A Critique of Pure Revenge

  • Arindam ChakrabartiEmail author
Part of the Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures book series (SCPT, volume 1)


When it comes to evaluating the primordial human emotion of vengeance, moral philosophers, ancient and modern, Indian and Western, are divided into two groups: revenge-approvers and revenge-denouncers. Socrates, for example, decries revenge but Aristotle extols it as a virtue. Using the works of Nietzsche and Nozick, insights from the Mahābhārata, and Euripedes’ Orestes, this paper distinguishes between revenge and retribution, and goes on to expose the misleading metaphors behind revenge-abetting phrases such as “teaching a lesson” or “getting even”. An elementary mistake of confusing the dictum “Do to others what you want to be done to yourself” with the totally different dictum: “Do to others what they do to you” seems to lie behind the vague concept of “reciprocity” which is invoked by contemporary pro-revenge moral philosophers. Robert Solomon’s subtle defense of revengefulness as an ineliminably human emotional motivation for justly angry actions is critiqued as slipping into a logical mistake. Finally, the paper proposes a moral psychological explanation of why revenge-spirals unstoppably escalate by the in-built discontent and self-contradiction in the motivational structure of the avenger’s principle: “He should never have done that to me, therefore I shall now do exactly the same thing to him!” Any act of revenge is doomed to self-frustration, because it mimics and repeats a wrongdoing in the name of resisting and deterring it, it does the same in the name of doing the opposite, expecting emotional closure and non-closure at the same time.


Restorative Justice Initial Attack Moral Psychology Moral Sentiment Honor Society 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Hawai’i at ManoaHonoluluUSA

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