. Indeed, there are situations in life when passivity is not the right tactics. For instance, if someone hurt you or your close people, it would not be wise to put up with the situation. This will mean absence of self-respect, that might cause in suppression of anger and hence in self-destruction.

So, Aristotle is right when suggesting that virtue is a medium position between the extremes, and that vices then are deviations. There is no choice and no freedom for both extremely patient and extremely angry people. All faults of humans are just features, which are expressed either out of place or out of time. Such type of behavior is devoid of flexibility, and it is also instable. Besides, he believes that moderate anger is a sign of masculinity, so it should be used in proper situations.

All in all, it is possible to agree with Aristotle’s vision of human features. He thinks that both weak-tempered and hot-tempered people have faults, because true virtue is a medium state. When a person is hot-tempered, he is a slave to his emotions, so he is not free. Thus, such state cannot be considered as virtuous. In the same way, when a person is never angry, this signals of weak will and poor character. This man cannot respectable either because he does not respect himself and his friends, when they are insulted. Thus, Aristotle’s approach to anger looks reasonable.

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