Envy and its objects

  • Alessandra Fussi University of Pisa
Keywords: Envy, benign envy, object-envy, state-envy, self-reproach, self-disappointment, admiration


The paper critically discusses the thesis, originally put forth by Taylor (2006), that there is a (mostly benign) form of envy whose target is the good possessed by someone else. Section 2 analyzes the distinction between object-envy and state-envy, discusses the connection between object-envy and benign envy, and develops the ethical consequences that follow from the thesis that envy is never benign. Section 3 presents a thought experiment with five variations developed from the basic elements of object-envy: an agent, a good the agent desires but lacks, and a person who possesses the good. The variations generate emotions like longing, sadness, happiness for, admiration, covetousness, self-disappointment, but they do not generate envy. Section 4 concentrates on envious self-reproach and shows that its nature and genesis are different from the self-disappointment one may experience in other forms of self-assessment. Section 5 argues that the so-called sour-grape syndrome serves different goals when it is connected to a good one lacks and when it is connected to envious comparisons. Section 6 maintains that what looks like benign envy can be better understood as emulous admiration. In conclusion, the paper argues that object-envy is not a useful concept. The desired goods are not valued in themselves when a person feels envy. Rather, they are taken to signal the superior recognition enjoyed by someone else within the reference group that is currently deemed important by the agent.

How to Cite
Fussi, A. (2019). Envy and its objects. HUMANA.MENTE Journal of Philosophical Studies, 12(35), 124-149. Retrieved from https://www.humanamente.eu/index.php/HM/article/view/268