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Surprising Science

Why Meekness is a Virtue

Glen Pettigrove, a philosophy lecturer at the University of Auckland, argues that anger works on the ‘smoke detector principle,’ sounding more false alarms than true ones. 

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Take a look at any media outlet and it will become clear that those filled with passionate intensity are most often handed the microphone, while the cool operators among us are stigmatized as lacking conviction. But meekness, defined as the ability to overcome outrage and assess a situation coolly, is a virtue, says Glen Pettigrove, a lecturer of philosophy at the University of Auckland. “This doesn’t mean that the meek person can never become angry; only that he is less easily provoked than others and that he manages to conceal his hostility, which ultimately abates of its own accord.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Self-control is a necessary but insufficient condition for meekness. Concealing hostility should not be considered a virtue if it is done out of fear. “Philosophers have distinguished between 1) meekness and servility and 2) meekness and resignation. Those who are truly meek act out of both self-control and benevolence (attentiveness to the wellbeing of others), while those who are servile act out of fear of incurring punishment.” Pettigrove argues that anger works on the ‘smoke detector principle,’ i.e. that when responding to threats, anger is more likely to sound false alarms than true ones. 

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