Apr 3, 2011

Saint Anselm on Anger (Part 5)

Some weeks back, I started a series of Sunday posts progressively setting out portions of an Anselmian treatment of the emotion, actions, and vice of anger.  Preoccupied with some other concerns, I haven't added to that series for two weeks, but now return to it, specifically to the topic of anger and the mechanism of temptation in the will.  This particular issue is something that Anselm did write a good deal about more generally, and while explaining tonight how anger fits into the volitional structure of temptation, we will bring together and tie in the threads of the previous four posts.

From part 1, we come back to the impulse of anger as one of the carnal appetites -- and through the mechanics of the will, one of the carnal desires -- Anselm discusses as presenting occasions of temptation.  I also brought up there the fact that anger was not simply an emotion experienced, felt, aroused in the person angered , but also, so far as it involves action, thought, choice, or habit, also a disposition or use of the will.  In part 2, I noted that Anselm does not write much about vices specifically bearing on anger, but does discuss several virtues which lessen, stand in the way of, or resolve anger.  I also brought up the Anselmian definition of the architectonic virtue of justice: "rectitude of will kept for its own sake," and discussed how anger in its various forms would typically be or involve injustice (while holding out the possibilities for just anger).

In part 3, I turned to virtues and vices as habitual or dispositional structures of the will and framed virtues as specific shapes justice takes in the will, vices correlatively as specific shapes of injustice.  These could be understood further in terms of the human being's fundamental choice what to do with, what to make of their will, to collaborate with the divine will in justice, or to choose self-will (propria voluntas), which always leads into a condition of unfreedom and injustice, the will subjected to something other than itself (or a portion of itself) rather than aligned with God's will.  Part 4 reintroduced Anselm's tripartite distinction of the will, and discussed the two fundamental inclinations (or dispositions, or affections) of the will:  the will-for-happiness -- always operative, directing us towards and away from multiple objects, susceptible of being shaped, modified -- and the will-for-justice -- possible to lose and regain, tempering, directing, and sometimes opposing the will-for-happiness when present, but still not coercing the free will of the human being.

What is the basic Anselmian position on anger?  He is pretty clear that in most cases, we shouldn't be angry.  or rather, when we become angry, we ought to struggle against it.  We ought to forgive those who anger us , if we can. We ought to make efforts to restrain our anger, or at least to lessen its effects, rather than indulging ourselves in it, harboring it, allowing it to congeal into resentment, rancor, or hatred, or to wax out of control into rage or fury. We ought to oppose and punish out of necessity rather than giving in to the anger that can easily carry those past their right limits.  We ought to avoid angering other people unnecessarily as well, to try to harmonize our wills to theirs if we can do so without sin or injustice to another, and to reconcile with them when we can

These are what reason and justice dictate to us. If we want to choose, to will, or even further to love justice, those are the sorts of things that a just person does, the prime example for Anselm being Christ himself, who both taught by his own example and enjoined a way of life involving forgiveness, reformation of the heart, and specific injunctions against harboring or acting on anger.  If we possess the will-for-justice -- or some modicum of it -- we preserve it when angry by not giving way to our anger, by not allowing the will to conjoin itself to the tempting emotion, desire, appetite.  Indeed, we even sometimes increase the will-for-justice, the affection, the habitual disposition, by thus using our will rightly, by collaborating with the divine will.

In fact, just as with any of the vices and virtues, we ought to be making efforts to build, foster, and increase what virtues we can, and we ought also to be taking occasions to chip away at, to mortify, to extirpate -- or at least not to give into, not to feed -- our vices. We cannot produce or efface virtues or vices by a single act or volition.  Instead, we have to persevere, choosing rightly or wrongly in multiple similar situations.  And, we have generally to do it when it really counts, when we could go either way -- when we find ourselves in temptation.  And with anger, for some of us, that can occur almost any time we get angry, when we feel the first starting twinges of irritation, when another vexes us, stymies our desires, even does not take seriously what we do, does not share in the human of a joke or jibe.

From the wealth of passages where Anselm discusses or mentions some aspect of the workings of temptation, I'm going to just draw out two sets, both of which apply readily to situations of anger.  The first has to do with what the will does when confronted by the "carnal appetites."  Anselm explores the culpability of the appetites in De Conceptu.
Considered in themselves, not even those appetites which the apostle calls both “the flesh which lusts against the spirit” and “the law of sin which is in our members, warring against the law of our mind” are just or unjust. For they do not make just or unjust the man who experiences them; but they make unjust only the man who consents to them by an act of will when he ought not to. 
That is the key point:  injustice lies in the consent of the will to the cajolings of those appetites, pushing or pulling, but not determining the will, which is after all self-determining. The carnal appetite which flares into irritability or irrascability suggests to us that we ought not just feel angry, we ought to be angry, we ought to act angry, think angry, will angry, stay angry.  He goes on.
For the same apostle says, “There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk in accordance with the flesh” —i.e., who do not give consent-of-will to the flesh. Now, if these appetites were to make unjust the one who experienced them without consenting to them, then condemnation would result. Hence, it is not a sin to experience these appetites; rather, it is a sin to consent to them [when one ought not to]. . . . Therefore, there is not any injustice in the essence of the appetites; rather, there is injustice in a rational will which complies inordinately with them. For when the will resists the appetites by “delighting in the law of God in accordance with the inner man,” then the will is just.
In the De Humanibus Moribus, Anselm not only distinguishes three portions -- suggestion, delight (delectatio) and consent -- of the sequence leading from the appetite's temptation to the culpable and unjust consent of the will to the temptation; he sketches a vividly illuminating metaphor
Out of these three, suggestion is like a heavy dog, delight like a light and sharp-toothed puppy, but consent like a strong and massive dog. Now, the heavy dog when it hears someone nearby moving past it, barks once or twice after them, but then quiets down if one keeps heading in the same direction. But, if one looks back and antagonizes the dog now barking, even if it does not bite, it will chase one. Now, the light and sharp-toothed puppy, chases aggressively and, unless it has been quickly smacked back, it bites very sharply. The strong and massive dog then chases and, unless a great force overwhelms it, it strangles a human being. So, one should not look back at the heavy dog, and one has to quickly smack down the puppy, but the massive dog must be overwhelmed in a manly way.

And, similarly if the suggestion of sin strikes the mind, one who is moving away from the love of present things towards eternal things soon leaves them behind, if he firmly holds to his intention. But, if paying attention to it, he accepts the suggestion into himself, and he turns it over and over in thought, antagonizing it as it were, then very often it attacks, although it does not wound when it is suggestion on its own. But, if it is turned over for a while, the heavy dog turns into the puppy, i.e. suggestion into delight, which attacks aggressively and, unless it is quickly rejected, wounds the soul. . . .  For unless the delight is pushed away, the puppy turns into a massive dog, i.e. delight passes over into consent, which seizing hold of the soul kills it, unless a great force overcomes it. . . .  Therefore, let us not pay attention to suggestion, let us quickly repress delight, and let us strongly overcome consent.
Anger poses considerable dangers once it arises, since the angered person does tend to focus on the occasion of their anger, the situation, the insult or injury done to them, its unjustness, the wrong state, motives, habits, priorities, and so on of the other person.  Anger is painful, but also contains a sort of pleasure as well,a high, a kick, and can easily become the sort of delight discussed here.  Very quickly, the will -- particularly in someone whose will-for-happiness is already poorly ordered and structured, beset and weakened by vices -- can succumb to the attraction of that delight, and give its consent -- or rather take into itself and make its own that motive of anger, elaborating it in further thinking, in talk, and in action, all of which once more even if just a little restructure the will in its habits, its affective structures.  The next time, it will that much harder to resist the progression from suggestion to consent, it will occur more "naturally," feel "right", even though anger -- through the will's consent to it -- instantiates and gives flesh to injustice.

The second set of passages highly relevant here come from the De Libertate (and would be further filled out by relevant passages from De Casu Diaboli and De Concordia), in which Anselm has to make sense out of how the will, which is so completely free that nothing can coercively determine its choice (not even God) can give into temptation, thereby giving up the justice and freedom which it possesses, permitting itself to be then bound into a servitude it cannot afterwards on its own shake off.  He frames this in terms of the "force of temptation"
Teacher. What is this force?

Student. The force of temptation.

T. This force does not turn the will from uprightness unless the will wills what the temptation suggests.

S. That's right. But the temptation by its own force compels the will to will what it is suggesting.

T. How does temptation compel the will to will?: in such a way that the will is indeed able to keep from willing, though not without great difficulty (molestia), or in such way that the will is not at all able to keep from willing?

S. Although I must admit that sometimes we are so pressured by temptations that we cannot without difficulty (difficultate) keep from willing what they suggest, I cannot say that they ever pressure us to the point that we cannot at all keep from willing what they advise.

T. Nor do I know how it can be said. For if a man wills to lie in order to avoid death and to save his life for a while, who will say that it is impossible for him to will not to lie in order to avoid eternal death and to live endlessly? Hence, you ought no longer to doubt that this powerlessness-to-keep-uprightness which you say is in our will when we consent to temptations is the result not of impossibility but of difficulty. For we are accustomed to say that we cannot [do] a thing, not because the thing is impossible for us [to do], but because we cannot [do it] without difficulty. But this difficulty does not destroy freedom of will. For it is able to beset the will though the will dissent, but it is not able to vanquish the will unless the will consent.
When anger "forces" us to do something, to think something, to say something, Anselm would say that it does not actually determine the will.  The will determines not only itself in the present, but also the future effects that giving into or resisting temptation, strengthening or weakening virtues or vices, cooperating with God's will or falling into the trap of self-will, impose on that same will.  Anger can place us in situations of more or less difficulty, where we have to sacrifice some other thing that we want -- like saying a cutting word, even striking another to teach them not to push one around -- or like our feeling of pride, our habit of following own will and its desires -- in order to do what is right.  It can require us to endure, to resist, to persevere, to go through the motions without feeling loving towards the other, if we are to cleave to justice. 

But on its own the feeling, the reaction of anger can never do more than tempt us.  It is choices of the will that decision by decision, day by day, year by year, produce its lasting structure for better or for worse.  If one is addicted to anger, weak when faced with it, succumbs too easily, that is a matter of the will-as-affectio -- and has to be addressed as such.  Anselm's remedies for vices in general, and anger specifically, will be the subject of the next post in this series