HomeOpinionGet Philosophized: Is it ever ethical to hate someone?

Get Philosophized: Is it ever ethical to hate someone?

Published June 1, 2022

BY EMMA BROWN

I have always been a political person; my views are unapologetically polarizing and I scarcely back down from a battle of the wills. As such, I am no stranger to protests, marches and rallies. On May 14, I joined the thousands of people who marched in San Francisco for reproductive rights, becoming one of the millions of protesters across the country. During the march, I encountered counter-protestors, people who screamed obscenities, calling us murderers and sinners. As I walked the two miles from the Civic Center to the San Francisco Ferry Building, I felt furious at the people who were attempting to disrupt the demonstration, angry that they were unwilling to understand our motives for marching and resentful of their message. Upon reflection, I realized that the searing frustration I felt was hatred. 

As a child, I was taught, as so many are, that hate is a vice, an unequivocally negative emotion that ought to be suppressed and extinguished. Now that I’m older, I’m willing to reevaluate the merits of those lessons and take a philosophical approach to the query: Is hate ever ethical?

Aristotle took on this question in “Politics,” in which he considers hatred within the context of virtue ethics. Virtue ethics is a form of Aristotelian morality that focuses on becoming a virtuous person, though it gives no instructions to become one. The philosopher claims that if someone is virtuous, they will know how to act in accordance with their virtue.

Aristotle claims that there is merit in hatred, that in order to comprehend pleasure and happiness when acting virtuously, one must experience a contrasting emotion when acting immorally. In essence, hatred is an integral element of virtue. 

Though Aristotle also notes that hatred can cause discourse and pain, he remains steadfast in his belief that hate is a necessary part of human life. 

Stoics disagree with Aristotle, taking a critical stance on hatred. They are philosophers who believe that life is a series of cause and effect, and as such, we can only control how we respond to events. Stoicism argues that through wisdom, temperance, justice and courage, people can improve themselves and, as a result, the world around them. The stoics see hatred as the ultimate contrast to these virtues and argue that we should seek to destroy rage and animosity rather than control it. Seneca, one of the most well-known stoics, wrote in his essay “De Ira,” translated to “On Anger,” that anger blinds us and is destructive without exception. 

Friedrich Nietzche offers a critique of stoicism and their view of hatred in his book, “Genealogy of Morals,” in which he defines “ressentiment,” a form of hostility felt by oppressed people towards their oppressors. Nietzche argues that hatred is a critical element in the comprehension of morality, and that is an undeniable element of our society that people must come to terms with. Despite this, the philosopher does recognize the danger of unadulterated hatred, and says that when resentment festers, it becomes a poison, the ultimate opposite of life and prosperity. 

So is hatred ethical? Maybe, but does it really matter? It remains a human emotion, something we are forced to come to terms with, something we must deal with. Feelings aren’t right or wrong, they just are. This sentiment, however, is in no way meant to justify prejudice or hate-fueled conspiracy theories, such hate is never acceptable.

When experiencing feelings of resentment and anger, it is critical that we evaluate its origins and work through them, discussing our emotions and differences without resorting to aggression and violence.

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