Envy, Greed, and the Common Good
In this Olio, we will discuss the concept of pleonexia in classic works of moral and political philosophy. If, for example, an average philosophy professor wants more money, or the Rolf Schock prize in Logic and Philosophy, one might be motivated to harm one’s more distinguished colleagues. One might break into their offices and steal their rigorously researched and well-argued papers, sure to be published in the most reputable philosophy journals, with the highest impact factors. This example describes pleonexia, the vice that consists in one’s motivation to have more of particular divisible goods than others, or more than one is entitled to of such goods, to the harm of others.
Pleonexia is implicated in some form of injustice in Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, and may be considered in contemporary debates on envy. If, for example, our society permits deep social and economic inequalities, we might be compelled to consider others as competitors or rivals, rather than cooperators, and so, institutionally encouraged to have or obtain more of a share of particular goods in ways that threaten the common good. And if this is true, it is our duty to get together and discuss!
Teacher: Fernando Zapata
Fernando Zapata is a doctoral candidate in Philosophy at SUNY Binghamton with interests in ethics and political philosophy; he teaches philosophy courses at Hunter College, CUNY.