The fitting resolution of anger


How can we explain the rational diminution of backward-looking emotions (e.g., grief, regret, and anger) without resorting to pragmatic or wrong kind of reason explanations? That is to say, how can the diminution of these emotions not only be rational but fitting? In this paper, I offer an answer to this question by considering the case of anger. In Sect. 1, I examine Pamela Hieronymi’s account of forgiveness as the rational resolution of resentment. I argue that Hieronymi’s account rests on an assumption about the rationality of emotions (and of attitudes in general)—namely, that a rational (and fitting) change in emotion entails a change in the fact that constitutes the reason for the emotion. Then, in Sect. 2, I consider Agnes Callard’s recent criticism of accounts like Hieronymi’s as well as Callard’s alternative account of the rational resolution of anger. I argue that Callard offers a promising account but fails to explain how it avoids the criticism she levels against Hieronymi and others. Finally, in Sect. 3, I reject Hieronymi’s assumption and argue that an emotion can cease to be fitting without any change in the fact that constitutes the reason for it. I also explain how my proposal can complement Callard’s account of the rational dissipation of anger. My discussion of anger leads to a solution to the general problem about backward-looking emotions: a fitting backward-looking emotion can fittingly diminish when it is part of a process that is itself a fitting response to the past occurrence.

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  1. 1.

    There are also those who are ‘wrong-kind reasons skeptics’: they deny that a wrong-kind reason for an attitude is a normative reason for it. See Hieronymi (2005, 2013), Skorupski (2007), Parfit (2011, App. A), Way (2012), McHugh and Way (2016); and the clear articulation of the view provided in Gertken and Kiesewetter (2017). Since I focus on the fitting resolution of anger, what I say is relevant both to those who affirm the existence of wrong-kind reasons and to those who deny it.

  2. 2.

    I follow Hieronymi and Callard in using “anger” and “resentment” interchangeably, but I don’t mean to take a stand on the exact components of the negative emotions that fall under this rubric. For a discussion of the different views about what negative emotions forgiveness is supposed to rationally disarm, see Hughes and Warmke 2017.

  3. 3.

    The claim that the reason for anger lies in the past should be qualified: you can have reason to be angry with me because of what I am about to do, or because of what I am currently doing. But insofar as forgiveness is relevant in these cases, it is relevant after the deed or attitude that constitutes the reason for anger had already passed. Consider: if my reason for anger is what you are about to do, then once you are no longer about to do it I lack this reason for anger. However, if my reason is that you are willing to do it, then even if you eventually change your mind, it will remain true that you were once willing to do it and therefore I will continue to have reason to be angry with you.

  4. 4.

    Callard follows Samuel Scheffler’s account of valuing, see Scheffler (2010).

  5. 5.

    Peter Goldie offers a process view of grief, according to which the emotion of grief is properly understood as a narrative processes. Grief, according to Goldie, is “a complex pattern of activity and passivity, inner and outer, that unfolds over time, and the unfolding pattern over time is explanatorily prior to what is the case at any particular moment, and moreover, explanatorily prior to any particular mental state or event at any particular moment that is part of the process” (Goldie 2012, 69). Perhaps anger, too, is best understood as a process and, in particular, as a processes that involves a movement between backward-looking and forward-looking thoughts and points of view.

  6. 6.

    In other work, I explore in detail process accounts of grief and regret, and develop the process view more fully, see Na'aman (2019a; 2019b; 2019c).


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Earlier versions of this material were presented at Humboldt University and at the Israel Philosophical Association. I am grateful to audiences on these occasions. I also want to thank Agnes Callard, Benjamin Kiesewetter, Barry Maguire, and Jay Wallace. This essay was written with the support of the Martin Buber Society of Fellows at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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Correspondence to Oded Na’aman.

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Na’aman, O. The fitting resolution of anger. Philos Stud 177, 2417–2430 (2020).

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  • Emotion
  • Fittingness
  • Reasons
  • Moral psychology
  • Anger
  • Forgiveness