An Essay on Ethical Generalizations and the Wrongness of Rage

Categories: Ethics

Throughout the course of a person’s life they will encounter plenty of ethical generalizations that guide them into making the correct moral decision in a given situation. Ethical generalizations steer us into the correct path, guiding our responses to a situation so that we choose a method or course of action that follows the methods we have been taught. As such, many ethical generalizations can be found in our lives, such as how it is bad to steal, or to lie.

One different generalization that can be made is the wrongness to rage-or to get excessively mad at something. This generalization will be evaluated from the viewpoints of a utilitarian, deontologist, and the categorical imperative.

To anyone, the generalization that it is wrong to rage would seem fairly obvious. It plays upon our ideas of the wrongness to be mad, and potentially the harm that being mad can bring. From a utilitarian standpoint, an ethical generalization is not something that is based in idea, but rather in the consequences that an action based off of that idea can have.

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To a utilitarian, the correct choice in a situation is the one that provides the most good and happiness to the people affected. This choice to maximize utility can be expressed within the generalization that raging is bad in the following way: suppose you have a driver of a car who is getting increasingly annoyed by the driving of another vehicle ahead of him. Should this progress, the driver will go into a state of rage.

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From a utilitarian standpoint, the choice between becoming enraged and dropping the matter is determined by the consequences of the action. Should the driver become enraged, he would no doubt become an unsafe influence to those around him, potentially causing an accident, and endangering the lives of those around him. Alternatively, he can ignore the other vehicle, and continue driving normally, keeping everyone safer, and happier by comparison. Of course, the answer is self-explanatory, the utilitarian will choose to not rage, as it causes the most amount of pleasure and happiness not only to those around, but to the driver, who will not be pricy to the unhappiness that comes with rage. As such, from a utilitarian point of view, not raging is indeed an ethical generalization.

The problem with the utilitarian approach comes from the decision of foreseeing the future. In many cases, it is easy to foresee the consequences: if a train has only 2 paths and you control a switch, you can determine the consequences of it going down one vs. the other. However, in the previous example, there is no direct consequence that stems from the driver being enraged. There is no definite that he would cause an accident, and although psychologists agree that rage influences rash behavior and is unsafe, it is the agent(or driver) who is controlling that, and knowing if he can control it or not is something only he may know. Therefore, some may argue that there is no proper decision. They are however wrong: by the utilitarian approach,

the correct choice is the one that causes the most good and happiness. Unless by some twisted means that the driver gets pleasure from being mad-in which case it is an anomaly t be recognized- the act of being enraged is not pleasant, and harmful to the driver and as such should be avoided. The generalization still stands.

Turning now to the deontological point of view we find a few new nuances to consider. For deontologists, unlike utilitarians, the choice of a moral decision comes from the duties that arise from morally significant relationships. This non-consequentialist idea contrasts the utilitarian approach that one should look at the consequences and then determine what one should do. Instead, the decision should stem from the idea to: do no direct harm and to be fair in the dealings with others. From here we can extrapolate the same example that we had earlier: in the case of the driver, the choices presented do not offer any true morally significant relationship. The only relationship present is the stranger relationship between the driver in question, and the driver of the other vehicle. Since we have no way of discerning the consequences of the actionwhether or not he will cause an accident if he is raging or not-we cannot determine if he should rage or not, despite the answer seemingly being completely obvious. However, if we were to add that the driver potentially has his wife and/or kids in the car with him, the generalization holds true. This is because there is now morally significant relationships present-between the driver and his family. Following this important relationship leads to the immorality of raging, due to the failing of fatherly and husbandly duties that it would cause. If he is to rage then he is not fulfilling his duties in being a good father in the upbringing of his children due to the anger and rage that he will present. Therefore, the addition of these significant relationships causes the ethical generalization to hold true within deontological viewpoints.

There is one last viewpoint to look at this generalization from: the categorical imperative view created by Emmanuel Kant. In short, Kant’s viewpoint follows from the deontological standpoint, but it additionally offers an added method for discerning the right and wrong action. For Kant, the decision must come by transferring the choice into a universal principle: that is, to determine if the decision that a person would take is something that the person sees as moral and proper if it was universally done. Returning to our example with the driver: as being faced with the choice to rage or not rage. According to the categorical imperative the decision must be transferred into a universal statement. Since the choice is to rage or not to rage at the other car, the universal view is: “Everyone should rage at other drivers if they are annoyed with their driving” this would entail that every driver would almost always be morally correct to rage at someone else, and that almost every driver would be mad when driving. This would create disillusionment with the proper driving standards, and in short, those would cease to exist, and

there would only be raging drivers all the time. This is clearly unfavorable to the choice of not raging, and as such is the proper choice. However, there are several problems with both the categorical imperative and with deontology. These problems arise from the decision making process of what it means to be fair, and what happens when the moral choices conflict or are hard to make. As we have pointed out, the direct deontological approach to the original example led to an unsure response, since the river did not have to consider the consequences of raging or not, and it was not until there was a morally significant relationship that the deontological approach deemed not raging as morally correct. This hard decision can only be overcome by looking at the consequences, which is a purely utilitarian approach. Nevertheless, all of the principles find that the proper solution is to not rage.

Overall, we find that the ethical generalization that “one should not rage” holds true for utilitarianism, the categorical imperative, and even deontologist, though there was a necessity for additional details or facts to be known for that to work. By evaluating the consequences, universality, and relationships of the courses of actions, the three different approaches found that being mad is not something that one should do, and as such is a valid categorical imperative. 

Works Cited

  1. Kant, Immanuel. Fundamental principles of the metaphysics of morals. Raleigh, N.C.: Alex Catalogue, 1785.
  2. Olen, Jeffrey. Persons and their world: an introduction to philosophy. New York: Random House, 1983.

Cite this page

An Essay on Ethical Generalizations and the Wrongness of Rage. (2021, Sep 24). Retrieved from

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