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The prior post on Schopenhauer and happiness may be found here.

Schopenhauer makes the reasonable observation that envy makes one unhappy:

Envy is natural to man; and still, it is at once a vice and a source of misery.

There are ways in which envy makes one unhappy: to be envious and to be envied. First as to being envious. The sensation I experience in being envious of another person will injure me. Schopenhauer treats this point briefly. He does little to explain why envy should make one unhappy.

He then offers some advice to avoid feeling envy: (1) don’t pay attention to those who have something you do not; and (2) think of how much misery that person whom one envies actually has an unhappy life.

This may have some practical merit, but it seems to miss the real bit of envy. Envy is more than just a desire for some-thing I do not possess. A desire for an object or a state can be a spur to great good. I desire to become a physician, and so I work very hard for many years with study and delayed gratification until I achieve my goal.

This illustration can be worked out in numerous variants. Much of the good done in the world is as the result of someone intently desiring to have some thing or state which we do not now possess.

The desire is to achieve or possess is not envy.

Envy is exactly desire for some-thing, it is a sense of injustice that you have it and I do not. Envy is a moral judgment without the capacity to effectuate judgment. The furnace for envy is possessing or not possessing. Envy is the settled conclusion that the world has gone wrong because you wrongfully possess X.

Schopenhauer does observe “it should always be remembered that no form of hatred is so implacable as the hatred that comes from envy.” The envy is the conclusion that you should not have that – and I should. The moral sense of injustice is coupled to a hatred, typically directed toward the one possessing the object.

Thus, having consider envy more carefully, we can see that merely avoiding knowledge of the possession of others will be insufficient to stem envy. Unless the ignorance is complete, I can still have the sense that I should have X. The knowledge that anyone has X – which I should have – will be sufficient to stoke envy.

The knowledge of another’s misery might help to stem envy, because it could give me the sense that the other person is being judged.

What needs to be understood is that the defeat of envy must come from a sense that the world will be just in the end.

Schopenhauer has no good basis to believe that anything will be just. Therefore, the best advice he can give is to try and avoid the occasions which might provoke envy.

When the matter is considered, it seems that a better means of regulating envy will be see some basis for justice in the world.

One way to see that justice is to understand that the good is not distributed in some purely material way: the basis for envy is illusory. This is a strain in Ecclesiastes: no degree of material possession or control will be able to deliver happiness.

If I envy you for having a better house, I believe that possessing that house makes you happy when I should be happy with that house. And yet, possessing all that one could desire, property, money, drugs, human beings is insufficient to bring happiness: In Ecclesiastes 2:11 it is said to be vain, striving after wind and there is nothing to be gained under the sun. In short, the injustice is illusory.

In Ecclesiastes 6:2, the giving of some particular life is of no good unless God also gives “the power to enjoy” what has been given.

The point could be multiplied, but the sense of contentment is not in the object out there; contentment is a subjective sense.

A further remedy for envy is given in the realization of God’s providence and sovereignty and eventual judgment. God determined that this one would be a billionaire and this one would have little. That realization does not mean that the billionaire simply does as he pleases. His possession creates a moral duty to use that property well.

The property comes with a moral obligation which will be judged in the end. Thus, someone does not just get property. The thing received from God creates a moral obligation will which be judged. Therefore, envy is a condemnation of God for erring in terms of distributing good and for failing to judge rightly.

If one denies the existence of God and judgment, then envy is simply incoherent. Without God there is no “should” there is only “is.” If one man is wealthy and another poor, there is no violation of justice. Nothing “wrong” has happened. I may wish I had X, but I cannot determine that it is wrong.

For envy to exist, one must believe there is some justice in the world. Yet, that justice has been subverted. One must believe in a moral order with the maladministration of that order. In short, there must be a god, but that god must be impotent, unconcerned or unjust.

Thus, envy is a theological problem. Thus, it is not surprising that Schopenhauer has little help beyond trying to avoid the temptation.