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"Invidious" (the often misunderstood) is known to involve harmful or threatening effects — at least insomuch as one party feels "resentful" or similarly about the situation.

So there are at least two 'parties' involved:

  1. one that performs the action, or represents the situation
  2. another that is "aroused" to, or "incurs" the "resentment or anger"

So my question is whether Party #1 does their acts, represents the situation with malice? Meaning: 'by design'. Does "invidiousness" come implicit with design for the results of the actions? Or is this intentionality then another word (e.g. "malice")

Alternatively, does 'invidiousness' come minimally with consideration? Does Party #1 comprehend the capacity of their action(s) to incite resentfulness in Party #2?

My focus has come to the part of the definition that says "likely." An "invidious" action is one that is "likely" to cause resentment, etc. The OED may advance this dimension of the word even further:

Of a charge, complaint, report, etc.: Tending or fitted to excite odium, unpopularity, or ill feeling against some one.

(emphasis mine)

In either the case of a 'tendency' or a 'fitting' it would seem that the actor (#1) has, minimally, a consideration as to the invidious effect, namely "odium, unpopularity, or ill feeling against some one."

The coup de grace question: must invidiousness be absent of Care? Can Party #1 act invidiously and still have compassion for Party #2?


At risk of involving too much thought about the metaphysics of intent - many of the comment center around intent and unintended consequences (unto Party #2).

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In the sense that invidious means "unfairly or offensively discriminating" I find it hard not to attach malice to it; yet a person may act unfairly or offensively out of ignorance or oversight, so an imputation of malice may be an unfair characteriation. –  Robusto Aug 29 '12 at 13:45
    
I disagree with your very first assumption - that invidious necessarily implies "harmful or threatening effects". Harm or threat might or might follow an invidious act - whether they do is situational and not implied semantically. –  Mark Beadles Aug 29 '12 at 13:59
    
As laws and inanimate objects can be invidious the 'invidiousness' lies in the result rather than the intent, so I would say no - it does not require malice. That doesn't mean that it there is never malicious intent, just that it is not obligatory. –  Roaring Fish Aug 29 '12 at 14:04
    
@MarkBeadles harmful, threatening, odious, ill-feelings are in the definition(s) of the word - how could it not "imply" those things? Do you rather mean that these things were not the intent? –  New Alexandria Aug 29 '12 at 14:34
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Ok, I see that you are focusing here on the intent of the invidious actor and not on the effects in the recipient. –  Mark Beadles Aug 29 '12 at 15:07
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1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

In American (and possibly British) legal usage, invidious does have a direct relation to intent.

One common meaning of "invidious" in law is "motivated by ill will or malice". This speaks directly to intent and motivation. For example, "invidious discrimination" is that which is "motivated by...hostility or animus" (EEOC v. Joe's Stone Crab, 2000). It is possible to discriminate harmfully without having specific intent to do so (for example, if one has a rational but mistaken belief about a group of people) -- but such cases are not 'invidious' even though harmful and illegal.

[This is informative about legal usage only, and not on general usage which may of course have broader use. Also, it doesn't address the psychological question about whether someone can simultaneous exhibit compassion and malice toward an individual, but that's out of scope here anyway.]

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