Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice

Oxford Univ. May 2016. 336p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9780199335879. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780199335893. PHIL
OrangeReviewStarNussbaum (Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, Univ. of Chicago; Upheavals of Thought) continues to draw on Greco-Roman philosophical investigations of human emotions for insight on the roles they should play in contemporary life. Herein she challenges received notions about the utility of anger (and the accompanying desire for retribution) and "transactional forgiveness" (which makes forgiveness conditional on apology and contrition), positing "transition-anger" and "unconditional generosity" focused on promoting well-being and justice going forward. Nussbaum spells out and defends her conception of a more rational alternative to anger and forgiveness at the levels of intimate familial relationships; in the intermediate realm of work and casual interactions; and on the political, legal, and societal level. Illustrating her arguments with examples from Medea to Gustav Mahler to Nelson Mandela, from the requiem "Dies Irae" to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, her crisp writing sustains readers' interest, even when one disagrees with how she parses her topics. This is a philosophical work, so readers expecting sustained engagement with psychological or social scientific literature, whether pop or academic, will be mostly disappointed.
VERDICT Highly recommended. Nussbaum offers careful, nuanced distinctions with clear implications on the personal and political levels.
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