Dear Princess ‘Ishka,
The alleged synonimity between the words “jealous” and “envious” is a linguistic phenomenon I’ve always found puzzling. There seems to be no apparent difference between the two terms in everyday conversations and also in dictionaries.
I’m not convinced by this understanding of the two words but, before you take me for a hopeless grammar-nazi, I’ll try to give reasons for my puzzlement and explain why I find this philosophical issue particularly challenging.
Let’s take a step back.
Some philosophers have argued that introspection is constitutive of our mental states. That means that the knowledge of what we feel modifies our feelings. For instance, we usually “make up our mind” to understand if we really love a person or she just interests us, or if we really desire a certain thing for ourselves or we are simply fascinated by it, and so on.
Knowing what we feel or think doesn’t only shape our emotions, it shapes also our actions. You don’t buy a box of pralines on Valentine’s day for someone you are just “interested in”, do you?
If this makes sense, the direct consequence is that the more we know about our mental states, the larger the spectrum of our emotions will be.
Now, going back to my puzzlement, it seems clear that jealousy and envy differ a lot from one another. Drizella and Anastasia were very envious of Cinderella for her being more beautiful. They desired her beauty and hated her because of it. But to say that they were jealous would imply some sort of possessive attachment to their step-sister they never had. On the other hand, I can be jealous of my own things, but it is impossible for me to envy my possessions. A lover is jealous of her fiancé and envies potential rivals, not the other way around…
What can happen if I take jealousy for envy or vice versa? If I am jealous of a friend of mine but I think I envy her, I might attempt to boycott her hairstyle, whereas I just truly wanted to be the only one dancing with her all night. If, in a beauty competition, I envy my rival’s make up skills but I take my emotion to be jealousy, I may kidnap him instead of mixing his foundation with sour cream!
I am joking – seriously. But the problem raised is, I think, interesting: if we impoverish our language through improper use, does that mean that our emotions also get impoverished? Do we feel “less” by talking (and thinking) improperly?
I leave these questions up to you, my friend.