Book 4: The Several Moral Virtues and Vices—Continued.
Gentleness is moderation with respect to anger. But it must be noted that we have no recognized name for the mean, and scarcely any recognized names for the extremes. And so the term gentleness, which properly denotes an inclination towards deficiency in anger (for which also we have no recognized name), is applied to the mean.
The excess may be called wrathfulness; for the emotion concerned is wrath or anger, though the things that cause it are many and various.
He then who is angry on the right occasions and with the right persons, and also in the right manner, and at the right season, and for the right length of time, is praised; we will call him gentle, therefore, since gentleness is used as a term of praise. For the man who is called gentle wishes not to lose his balance, and not to be carried away by his emotions or passions, but to be angry only in such manner, and on such occasions, and for such period as reason shall prescribe. But he seems to err rather on the side of deficiency; he is loth to take vengeance and very ready to forgive.
But the deficiency—call it wrathlessness or what you will—is censured. Those who are not angered by what ought to anger them seem to be foolish, and so do those who are not angry as and when and with whom they ought to be; for such a man seems to feel nothing and to be pained by nothing, and, as he is never angered, to lack spirit to defend himself. But to suffer one’s self to be insulted, or to look quietly on while one’s friends are being insulted, shows a slavish nature.
It is possible to exceed in all points, i.e. to be angry with persons with whom one ought not, and at things at which one ought not to be angry, and more than one ought, and more quickly, and for a longer time. All these errors, however, are not found in the same person. That would be impossible; for evil is self-destructive, and, if it appears in its entirety, becomes quite unbearable.
So we find that wrathful men get angry very soon, and with people with whom and at things at which they ought not, and more than they ought; but they soon get over their anger, and that is a very good point in their character. And the reason is that they do not keep in their anger, but, through the quickness of their temper, at once retaliate, and so let what is in them come to light, and then have done with it.
But those who are called choleric are excessively quick-tempered, and apt to be angered at anything and on any occasion; whence the name (ἀκρόχολοι).
Sulky men are hard to appease and their anger lasts long, because they keep it in. For so soon as we retaliate we are relieved: vengeance makes us cease from our anger, substituting a pleasant for a painful state. But the sulky man, as he does not thus relieve himself, bears the burden of his wrath about with him; for no one even tries to reason him out of it, as he does not show it, and it takes a long time to digest one’s anger within one’s self. Such men are exceedingly troublesome to themselves and their dearest friends.
Lastly, hard (χαλεπός) is the name we give to those who are offended by things that ought not to offend them, and more than they ought, and for a longer time, and who will not be appeased without vengeance or punishment.
Of the two extremes the excess is the more opposed to gentleness; for it is commoner (as men are naturally more inclined to vengeance); and a hard-tempered person is worse to live with [than one who is too easy-tempered].
What we said some time ago is made abundantly manifest by what we have just been saying; it is not easy to define how, and with whom, and at what, and for how long one ought to be angry—how far it is right to go, and at what point misconduct begins. He who errs slightly from the right course is not blamed, whether it be on the side of excess or of deficiency; for sometimes we praise those who fall short and call them gentle, and sometimes those who behave hardly are called manly, as being able to rule. But what amount and kind of error makes a man blamable can scarcely be defined; for it depends upon the particular circumstances of each case, and can only be decided by immediate perception.
But so much at least is manifest, that on the one hand the habit which observes the mean is to be praised, i.e. the habit which causes us to be angry with the right persons, at the right things, in the right manner, etc.; and that, on the other hand, all habits of excess or deficiency deserve censure—slight censure if the error be trifling, graver censure if it be considerable, and severe censure if it be great.
It is evident, therefore, that we must strive for the habit which observes the mean.
This then may be taken as our account of the habits which have to do with anger.