Virtue and Vengeance in Aristotle
The Loeb Classical Foundation
Award Amount: $35,000
Krisanna Scheiter, John D. MacArthur Assistant Professor of Philosophy, is the recipient of the 2015-16 Loeb Classical Foundation Fellowship. This fellowship provides support for research, publication, and other projects in the area of classical studies.
As a Loeb Classical Foundation Fellow, Professor Scheiter will continue her research for her manuscript, Virtue and Vengeance in Aristotle. In his ethical treatises Aristotle claims that the virtuous person will sometimes get angry. He defines anger as a desire for revenge, and so the virtuous person will sometimes desire revenge. Many commentators assume Aristotle is unreflectively adopting ancient Athenian values, in which honor and reputation is most important. In her manuscript Professor Scheiter claims that there is more going on in Aristotle than these commentators think. She argues that for Aristotle revenge is virtuous when it aims at empowering the victim by restoring her dignity and self-respect. She further claims that revenge is not about justice, as some argue, but about maintaining one’s sense of self.
Additionally, she claims that Aristotle’s account of revenge can contribute significantly to contemporary debates concerning the ethics of revenge and punishment. Some contemporary philosophers argue that revenge is a brand of retributive punishment, but she contends that revenge does not have the same aim as retributive punishment. For one, revenge, as Aristotle points out, is not focused on the wrongdoer. Rather revenge aims at restoring the worth and agency of the victim. She maintains that revenge and punishment are different (for many of the reasons Aristotle thinks they are different), but disputes that revenge is never moral as other philosophers maintain. What makes revenge and punishment moral or immoral is different for each, but both can be moral under the right circumstances and carried out in the right way. Understanding how revenge and punishment differ can go a long way to helping us understand the morality of each. She concludes that Aristotle is right that there is a type of moral revenge, which aims at restoring the self-worth of the individual.