Nussbaum, anger, and the Confucian Li

Sun Tik WONG

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


In “Anger and Forgiveness,” Nussbaum argues that our anger cannot bring a good result to the society. She takes a utilitarian point of view, and shows that an agent’s continued presence of anger cannot maximizes the utility of the society. So we need to transform the anger to a new type of feeling called the “the transitional anger.” However, Nussbaum’s account does not mention the agent’s psychological experience of the transitional process and different person standpoint. Her ignorance opens th door to some criticisms.
In this essay, I shall argue that Nussbaum’s account of anger dismisses the processes of moral-self cultivation. In order to treat her account as a practical one, we should supplement the transitional anger with the processes of moral-self cultivation in a first person stand point. In the first section, I shall review Nussbaum’s account of anger and shall point out some problems of her account. Secondly, I shall present some critiques from Confucianism. For instance, it is the ignorance of subjective experience and the detached viewpoint on anger. My claim is that Nussbaum’s account of anger cannot explain the genuine anger of an agent and how a garden-variety anger can transform to the transitional one. These critiques show that some kinds of social practices are needed, in order to transform the anger to the transitional anger. Finally, I shall argue that the proper social practice is li (ritual). My texts of primary reference are the Liji (禮記, the Book of Rites) and Líng tíng-kān’s (淩廷堪) interpretation of Li. It can function as transforming an agent’s genuine anger to a proper expression. Also, the action-guidance feature of li can illustrate a concreted and clear process for socialization. So li can be a good alternative or a supplement of Nussbaum’s account of anger.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


Wong, S. T. (2017, July). Nussbaum, anger, and the Confucian Li. Paper presented at the 20th International Conference of the International Society for Chinese Philosophy (ISCP): Chinese philosophy in a multicultural world, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.


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