Ancient and modern

Aristotle’s account of hatred perfectly fits Sussex University students

16 October 2021

9:00 AM

16 October 2021

9:00 AM

Professor Kathleen Stock of Sussex University is accused by a group of students of being transphobic and a danger to transgender people because she believes that people cannot change their biological sex. ‘We’re not up for debate,’ the students said. ‘We cannot be reasoned out of existence.’ This, in Aristotle’s terms, is pure hatred.

In his Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle tackled the emotions and made a most instructive distinction between hatred and anger. Anger (orgê), as he defined it, was ‘desire, accompanied by distress, for revenge because of an obvious but undeserved belittlement of oneself or those near to one’.

If that is the case, he went on, the angry man must ‘always be angry with a particular person’. He then gave an example: in the Iliad, Achilles became angry with Agamemnon because, by taking away his girl, ‘Agamemnon showed me no respect… as though I were some worthless vagabond’. So for Aristotle anger was a justified response to some form of personal slur or put-down.

Hatred (mîsos, cf. ‘misogyny’), however, took on for Aristotle a form quite distinct from anger. Most importantly, while ‘anger always has to do with individuals, hatred has to do with types. For example, everyone hates a thief or an informer’ (or, no doubt, a transphobe). Again, anger could be ‘curable by time’, but hatred could not; the angry man wanted to procure punishment, but for the hater that was irrelevant; the angry man felt distress, but the hater did not; and finally, ‘One who is angry might feel pity in many circumstances, but one who hates, never. For the former wants the one he is angry with to suffer, but the latter wants him not to exist.’

Aristotle’s account of hatred perfectly fits the Sussex students. What’s worse, they refuse even to attempt to justify their assertion, demonstrably untrue, that Professor Stock is an evil transphobe. Is evil that hard to dispute? Does reasoned debate really mean nothing to them? All hail, Ignorance and Hatred, the new gods of student virtue!

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