Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VII: Of Envy - The Spiritual Physick
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CHAPTER VII: Of Envy - Rhazes, The Spiritual Physick 
The Spiritual Physic of Rhazes, trans. Arthur J. Arberry (London: John Murray, 1950).
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Envy is another evil disposition, springing from a combination in the soul of miserliness and greed. Those who discourse upon the reformation of character call a man malicious when he takes pleasure instinctively in injuries that befall others while resenting anything that occurs to their advantage, even though they never injured or offended him in any way. Similarly they give the name of benevolent to the man who is glad and takes pleasure in whatever occurs to the advantage and profit of others. Envy is worse than miserliness, because the miser merely does not want and does not think to give anyone anything that belongs to him or is his property; whereas the envious man does not want anyone to obtain anything good whatsoever, even though it be something he does not himself own. Envy is indeed a grievously hurtful disease of the soul.
A method of repelling it is for the intelligent man to examine envy, for he will find that it has a large share of the stamp of malice; the envious man is stamped as resenting what happens to the advantage of those who never injured or offended him. This is one half of the definition of malice; and the malicious man deserves the hatred both of God and men—of God, because his will is diametrically opposed to God’s, seeing that God is the All-Bountiful and desires the good of all men; and of men, because he is hateful and unjust to mankind. For whoever wishes evil to befall any man whatsoever, and does not wish good to come to him, is thereby proven hateful to him; and if that man has further never injured or offended him, then he is unjust to him into the bargain. Furthermore, the person envied has never deprived the envier of any of his possessions, or prevented him from achieving anything that he might have gained, or used him in any way to his own advantage. This being so, he, the envied, is in exactly the same position as any other man who has obtained some good and realized his hopes, and whom the envier has never seen at all. How then should he not envy those living in India and China? If he does not envy them because he has never seen them, it is only necessary for him to picture them as they are, living in the lap of luxury. Now if it be folly and madness to grieve over what they have obtained, and the hopes they have realized, it is equally foolish and mad to grieve and sorrow over what those who are actually before him have obtained, since they are in the same position as those who are absent from him in the sense that they never robbed him of anything he possessed or prevented him from achieving anything he might have gained or used him in any way to their own advantage. There is not the slightest difference between those whom the envier can see and those he cannot, except the actual fact of his being able to contemplate their circumstances, the very like of which he may readily imagine in the case of those who are absent from him, and know and be quite sure that they are enjoying precisely the same advantages.
Some men err in their definition of envy, so much so that they label as envious those who only resent good happening to people whose success involves them in some injury and trouble. Yet it is not proper to call anyone of that kind envious; rather the term ought to be applied absolutely to those who are upset when another man obtains something good where they experience no injury whatsoever; while the excessively envious man is similarly upset even when there is something to his advantage in the other man’s good fortune. When injuries and troubles result, they have the effect of creating not envy but a corresponding enmity in the soul.
This sort of mutual envy only arises practically speaking as between relatives, associates and acquaintances. Thus we may observe that when a stranger rules over a community, the people of that province scarcely discover any resentment of the fact within themselves; then if one of their own townsfolk comes to power, hardly a single man escapes from a sense of resentment, despite the fact that the townsman may be far more considerate and compassionate towards them than the stranger. People are brought to this pass by their extreme self-love; each one of them, because of this love for himself, wishes to be the first to reach the coveted offices rather than anyone else. So, when they see someone outstripping them and advanced over them who was but yesterday at their own level, they are very much upset and find it very hard and irksome to stomach his outstripping them. They are not in the least gratified by his sympathy and kindness towards them; their hearts are still firmly attached to the ambition of achieving what the other has beaten them to, and nothing else will content or mollify them. As for the stranger who comes to rule them, since they never saw him in his former state they do not picture how completely he has outstripped and surpassed them, and therefore they feel less grief and regret. In such circumstances it is necessary to have recourse to reason, and to reflect on what I am about to say on this subject.
There are no grounds whatever in justice for the envious man’s rage and fury and hatred of the neighbour who has outstripped him. He has never prevented his rival from competing with him to reach the goal, even though it was he who achieved and attained it instead of the other. The fortune which the successful man obtained is not something the envier had a better right to or a greater need of. Then let him not hate or be furious with him; let him keep his fury rather for himself, or for his luck perhaps or his slackness—for it was one or the other of these that deprived and disqualified him from achieving his ambition. Moreover if the successful one is his brother or cousin, or a kinsman or acquaintance or townsman, his success is to the greater advantage of the envier, encouraging the hope that he will secure his welfare and giving him greater protection against his malice; for there is between them the bond of relationship, which is a strong and natural tie. Further, since there must of necessity be some men that are the chiefs and kings, wealthy and of great possessions, while the envier neither expects nor hopes that what they have will pass to him or to anyone whose proprietorship will be to his profit, there are no grounds whatever in reason for him to resent the other’s continued enjoyment of his possessions, since it is all one to him whether he is the owner or someone else whose ownership is equally unprofitable to him.
Again we say that the reasonable man will rein his animal soul by means of the perspicacity of his rational soul and the strength of his choleric soul, so as to restrain it from enjoying even the things that are pleasurable and delicious, let alone that which is neither appetizing nor pleasing and is at the same time positively harmful to both soul and body. I would add that envy is one of those things in which there is no pleasure; or even if it contains some degree of pleasure, it is very much less than all other pleasures; it is moreover harmful to both soul and body. It harms the soul, because it is a stupefying influence, robbing the soul of its powers of reflection and so preoccupying it that it is not free to control even the things that profit the body and itself, because of the evil dispositions, such as prolonged sorrow, anxiety and care, that affect the soul in association with it. It harms the body, because when these accidents befall the soul, the body is exposed to prolonged insomnia and malnutrition, and these bring in their train a poor colour, a muddy complexion and a disordered temperament. When the reasonable man reins his passion by means of his reason—for passion commends to him pleasurable appetites though they have previously been followed by discomfort—it is all the more proper for him to strive to expunge this disposition from his soul, to forget and forsake it, and to cease thinking about it whenever it occurs to his mind.
There is the additional point that envy is an admirable ally assisting the envied to take revenge upon the envier. For envy keeps the envier perpetually anxious; it fuddles his mind and tortures the body; by preoccupying his soul and weakening his body it enfeebles his cunning and endeavours against the envied if it continues long enough. What judgment then is more deserving of condemnation and contempt than that which brings only harm upon those who adopt it? What weapon is better fit to be cast away than that which protects the enemy while wounding him that bears it?
Another method of expunging envy from the soul and making it easier and pleasanter to give it up is for the intelligent man to consider the conditions of various men during their progress upwards, and while they are reaching their cherished goal, and their circumstances when they have finally achieved what they sought in these ways. If he will ponder this carefully in the light of our present remarks, he will discover that the inward state of the envied man is quite the opposite of what his envier supposes; the picture which the latter draws of the former, in all his grandeur and splendour, his extreme happiness and enjoyment, is quite untrue. Let me add that men never cease admiring and wondering at a given state, wishing and longing to achieve and attain it, and thinking that those who have reached it and attained it are without a doubt in the last degree of beatitude and gratification. But when they themselves reach and attain that state, their joy and happiness last for a very brief time, no longer in fact than the time required for them to be fixed and established in that state and to be known to have achieved it. During this short period a man considers himself really fortunate and happy. But when the yearned-for state is actually realized, when he is firmly established in his possession of it and is known by others to be so situated, his soul yearns for greater heights and his hopes are fixed on yet loftier reaches. So he comes to belittle and despise his hard-won circumstances, that were previously his entire goal and ambition. Then he finds himself torn between anxiety and fear—fear lest he should lose the advancement he has already succeeded in winning, and anxiety to achieve what he reckons still to attain. So he is perpetually desperate, dissatisfied and disappointed with his existing circumstances; he wears out his thoughts and his body inventing means to shift out of that level and climb up still higher. Yet his second state is still the same, and he feels no different when he reaches a third level and attains any other state.
This being so, it behoves the intelligent man not to envy any of his fellows on account of some superfluity of worldly goods which the other may have obtained and which he can very well do without and yet maintain a reasonable level of subsistence; he should not suppose that those who have greater and ampler means enjoy a superior ease and pleasure corresponding with their more abundant worldly wealth. For such men, by reason of the long continuance and constancy of those circumstances, after first enjoying prolonged ease and leisure come in the end not to enjoy their advantages at all, because they are finally regarded by them as something quite natural, and necessary to keep them alive; and so their enjoyment tends to approximate to the enjoyment any man experiences in his habitual circumstances. Such too is the case as regards lack of repose; since they are always striving and struggling to improve themselves and to climb up still higher, they get little rest, perhaps even less than those inferior to them in circumstance; I would go further, and say that in the majority of cases that is in fact always and invariably true.
When the intelligent man regards these facts considerately, using his reason while doing so and putting aside his passion, he will realize that the utmost attainable limit of a pleasant and reposeful life is summed up in a modest competence. Whatever goes beyond that in the circumstances of living is pretty much of a muchness; in fact, competence always furnishes the superior ease. What reason therefore remains to justify mutual envy, except it be ignorance of these things, and a disposition to follow the dictates of passion rather than reason?
What we have now mentioned is sufficient for this chapter; we will therefore proceed to speak of anger.