Pity: A mitigated defence

Kristján Kristjánsson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 pages22
JournalCanadian Journal of Philosophy
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Canadian Journal of Philosophy.

Other keywords

  • Aristotle
  • compassion
  • empathy
  • pity
  • sympathy


Dive into the research topics of 'Pity: A mitigated defence'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this