Because I have written some posts critical of the current economic system I have been accused of envy and jealousy.
Like most people, I do not think of myself as being envious. However, I could be wrong about this. As such, I’ll take the time to consider this charge.
The charge of jealousy can be easily dismissed. Strictly speaking, jealousy is based on a fear of loss to another. Since I do not fear that I will lose what little I have to the rich, I am not jealous of them. However, the charge of envy requires a bit more work.
To start my rely, I need a definition of “envy.” Since I am a philosopher, I’ll consider two definitions put forth by better thinkers than I. Aristotle regarded envy “as the pain caused by the good fortune of others.” Kant, ever the wordy fellow, took it to be “a reluctance to see our own well-being overshadowed by another’s because the standard we use to see how well off we are is not the intrinsic worth of our own well-being but how it compares with that of others.”
For the sake of brevity, I’ll go with Aristotle’s definition.
As far as I can tell, the good fortune of those who are rich does not cause me any pain. My writings also do not seem to show that I feel pain at such good fortune. In fact, years of athletic competition have taught me to think well of those who succeed through just means in difficult endeavors. I have run with (or rather far behind) elite athletes and do not feel any pain at their success. Rather, I am impressed with their talent and training and wish them well. I would, of course, like to be as good as they are and this does cause me some pain-namely the pain of working those hills and doing what I rather dislike: running round and round a track as fast as a I can.
As far as I can tell, I feel the same about the rich who have earned their wealth through fair means and in the face of challenges. Artists, writers, athletes, inventors, business folks and so on who have started from little (or nothing) and have earned top spots in the income brackets have not my envy, but my respect and admiration. Those who started with much, but have done great things also are not victims of any envy on my part. As with running, people who are out ahead of me via hard work and just efforts only motivate me.
I am, of course, critical of what strikes me as unfair, unjust, harmful, unethical or otherwise bad. To stick with the running analogy, if I criticize a runner who wins by using performance enhancing chemicals that are banned, I hardly seem to be envious. A better explanation, given my established character, is that I am against such cheating. Likewise, if I am critical of some aspect of the economic system that involves deceit, bribery, law breaking, or something that is harmful to the general good, then it seems most reasonable to attribute my motivation to being concerned about matters of ethics and justice rather than to accuse me of the base motivation of envy.
It might be wondered what would count as evidence of envy. Could I not be hiding bitter envy behind a cloak of alleged virtue?
That is, of course, a reasonable challenge. After all, who would admit to being motivated by envy, prejudice, greed or other such base emotions? Do we not all dress up our ugly emotions in finery so that the appear things of beauty and loveliness?
Of course we do. It would be an error to think otherwise. However, it is also an error to assume that what lies behind someone you disagree with is a base emotion as a motivation. To assume that I am critical of economic injustices because I am secretly enraged by my lack of a yacht, mansions, billions and bling would equally be an error. This would be on par with assuming that a person is against taxes because he is motivated merely by greed or that someone is pro-defense because she is motivated by a lust for bloodshed.
To fairly accuse someone of such a base motivation would require adequate evidence.
One rather decisive indicator of envy would require that I become rich. If my behavior and writing did not change, then it would seem odd to attribute what I do to envy. After all, I would have no reason to be envious then. Of course, as I am not devoted to becoming rich, this shall only happen by chance and thus is rather unlikely.
A less clear indicator is, of course, the content what I actually write and my behavior. One can go through it and look for signs that I feel pain at the good fortune of the rich. For example, if I merely lashed out at the rich without any foundation beyond my wanting their money and not having it, then that would provide some evidence. If, however, I were to present considered arguments and take into account opposing views, then it would be rather hard to take that as evidence of envy-unless, of course, any criticism of anything counts as envy.
As another example, if I were regularly engaged in activities that were clearly aimed at being rich or otherwise showed clear signs that what I truly valued was being rich, then there would be at least some foundation for a claim of envy. Since my chosen profession is professor of philosophy and my other interests are not money focused (running, gaming, writing unpaid blogs, and so on) it would seem odd to claim that I am money focused. While I am no genius, I did very well in college and was able to get a PhD from Ohio State. As such, I think it is reasonable to infer that I could have been a success in another far more lucrative field if money was, in fact, my consuming focus. As far as the stock charge that professors are only professor because they could not hack it outside of the ivory tower, the burden of proof is on those who make the charge. In any case, anyone who knows me well knows that I could hack it just fine.
Of course, what would also be needed is evidence that I feel pain at my lack of adequate success in money making endeavors and this pain is caused by the success of others (and not merely the pain of failure). That evidence also seems to be sorely lacking.
As such, I would infer that I am not envious of the rich. I am, however, critical of certain practices, laws and individuals. Naturally, I am open to evidence that I am deluding myself, that I am, in fact, full of repressed envy of the rich.