Since reading Martha Nussbaum’s Anger and Forgiveness, I have found myself continually more attracted to her concept of transition-anger. That is: the main, and perhaps only, place where anger is a helpful emotion is on its first arising, where it signals to us that something is wrong or unjust; after that, one should transition “off the terrain of anger toward more productive forward-looking thoughts”. (Nussbaum capitalizes “Transition-Anger”, but that seems an awkward usage to me.)
I’ve found the concept of transition-anger very helpful for the argument of my upcoming book (which is more focused than my original concept was, so anger now plays a larger role in it). More even than that, though, I think the basic idea of transition-anger can and should be expanded to other emotions: it is not only anger which is most valuable on first arising. Nussbaum doesn’t consider that approach in Anger and Forgiveness, and there wasn’t a need for her to do so since the book wasn’t about other emotions, but only about anger. But it’s worth talking about here.
Observing my own emotional life, I have noted there is a set of four emotions that I feel very often – most of them daily – and they all cause me trouble and suffering. Yet I see how each can potentially be valuable on first arising. Anger is one of them; the other three are fear, shame, and self-pity. Let’s go through them in turn.Continue reading