October 25: Emily Dupree

Come join us Monday, October 25, to discuss Emily Dupree’s Paper “Revenge”.

This meeting is on Zoom. The zoom link will be sent out in advance of the meeting to all those on the practical philosophy workshop email list. If you would like to be added to the list, please email pbourbon@uchicago.edu

When: 10:30-12:20 am

Paper is available under ‘download’. Please email pbourbon@uchicago.edu if you require the password.


There is a cluster of enduring assumptions in much of our Western philosophical inheritance on the topic of revenge: first, that revenge is a moral evil incompatible with freedom; second, that it is irrational; and finally, that revenge has no place in our practical lives once sociopolitical organizations are up and running. In one telling passage, Martha Nussbaum describes anger’s vengeful impulses as involving beliefs that are “false and incoherent, ubiquitous though they are.” But these assumptions, as I will argue, oversimplify questions regarding the status of revenge under conditions of political failure. What can wronged parties do when the state no longer adequately safeguards their moral personhood? When it seems that private vengeance is the only recourse one has in the aftermath of immense interpersonal harm?

In this paper I explore these questions through the first-personal accounts of revenge taken by Jews in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and develop an account in which revenge is rational to pursue. This rationality is grounded in the moral good that it provides revenge-seekers: the actualization of a moral personhood that was eroded by the interpersonal conditions that constituted the state’s failure. While I do not commit myself in this paper to defending revenge all things considered, I make the still-robust claim that revenge provides a moral good and it is therefore rational to pursue it. This good is related to the more general good of actualizing one’s moral personhood. In this way, I deny the first two assumptions of our philosophical inheritance, and I show that the last assumption – that revenge has no place in our practical lives once sociopolitical organizations are up and running – is a tautology once we understand the nature of revenge itself.

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