Envy in the Philosophical Tradition

Justin D'arms, Alison Duncan Kerr

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEnvy
Subtitle of host publicationTheory and Research
EditorsRichard H Smith
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199301485
ISBN (Print)9780195327953
StatePublished - Aug 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Competitive Function Account
  • Envy
  • Philosophers
  • Philosophical thinking
  • Social scientists

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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