Massimo Pigliucci has a piece in Aeon that presents a stoic account of anger. He is, we could say, anti-anger. I enjoyed reading his thoughtful work, though I ended up with a serious question.

Some of his recommendations are about avoiding getting angry:

Engage in preemptive meditation: think about what situations trigger your anger, and decide ahead of time how to deal with them.
*Check anger as soon as you feel its symptoms. Don’t wait, or it will get out of control…
*Play a musical instrument, or purposefully engage in whatever activity relaxes your mind. A relaxed mind does not get angry.
*Seek environments with pleasing, not irritating, colours. Manipulating external circumstances actually has an effect on our moods.

I started to wonder on reading this whether anger is getting a treatment similar to that which Paul Bloom gives to empathy in his recent book, Against Empathy. In each case, in thinking about the felt reaction, the author seems to think of feeling as at best poorly constrained by thought. For Pigliucci anger contrasts with indignation, which can be good. And for Bloom, empathy contrasts with compassion, which is really good.

Philosophy has for much of her history struggled with puzzles about reason and emotion, and we might ask whether this ancient conflict s simply reappearing in these authors. Or is what we see here a response to some other situation?

The morality of feeding the ducks and gulls

Outside my apartment, the Oxford canal looks calm on a lovely Sunday afternoon.

Yesterday a similar scene inspired me to get some stale bread (organic, wholemeal) to see if there were any ducks or gulls who felt like some bread crumbs. 50 or 60 birds later, i was overseeing what, it seemed to me, was a horrible combination of greed and disappointment.

I’m not sure I could have enough for everyone, since the group was getting larger all the time. As it was, some birds were bound not to get a share. Occasionally a little gull would get up on the railing I was leaning on and make a terrrible noise. I’d put a piece of bread on the railing and move away quickly, hoping a big gull wouldn’t beat the little one to it.

So I left wondering whether my inciting this behavior was really morally ok. What do you think?