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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: September 2009

Chapter 9 - Reactive and objective attitudes: anger in Virgil's Aeneid and Hellenistic philosophy



In this chapter, I reexamine the much-discussed issue of the relationship between Hellenistic ideas about anger and Virgil's Aeneid by applying a distinction between types of emotional attitude that has been drawn in modern philosophy. My starting-point is a famous essay on “Freedom and Resentment” by P. F. Strawson (1974); despite its age and relatively modest length, this essay draws an important distinction which has not been much explored subsequently. One of the advantages of Strawson's discussion is that it helps us to see that the Stoic (and to a lesser extent Epicurean) approach to anger and other passions is more intelligible than is often supposed and is not simply an unrealistic anti-emotional view.

Strawson draws a distinction between two types of interpersonal reaction or attitude, based in each type on beliefs or judgments about what should count as appropriate behaviour in a given situation. The distinction is between “reactive” and “objective” attitudes. The criterion of a reactive attitude is that the other person is treated as an equal partner in interactive engagement with oneself. The other is also treated as a fully responsible agent in personal interaction and liable for praise or blame and other such reactions, including anger and resentment, on that basis. The reactive attitude is, on the face of it, the normal one; but there are certain types of relationship in which a different, “objective” attitude is more appropriate.

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