Pity : a mitigated defence

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The aim of this article is to offer a mitigated moral justification of a much maligned emotional trait, pity, in the Aristotelian sense of ‘pain at deserved bad fortune’. I lay out Aristotle's taxonomic map of pity and its surrounding conceptual terrain and argue – by rehearsing modern accounts – that this map is not anachronistic with respect to contemporary conceptions. I then offer an ‘Aristotelian’ (albeit not Aristotle's) moral justification of pity, not as a full virtue intrinsically related to eudaimonia but as a positive moral quality that has instrumental value in developing and sustaining a certain intrinsically valuable state of character – namely compassion. The justification offered is mitigated in the sense that it does not elevate pity to a virtuous disposition, constitutive of the good life; yet it does offer a crucial counterweight to Aristotle's own denunciation of pity.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-364
Number of pages24
JournalCanadian Journal of Philosophy
Issue number3-4
Early online date24 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • pity, compassion, sympathy, empathy, Aristotle