On Anger, Book I, VI

“What, then? Is not correction sometimes necessary?”

Of course it is; but with discretion, not with anger; for it does not injure, but heals under the guise of injury.

We char crooked spearshafts to straighten them, and force them by driving in wedges, not in order to break them, but to take the bends out of them; and, in like manner, by applying pain to the body or mind we correct dispositions which have been rendered crooked by vice.

So the physician at first, when dealing with slight disorders, tries not to make much change in his patient’s daily habits, to regulate his food, drink, and exercise, and to improve his health merely by altering the order in which he takes them.

The next step is to see whether an alteration in their amount will be of service.

If neither alteration of the order or of the amount is of use, he cuts off some and reduces others.

If even this does not answer, he forbids food, and disburdens the body by fasting.

If milder remedies have proved useless he opens a vein; if the extremities are injuring the body and infecting it with disease he lays his hands upon the limbs; yet none of his treatment is considered harsh if its result is to give health.

Similarly, it is the duty of the chief administrator of the laws, or the ruler of a state, to correct ill-disposed men, as long as he is able, with words, and even with gentle ones, that he may persuade them to do what they ought, inspire them with a love of honour and justice, and cause them to hate vice and set store upon virtue.

He must then pass on to severer language, still confining himself to advising and reprimanding; last of all he must betake himself to punishments, yet still making them slight and temporary.

He ought to assign extreme punishments only to extreme crimes, that no one may die unless it be even to the criminal’s own advantage that he should die.

He will differ from the physician in one point alone; for whereas physicians render it easy to die for those to whom they cannot grant the boon of life, he will drive the condemned out of life with ignominy and disgrace, not because he takes pleasure in any man’s being punished, for the wise man is far from such inhuman ferocity, but that they may be a warning to all men, and that, since they would not be useful when alive, the State may at any rate profit by their death.

Man’s nature is not, therefore, desirous of inflicting punishment; neither, therefore, is anger in accordance with man’s nature, because that is desirous of inflicting punishment.

I will also adduce Plato’s argument⁠—for what harm is there in using other men’s arguments, so far as they are on our side?

“A good man,” says he, “does not do any hurt: it is only punishment which hurts.

Punishment, therefore, does not accord with a good man: wherefore anger does not do so either, because punishment and anger accord one with another.

If a good man takes no pleasure in punishment, he will also take no pleasure in that state of mind to which punishment gives pleasure: consequently anger is not natural to man.”