April 2008 -- A note about Bradley Doucet’s review of Joseph Epstein’s book Envy in the March 2008 issue.
I have not read Epstein’s book, but he apparently sees envy as a feeling that varies only in degree, from a mild wish to have what another person has or is, to stronger forms of jealousy, to the wish that the other person not have it. At any rate, Doucet seems to embrace this view. And he signs on to the related propositions that envy can motivate virtuous as well as vicious actions, emulation as well as destructiveness; and that everyone feels this emotion.
Although this reflects common usage of the word “envy,” Ayn Rand pointed out that there are qualitative differences among the feelings:
If a poor man experiences a moment’s envy of another man’s wealth, the feeling may mean nothing more than a momentary concretization of his desire for wealth; the feeling is not directed against that particular rich person and is concerned with the wealth, not the person. The feeling, in effect, may amount to: “I wish I had an income (or a house, or a car, or an overcoat) like his.” The result of this feeling may be an added incentive for the man to improve his financial condition.
The feeling is less innocent, if it involves personal resentment and amounts to: “I want to put on a front, like this man.” The result is a second-hander who lives beyond his means, struggling to “keep up with the Joneses.”
The feeling is still less innocent, if it amounts to: “I want this man’s car (or overcoat, or diamond shirt studs, or industrial establishment).” The result is a criminal.
But these are still human beings, in various stages of immorality, compared to the inhuman object whose feeling is: “I hate this man because he is wealthy and I am not.” (“The Age of Envy,” in The Return of the Primitive; originally The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution)
The latter emotion is the wish that someone else not have something one regards as good, even if there is no gain to oneself. Rand identified this feeling as the “hatred of the good for being good” and observed that it is the leitmotif of our age, at work in egalitarianism, environmentalism, postmodernism, and all the other evils of our time. Envy in this sense is qualitatively different from the wish to have what the other person has. It is not a motive that can be put to good use, nor one that everyone has.
David Kelley is the founder of The Atlas Society. A professional philosopher, teacher, and best-selling author, he has been a leading proponent of Objectivism for more than 25 years.
David Kelley founded The Atlas Society in 1990 and served as Executive Director through 2016. In addition, as Chief Intellectual Officer, he was responsible for overseeing the content produced by the organization: articles, videos, talks at conferences, etc.. Retired from TAS in 2018, he remains active in TAS projects and continues to serve on the Board of Trustees.
Kelley is a professional philosopher, teacher, and writer. After earning a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 1975, he joined the philosophy department of Vassar College, where he taught a wide variety of courses at all levels. He has also taught philosophy at Brandeis University and lectured frequently on other campuses.
Kelley's philosophical writings include original works in ethics, epistemology, and politics, many of them developing Objectivist ideas in new depth and new directions. He is the author of The Evidence of the Senses, a treatise in epistemology; Truth and Toleration in Objectivism, on issues in the Objectivist movement; Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence; and The Art of Reasoning, a widely used textbook for introductory logic, now in its 5th edition.
Kelley has lectured and published on a wide range of political and cultural topics. His articles on social issues and public policy have appeared in Harpers, The Sciences, Reason, Harvard Business Review, The Freeman, On Principle, and elsewhere. During the 1980s, he wrote frequently for Barrons Financial and Business Magazine on such issues as egalitarianism, immigration, minimum wage laws, and Social Security.
His book A Life of One’s Own: Individual Rights and the Welfare State is a critique of the moral premises of the welfare state and defense of private alternatives that preserve individual autonomy, responsibility, and dignity. His appearance on John Stossel’s ABC/TV special "Greed" in 1998 stirred a national debate on the ethics of capitalism.
An internationally-recognized expert on Objectivism, he has lectured widely on Ayn Rand, her ideas, and her works. He was a consultant to the film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, and editor of Atlas Shrugged: The Novel, the Films, the Philosophy.
“Concepts and Natures: A Commentary on The Realist Turn (by Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl),” Reason Papers 42, no. 1, (Summer 2021); This review of a recent book includes a deep dive into the ontology and epistemology of concepts.
The Foundations of Knowledge. Six lectures on the Objectivist epistemology.
“Universals and Induction,” two lectures at GKRH conferences, Dallas and Ann Arbor, March 1989
“Skepticism,” York University, Toronto, 1987
“The Nature of Free Will,” two lectures at The Portland Institute, October 1986
“The Party of Modernity,” Cato Policy Report, May/June 2003;and Navigator, Nov 2003; A widely cited article on the cultural divisions among pre-modern, modern (Enlightenment) and postmodern views.
"I Don't Have To" (IOS Journal, Volume 6, Number 1, April 1996) and “I Can and I Will” (The New Individualist, Fall/Winter 2011); Companion pieces on making real the control we have over our lives as individuals.