Research Group
in Analytic Philosophy

The place for the expression of anger in democracy

08 February 2023  |  15:00  |  Seminari de Filosofia UB


Is the expression of anger a legitimate form of counter speech? When is the expression of anger permissible in deliberative democracy? Amia Srinivasan (2018) and Maxime Lepoutre (2018) argue that the expression of anger has such a place. Their views contrast with, and respond to, Martha Nussbaum’s (2016). Nussbaum argues that anger is counterproductive and has harmful effects, even though it can sometimes be instrumentally useful. Lepoutre’s and Srinivasan’s views rely on the premise that anger has fittingness conditions. Srinivasan argues that anger is apt when it is the fitting response to injustice, but denies any essential connection between anger and intentions to act retributively. Lepoutre addresses the counterproductivity objection, arguing that anger can be epistemically productive, directing listeners to unjust features of a situation that had not been previously registered.

Here, I argue that there is an essential connection between anger and retributive action. I contest the interpretation of anger’s fitting conditions that Srinivasan and Lepoutre rely on. Emotions are evolved cognitive mechanisms that trigger thought and action. Anger in particular triggers actions to redress what the subject registers as an offense. It is not constitutive of anger that it is apt only when an offense is unjust or immoral. Also, anger is often epistemically defective: it displays authority (Park et al. 2013), it plays a role in intergroup violence (Claassen 2014), with narcissistic entitlement, it’s correlated with aggressiveness (Reidy et al 2007), with male aggrieved entitlement, it plays a role in misogyny (Kimmel 2014, Manne 2017), with contempt and disgust, it correlates with violent action (Matsumoto et al 2015), and acting out of anger leads to conflict escalation (Schuman and Ross 2010). These are reasons to reject the claim that anger is a reliable indicator of injustice. They are also reasons to doubt its reliability as a motor of social justice movements. I suggest that it is necessary to distinguish the appropriateness of the emotion of anger from that of its expression. In particular, I suggest that the appropriateness of the social expression of anger is strongly dependent on the context and on the form of its expression. On a positive note, I suggest that there are some constrained appropriate conditions for anger expression (see e.g. the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa (Chakravarti 2014)). But permissible anger expression in democracy, I will suggest, requires contexts of common ground and mutual trust, which are hard to ensure.