Introduction

Anger is a complex phenomenon deeply rooted in both our social and biological history. In the fourth century bc, Aristotle observed that

Anyone can get angry—that is easy; ... but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for everyone nor is it easy; wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble.

Nichomachean Ethics, 1109a25

Elsewhere, writing from the perspective of a "physicist," Aristotle defined anger as a ''boiling of the blood or warm substance surrounding the heart" (De Anima, 403a30). These two approaches to anger—the social and the physical—are not unrelated. Aristotle was not able to articulate that relation, however, except in abstract, logical terms. His knowledge of the physiological mechanisms was woefully inadequate. Today, advances in neurophysiology allow us to do considerably better.

At first, our knowledge of the relation of anger to the brain might seem a straightforward empirical issue, dependent only on technological advances. However, such an interpretation is only partially correct. As the above passage by Aristotle suggests, anger is inextricably linked to a network of concepts, an implicit folk theory that encompasses notions of action and passion, right and wrong, and retribution and conciliation. Neural mechanisms may be necessary conditions for anger, as they are for all behavior, but they are not sufficient. In this article, we focus on those necessary conditions, but we do so in a way that also respects the irreducibly social aspects of anger.

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