Envy is an emotion everyone has at some point felt and needed to contend with. But what exactly is envy? When can you say that you are envious and when are you jealous? Is there are difference between the two? Is envy necessarily bad? All these questions about envy are answered in by Justin D’Arms’ paper on Envy. There he discussed the nature of envy, its rationality, and its relation to justice.
What interested me most about the whole article though is how he showed that envy is not always irrational and that despite the fact that it is often painted in a negative manner, even being considered to be one of the seven deadly sins, it can actually be benign. However, I we all understand why envy has earned its nasty reputation what with all the negative things that do tend to happen or at least the negative emotions that are invoked when the green-eyed monster makes it appearance. To be able to understand the whole concept of envy though and see why it can actually be benign, one needs to first understand its basic nature based on its definition and according to the following philosophers envy can be defined as follows:
Envy is pain at the good fortune of others. (Aristotle, Rhetoric, Bk II, Chapter 10)
Envy is a propensity to view the well-being of others with distress, even though it does not detract from one’s own. [It is] a reluctance to see our own well-being overshadowed by another’s because the standard we use to see how well off we are is not the intrinsic worth of our own well-being but how it compares with that of others. [Envy] aims, at least in terms of one’s wishes, at destroying others’ good fortune. (Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals 6:45)
In short, as D’Arms puts it arises from comparing how well you are doing with others. For the in-depth (and very fascinating) discussion on envy read Justin D’Arms’ article on Envy.
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