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W. Jay Wood
Who among us has not flared to sudden anger (perhaps accompanied by some indelicate international hand gestures), prompted perhaps by the actions of a rude driver yakking on his cell phone? Have we not all been roused to anger at news reports of child abuse or brutal murder or "ethnic cleansing"? That we are moved to anger by matters small and great, inconsequential and grave, is commonplace. Less common is knowing when, if ever, our anger is justified and what affects it has on our character.
And that being so, we should attend to Robert A. F. Thurman when he maintains that all anger is unjustified, merely adding to the total amount of evil in the world. Hearing him out, readers are likely to clarify at least a bit their own understanding of anger, whether or not they are persuaded by his central contention.
Anger is Thurman's contribution to Oxford University Press' series on the Seven Deadly Sins. A former Buddhist monk and a personal student of the Dalai Lama, Thurman holds the first endowed chair in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Colombia University. But to understand and to be able to control anger is not merely an academic concern for Thurman. He confesses to having struggled with anger personally, and he believes that his felicity in this life and the next depends on successfully conquering anger.
Thurman's contribution to Oxford's series is part of a revival of interest in moral and intellectual virtues and the past masters of virtue ethics, including Aristotle, Plutarch, John Cassian, Evagrius of Pontus, Seneca, and Aquinas, among others. This revival has not, however, contributed much to cross-cultural analyses of central concepts of virtue and vice as they find expression, for example, in the moral outlooks of Confucianism, Buddhism, Aristotelianism, Christianity, Stoicism, and Nietzscheanism. Although virtue terms such as "compassion," "generosity," and "courage," and vice terms such as "greed," "folly," and "anger" are common to various virtue traditions, ...