Philosophical Topics

Volume 47, Issue 2, Fall 2019

Emotion Regulation

Razia S. SahiOrcid-ID
Pages 53-73

It’s Okay to Be Angry
A Functionalist Perspective of the Dangers of Overregulating Anger

Recently, the view that anger is bad, even wrong, to feel and express has gained popularity. Philosophers like Martha Nussbaum and Derk Pereboom posit that anger is fundamentally tied to a desire for retribution (i.e., getting even for past events), which they argue is immoral, counterproductive, and irrational. Thus, they argue, we should try our best to stop ourselves from feeling and expressing anger whenever it arises. I argue that anger is not inherently retributive, and that feeling and expressing anger are sometimes the most adaptive response to unfairness in one’s environment. I draw on robust psychological literature to characterize the dangers of overregulating anger in terms of the practical, psychological, and humanitarian costs associated with not feeling and expressing anger. In the appropriate contexts, anger is crucial to prepare people to communicate disapproval, motivate necessary confrontation, and change wrongdoers’ harmful behaviors. Thus, the functions of anger are not focused on getting even for past events, but rather on protecting individuals from future harm. Importantly, the overregulation of anger is likely to cause the most harm to individuals and communities that experience routine unfairness, thereby reinforcing social injustices. By adopting a functionalist perspective of emotions, we can shift our focus away from policing experiences of anger and toward enhancing its functional qualities through thoughtful reflection on the sources of people’s anger and resolutions for that anger.