Unrequited Love, Self-victimisation and the Target of Appropriate Resentment

The Journal of Ethics 25 (4):487-499 (2021)
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In “Tragedy and Resentment” Ulrika Carlsson claims that there are cases when we are justified in feeling non-moral resentment against someone who harms us without wronging us, when the harm either consists in their attitude towards us or in the emotional suffering triggered by their attitudes. Since they had no duty to protect us from harm, the objectionable attitude is not disrespect but a failure to show love, admiration, or appreciation for us. I explain why unrequited love is the wrong example to use when arguing for the possibility of justified non-moral resentment—and why, therefore, Carlsson’s claim remains unsubstantiated. Pace Carlsson, people who fail to return our love are not best described as harming us, but as merely failing to benefit us by saving us from harm. Moreover, their role in the causal chain that results in our coming to harm is insufficient to warrant our resentment; more plausibly, we ourselves play a greater and more direct causal role in this process. This is a welcome result: Responding with resentment to someone’s failure to return our love indicates that our love has not taken the form of a genuine gift. When we put conditions on successful gifting by allowing for justified resentment if the gift is not returned we are not in fact giving gifts but making a bid for an exchange: I love you so that you love me back.

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Anca Gheaus
Central European University


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