Kant ( Kant: The Metaphysics of Morals (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy) ) defines envy penetratingly as “a tendency to perceive with displeasure the good of others, although it detracts in no way from one’s own, and which, when it leads to action (in order to diminish that good) is called qualified envy, but otherwise only ill-will ( invidentia ); it is however only an indirect, malevolent frame of mind, namely a disinclination to see our own good overshadowed by the good of others, because we take its measure not from its intrinsic worth, but by comparison with the good of others, and then go on to symbolize that evaluation.”

Envy cannot speak its name, or acknowledge its viciousness, Kant adds: “It is no doubt for this reason that the harmony and happiness of a marriage, family, &c., is sometimes described as enviable, as if it were permissible in certain cases to envy a person.”

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Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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