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EnvyTheory and Research$
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Richard Smith

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195327953

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195327953.001.0001

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Envy in the Philosophical Tradition

Envy in the Philosophical Tradition

(p.39) 3 Envy in the Philosophical Tradition

Justin D’arms

Alison Duncan Kerr

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores philosophical thinking on envy. It argues that the philosophical tradition seems largely in accord in embracing the Competitive Function Account of envy, according to which envy is a response to circumstances in which a rival within some status hierarchy gains an advantage over the subject. Envy then serves to motivate actions that would improve the subject's comparative position. This makes envy an amoral emotion, concerned with the subject's comparative position, not with questions of justice or desert. There is no such thing as wholly benign envy, because all envy involves a desire that the rival lose the advantage. This is why envy is plausibly regarded as morally problematic. Nonetheless, it is compatible with this picture to grant that envy may be an accurate assessment of the circumstances. Whether that is so depends on whether a rival's advantage can actually be bad for the subject as such. In other words, it depends on whether positional goods really make a difference to wellbeing.

Keywords:   philosophical thinking, envy, philosophers, social scientists, Competitive Function Account

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