Malicious Moral Envy

In Sara Protasi (ed.), The Moral Psychology of Envy. Rowman and Littlefield. pp. 129-146 (2022)
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Malicious moral envy is an aversive reaction to a rival’s moral properties or accomplishments, accompanied by a tendency to level-down the target by morally tarnishing or sabotaging them. In this essay I give an account of malicious moral envy, showing how it is a sub-type of envy more generally. I describe Donald Trump’s behaviors toward Barack Obama and Anthony Fauci as a case study of malicious moral envy. I argue that malicious moral envy is puzzling, first because it is self-defeating, and then—more interestingly—because it betrays an ambivalence about morality and moral requirements. I explore how malicious moral envy relates to other issues in the literature on moral ambivalence, including moral exemplars, moral saints, admirable immorality, and the pathologizing of moral outliers. Ultimately I suggest that mild forms of malicious moral envy may play an important role in helping agents navigate the socially complex and constantly changing landscape of moral requirements.



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Vanessa Carbonell
University of Cincinnati

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