• Kindle
  • Name witheld

    I’d like to make a comment. I was raped by my father when I was a small child. I’ve hated him and possibly still do. Whether that hatred will dissipate or not as I work through the immense trauma I’ve experienced through long term therapy, I don’t know. When I’ve felt the hatred, it isn’t actually an easy emotion. I felt intense, murderous anger and vulnerability at the same time. I’m not used to experiencing feelings individually. I’ve turned that hatred in on myself in the past. My mother was abusive in different ways so I’ve been seriously damaged by my childhood and lived my entire life with the effects – very poor mental and physical health, and the consequences of that. I missed out on the basic building blocks of psychological development and been betrayed in the most terrible way -by the very people who were supposed to have nurtured me. The hatred may leave me at some point and if it does it will be because I’ve been able to move through various emotions and physical experiences in a therapeutic way. But that wouldn’t stand a chance of happening unless I’d been free to express the hatred (in therapy and in a safe way outside it). So I’d suggest here is a context when feeling hatred is OK, indeed been required, without immediately trying to change it to a different emotion or thought pattern.

  • Brian Slesinsky

    The discussion here seems a bit overly centered on when feeling an emotion such as anger is good for an individual. Maybe it would be better to think about when expressing it is good for the people in a relationship or group? Community expectations and rules tend to focus more on what sort of expressions are useful and productive in a community.

  • Jeff Rensch

    I love your essays. Hatred as an emotion might be not so much a place to live as a temporary springboard to a better place and in that case serviceable, as when Mary Wollstonecraft was called “a very good hater.”

  • CANAWEN

    I hate the punch line of this joke.

  • The Sanity Inspector

    “Bertie in particular sustained simultaneously a pair of opinions ludicrously incompatible. He held that in fact human affairs were carried on after a most irrational fashion, but that the remedy was quite simple and easy, since all we had to do was to carry them on rationally.”
    —John Maynard Keynes, on Bertrand Russell

  • Leila

    I empathically hated this!

  • F. A. Guimaraes

    Absolutely! And Bod Dylan nailed it in It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) in 1965: “While others say don’t hate nothing at all
    / Except hatred”

  • Susan

    I can view the intense emotions of being human with more understanding of the values of each emotion. Thank you for writing so nicely to the point, in a conversational style that I can hear on the street, relaxed, easy.

  • stefan

    I’ve always said get rid of resentment and self-pity. And the extent to which regret, anger, grief, or empathy are capsules for self-pity or resentment, sure, get rid of them. But, regret, anger, grief, and empathy can also be motivators for right action. In these ways, feelings remain important signposts.

  • Akilesh Ayyar

    But why on earth would we think we have this kind of philosophical control over our emotions? I’d suggest there’s little evidence for that. I’d argue there’s far more harm done from trying to believe we exercise this sort of control — and thus simply denying the fact of our negative feelings, including hatred — than trying to find beautiful ways to express all our feelings. Yes, including hatred. Without hatred, for example, a whole lot of what’s funny in life would no longer exist.

  • Matt Andersson, '96

    “Philosophy separated itself from science when it posed the question: what kind of knowledge of the world and life is it through which man can live happiest? This took place in the Socratic schools: by having in view the objective of happiness one applied a ligature to the arteries of scientific research–and does so still today.” Nietzsche, ATH, The mischief-maker in science

  • Bruno Laze

    Lovely essay. Every time I find myself feeling hate (well, at least sometimes) I stop and think to myself that I breeding bad karma. Such an unnecessary feeling indeed. It’s cosmic poison! About the emotional police of the philosophers, I don’t see it that way, i.e. an imposition, but as a sharing of a personal experience of the world, which might aid you or not. It’s not telling how one should behave or feel—the point is to enlighten a path in this enigmatic universe.

  • Jane

    The problem with bottling emotions is that whatever you bottle also traps its opposite: no anger, no joy; no grief, no happiness, no hate, no love; no regret, no satisfaction; no empathy, no being. Which is probably where we get “hate the act, not the man” thinking. It works well with hatred and anger, not so much with grief and regret. As for empathy causing harm, that’s an argument that it’s better to do nothing rather than risk a harmful unintended consequence. Might as well try to escape being human: life is one untended consequence after another.

  • Mark

    The opposite of love is not hatred but apathy…….. .The Emotion police are using that as a ruse. It is an attempt to control one’s thinking or substitute their thinking for the other’s thinking. Apathy and not thinking or not thinking well are bigger concerns than their effects.

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This is the second in a series of columns on public philosophy by Agnes Callard; read the first here.

If you tell me to calm down, I probably won’t. The same goes for: “be reasonable,” “get over it already,” “you’re overreacting,” “it was just a joke,” “it’s not such a big deal.” When someone minimizes my feelings, my self-protective reflexes kick in. My body, my mind, my job, my interests, my talents—these are all “mine”—but nothing has quite the power to declare itself as “mine” as a passionate emotion does. When waves of anger or love or grief wash over me, that emotion feels like life itself. It wells up from an innermost core, like my voice, which it usually inflects. And so if you move to tamp it down, I parry by shutting you out: I erect walls around my sanctum sanctorum, to shield the flame of my passion—my life—from your soul-quenching intrusions. Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot feel?!

Now imagine a much more ambitious intervention—someone who doesn’t just want to quench some particular bout of anger or grief, but to put an end to anger or grief, simpliciter. Who could possibly have the gall to tell the entire human race what it should and should not feel? Philosophers, that’s who! Philosophers have been legislating emotional life since the time of the Stoics, and the newest vanguard of the movement is currently at work right under your noses. Allow me to introduce you to the Emotion Police.

First we have Rüdiger Bittner, a philosopher at Bielefeld University in Germany, arguing for the wholesale elimination of regret.[1] Sure, Bittner concedes, you should acknowledge that you did something wrong if you have, do what you can to rectify the situation and commit to future improvement—but what’s the point of feeling bad about it? Psychological pain clouds your judgment and misdirects your energies; there’s no sense in adding a second, unnecessary pain to the wrong already done: “double misery, the second for the sake of the first.”

Second, my University of Chicago colleague Martha Nussbaum, the philosopher and public intellectual, attacks anger—and not only the irrational, unjustified, vengeful kind.[2] Or rather, she thinks that all anger is, in the last analysis, of just that kind. Anger, she writes, is “always normatively problematic” in that it disposes one to seek payback, or to raise one’s status relative to the wrongdoer. Like Bittner, she thinks one should come to a calm, rational understanding of the wrong done, and then, filled with hopeful anticipation, take positive steps towards redress and prevention.

Third, Stephen Wilkinson, a philosopher at Lancaster University in the U.K., argues that the grief we feel at, for example, the death of a loved one fits the DSM-4 characterization of a mental disorder: “First, it involves pain or suffering. Secondly, it involves some kind of incapacity, or interruption of normal functioning.”[3] Grieving people are not productive members of society: they do not experience or generate value. And, just to that extent, there is something wrong with them.

Fourth, Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale, has written a book against empathy.[4] Yes, someone can be opposed to empathy; Against Empathy is the actual title of the book, the funniest line of which is Bloom’s comment on another author’s book: “His book is called Against Fairness. (Not to pick on Asma here, but can you imagine a more obnoxious title?)”

Bloom argues that “the exercise of empathy makes the world worse, [and] that it leads to more suffering and less thriving,” in comparison to rational, unsentimental do-good-ing.  Empathy is unfair; it is partial; it clouds our judgment. Bloom mines his own experience for evidence: “My worst moments as a father aren’t when I don’t care; they’re when I care too much, when I cannot disengage from my children’s frustration or pain.”

Satisfying all four philosophers at once requires following one simple rule:

The Simple Rule: Anytime you are grieving, or angry, or pained by regret, or suffused with empathy: calm down, quench your passion, ignore what you feel, be rational and productive instead.

That might strike you as crazy, but one doesn’t reject philosophical arguments solely on the basis of their conclusions. These four thinkers rightly point to the variety of ways in which negative emotions turn our lives upside down, make us miserable and divert us from pursuing what is good. To be violently angry with one’s mother is for that relationship not to be in a fully healthy state—this much seems true. The difficulty is that terms like “health” and “sickness” often have a double meaning.

Consider a fever. Having a fever means you are sick, unhealthy, not functioning at your maximum. But a fever is also a healthy response—to the presence of a bacterial infection in the body. If you didn’t have a fever under those circumstances, you’d be really sick. Likewise: bleeding. To bleed is to be in an unhealthy condition, but if you have a cut it would be a mark of even more serious illness not to bleed. Physically speaking, there is such a thing as a healthy way of being unhealthy; likewise, emotionally speaking, there is such a thing as a good way of being bad. This has a whiff of illogic about it, to be sure, but I suspect the ultimate culprit is the imperfectly logical character of life itself.

Consider, for example, anger. We are not perfect; we let each other down. When we do, anger gives us a halfway point between the joy of harmonious union and the indifference of permanent disunion. Anger is how love survives the bumps and bruises of innocent misunderstandings and the gashes and lesions of less innocent betrayals and disappointments. Anger is precious as fevers are: without them, the road from infection to death would be much shorter. The same basic argument applies to regret, empathy and grief—yes, they are ways of being psychologically wounded; and no, that is not a bad thing. When invulnerability is not in the cards, vulnerability can be a form of health.

But I am torn here. Although I can’t get on board with the Simple Rule, in spirit I am very much with Team Emotion Police. What is even the point of doing public philosophy if you don’t get to tell people what to think, do and feel? So I propose a new target—an emotion that is all bathwater, no baby. I suggest we philosophers adopt a united front in opposition to the emotion of hatred. Hatred has no redeeming qualities. It is a bad way of being bad. We should excise it from the human soul.

Philosophical surgery, like all other forms of philosophy, should begin with definitions. Here goes: to hate something is to have an emotional apprehension of it as bad, without thereby apprehending anything else about it as good. Hatred responds emotionally to badness as such, and we ought not to have any such response. Wallowing in badness—even by way of rejecting it—is a sickness of the soul.

The contours of hatred are made clearer by contrast with anger, which, I contend, always ultimately springs from a place of love. Consider the whole story of anger—getting close enough to let someone make you angry, revealing your anger to them, facing the anger your anger invariably elicits, the struggle to return to equal footing. Working up to and through anger constitutes a delicate and difficult interpersonal negotiation.

Hatred is painless anger; anger without vulnerability; anger without love. It offers us the opportunity to get good and enraged without exposing ourselves to all those difficult conversations, all that loss and pain and—perhaps worst of all—the potential of being called upon to acknowledge ourselves as having been the bigger jerk. Hatred holds the badness of the other at arm’s length from oneself. It is condemnation without involvement or investment.

This emotion is bad news, and in some way we all know it: we are furtive and careful in our hatred; we try to cover our tracks. “Who can I hate?” is the simple bully’s question. “Who can I hate while maintaining my own lovability?” is how the sophisticated bully puts it; the answer is often “the simple bully.” My kids’ school has managed to clamp down on bullying so effectively that when I walk down the hallways, the need for a target one can lovably hate is almost palpable. Or consider how, amid the waves of righteous indignation that accompany news stories of prominent people misbehaving, there is a note of relief: finally, someone has screwed up enough that we can unleash on them the full force of our unlimited rage.

Everybody has somebody they feel they can safely hate: if it’s not Republicans, it’s people who hate Republicans. Billionaires, tourists and politicians are popular targets. Or, safer yet: sexists, racists. Safest of all is to depersonalize one’s hatred: I don’t hate X, but rather what X did; or how selfish X is; or the way that X-ish people tend to be ignorant of Y; or the fact that X, through no fault of his own, embodies or acts out the sexist/racist/homophobic norms embodied in social and cultural institutions that have informed his worldview. Or I hate those norms themselves. Or stupidity. Or communism. Or hatred. Or suffering. Or myself.

We know hatred is bad, and search for workarounds: “I am a good kind of hater, because I only hate bad people.” Or: “I am not a dangerous hater, since I hate only those more powerful than myself.” Or: “I am a philanthropic hater, since I hate ideologies and actions and afflictions, not people.” Or we use a different word, such as “disgust,” as in “I am disgusted by corporate greed.” Only the simplest bullies are capable of honest hatred.

Each of us is on the lookout for safe spaces in which we can allow our hatred to flourish; we cultivate our garden of contempt, we surround it with walls of self-righteousness. If you think I’m wrong, ask yourself: why do Hitler-comparisons continue to flourish in political conversations? What other thought do they express but “this person is so bad, we are allowed to hate him as we hate Hitler”…?

Wait.

Am I saying you cannot even hate Hitler?

A person who murdered millions of people?

Speaking both as the grandchild of four concentration camp survivors, and as a philosopher, I say: you cannot hate Hitler. Or Nazis. Or Nazism. Nor can you hate anyone you think is Hitler-like.

How’s that for emotional policing?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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    Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Bittner: “Is It Reasonable to Regret Things One Did?” The Journal of Philosophy 89, no. 5 (May, 1992).
  2. Nussbaum: Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).
  3. Wilkinson: “Is ‘Normal Grief’ a Mental Disorder?” The Philosophical Quarterly 50, no. 200 (July, 2000). 
  4. Bloom: Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion (New York: HarperCollins, 2016).
  • Kindle
  • Name witheld

    I’d like to make a comment. I was raped by my father when I was a small child. I’ve hated him and possibly still do. Whether that hatred will dissipate or not as I work through the immense trauma I’ve experienced through long term therapy, I don’t know. When I’ve felt the hatred, it isn’t actually an easy emotion. I felt intense, murderous anger and vulnerability at the same time. I’m not used to experiencing feelings individually. I’ve turned that hatred in on myself in the past. My mother was abusive in different ways so I’ve been seriously damaged by my childhood and lived my entire life with the effects – very poor mental and physical health, and the consequences of that. I missed out on the basic building blocks of psychological development and been betrayed in the most terrible way -by the very people who were supposed to have nurtured me. The hatred may leave me at some point and if it does it will be because I’ve been able to move through various emotions and physical experiences in a therapeutic way. But that wouldn’t stand a chance of happening unless I’d been free to express the hatred (in therapy and in a safe way outside it). So I’d suggest here is a context when feeling hatred is OK, indeed been required, without immediately trying to change it to a different emotion or thought pattern.

  • Brian Slesinsky

    The discussion here seems a bit overly centered on when feeling an emotion such as anger is good for an individual. Maybe it would be better to think about when expressing it is good for the people in a relationship or group? Community expectations and rules tend to focus more on what sort of expressions are useful and productive in a community.

  • Jeff Rensch

    I love your essays. Hatred as an emotion might be not so much a place to live as a temporary springboard to a better place and in that case serviceable, as when Mary Wollstonecraft was called “a very good hater.”

  • CANAWEN

    I hate the punch line of this joke.

  • The Sanity Inspector

    “Bertie in particular sustained simultaneously a pair of opinions ludicrously incompatible. He held that in fact human affairs were carried on after a most irrational fashion, but that the remedy was quite simple and easy, since all we had to do was to carry them on rationally.”
    —John Maynard Keynes, on Bertrand Russell

  • Leila

    I empathically hated this!

  • F. A. Guimaraes

    Absolutely! And Bod Dylan nailed it in It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) in 1965: “While others say don’t hate nothing at all
    / Except hatred”

  • Susan

    I can view the intense emotions of being human with more understanding of the values of each emotion. Thank you for writing so nicely to the point, in a conversational style that I can hear on the street, relaxed, easy.

  • stefan

    I’ve always said get rid of resentment and self-pity. And the extent to which regret, anger, grief, or empathy are capsules for self-pity or resentment, sure, get rid of them. But, regret, anger, grief, and empathy can also be motivators for right action. In these ways, feelings remain important signposts.

  • Akilesh Ayyar

    But why on earth would we think we have this kind of philosophical control over our emotions? I’d suggest there’s little evidence for that. I’d argue there’s far more harm done from trying to believe we exercise this sort of control — and thus simply denying the fact of our negative feelings, including hatred — than trying to find beautiful ways to express all our feelings. Yes, including hatred. Without hatred, for example, a whole lot of what’s funny in life would no longer exist.

  • Matt Andersson, '96

    “Philosophy separated itself from science when it posed the question: what kind of knowledge of the world and life is it through which man can live happiest? This took place in the Socratic schools: by having in view the objective of happiness one applied a ligature to the arteries of scientific research–and does so still today.” Nietzsche, ATH, The mischief-maker in science

  • Bruno Laze

    Lovely essay. Every time I find myself feeling hate (well, at least sometimes) I stop and think to myself that I breeding bad karma. Such an unnecessary feeling indeed. It’s cosmic poison! About the emotional police of the philosophers, I don’t see it that way, i.e. an imposition, but as a sharing of a personal experience of the world, which might aid you or not. It’s not telling how one should behave or feel—the point is to enlighten a path in this enigmatic universe.

  • Jane

    The problem with bottling emotions is that whatever you bottle also traps its opposite: no anger, no joy; no grief, no happiness, no hate, no love; no regret, no satisfaction; no empathy, no being. Which is probably where we get “hate the act, not the man” thinking. It works well with hatred and anger, not so much with grief and regret. As for empathy causing harm, that’s an argument that it’s better to do nothing rather than risk a harmful unintended consequence. Might as well try to escape being human: life is one untended consequence after another.

  • Mark

    The opposite of love is not hatred but apathy…….. .The Emotion police are using that as a ruse. It is an attempt to control one’s thinking or substitute their thinking for the other’s thinking. Apathy and not thinking or not thinking well are bigger concerns than their effects.

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