Virtuous Avengers in Commonplace Cases

Peter A. French

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Despite the bad press that revenge has received from moral philosophers and legal theorists, it can be a legitimate way to forge a link between wrongful behavior and penalties that karmic moral theories can only postulate. It can be especially effectual in commonplace cases that are under the radar of formal systems of justice. In such cases it can play a positive role in strengthening the moral foundations of a community. In those cases acts of revenge can provide a morally valuable antidote to the negative participant reactive attitudes of community members. They can be an expression of morality in and for itself while exorcizing such pent up emotions as resentment, hatred, indignation, anger, antipathy, annoyance, umbrage, and ire. I maintain that responding in morally appropriate ways to insults, derisions, disparagements, and other forms of perceived wrongful disrespect and ill will is elemental in sustaining equitable human relations. To reiterate and paraphrase a point Robert Nozick made, the only power that morality has to affect human affairs resides in the critical responses moral people feel obliged to make upon recognizing the wrongful quality of another person’s acts or will. In this paper I apply the four criteria I defended in the book The Virtues of Vengeance to rather mundane cases of perceived maltreatment, exploitation, oppression, and/or neglect, and I deal with the issue of regulating multiple avengers who are bent on dealing out revenge to offenders in such commonplace cases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)381-393
Number of pages13
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • Authority
  • Avenger
  • Desert
  • Jus talionis
  • Proportionality
  • Punishment
  • Revenge
  • Vengeance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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