Excusing Economic Envy: On Injustice and Impotence

Journal of Applied Philosophy 35 (2):257-279 (2018)
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From the Ancient Greeks, through medieval Christian doctrine, and into the modern age, philosophers have long held envy to be irrational, a position that increasingly accompanies the political view that envy is not a justification for redistributing material goods. After defining the features of envy, and considering two arguments in favour of its irrationality, this article opposes the dominant philosophical and political consensus. It does so by deploying Rawls's much-ignored concept of ‘excusable envy’ to identify a form of envy that is not imprudent and does not mis-describe. With this work completed, the article then argues – no doubt controversially – that excusable envy constitutes good grounds for redistribution or inequality-mitigation. In so doing, the article throws light on the moral significance of certain forms of uncivil disobedience, and also offers a new vocabulary for popular ‘politics of envy’ debates, which are yet to acknowledge the role of social institutions in reproducing envy-excusing economic inequalities.



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Miriam Bankovsky
La Trobe University

Citations of this work

Happy Self-Surrender and Unhappy Self-Assertion: A Comparison between Admiration and Emulative Envy.Sara Protasi - 2019 - In Alfred Archer & Andre Grahlé (eds.), The Moral Psychology of Admiration. New York: Rowman & Little International. pp. 45-60.
Forgiveness and the Multiple Functions of Anger.Antony G. Aumann & Zac Cogley - 2019 - Journal of Philosophy of Emotion 1 (1):44-71.
Envy's Non-Innocent Victims.Iskra Fileva - 2019 - Journal of Philosophy of Emotion 1 (1):1-22.
An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Value of Envy.Jens Lange & Sara Protasi - 2021 - Review of Philosophy and Psychology:1-20.

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