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Middle English, from Anglo-French revenger, revengier, from re- + venger to avenge


  • 1 : to avenge (as oneself) usually by retaliating in kind or degree
  • 2 : to inflict injury in return for <revenge an insult>


Revenge (also known as vengeance) is a harmful action against a person or group as a response to a real or perceived grievance. Although many aspects of revenge resemble the concept of justice, revenge connotes a more injurious and punitive focus as opposed to a harmonious and restorative one. Whereas justice generally implies actions undertaken and supported by a legitimate judicial system, by a system of ethics, or on behalf of an ethical majority, revenge generally implies actions undertaken by an individual or narrowly defined group outside the boundaries of judicial or ethical conduct. The goal of revenge usually consists of forcing the perceived wrongdoer to suffer the same or greater pain than that which was originally inflicted.

For lessons on the related topic of Justice, follow this link.
For lessons on the related topic of Vengeance, follow this link.

Function in society

In some societies, it is believed that the punishment in revenge should be more than the original injury, as a punitive measure. Detractors argue that revenge is a simple logical fallacy, of the same design as "two wrongs make a right". Some assert that the Old Testament "an eye for an eye"[1] validates the concept of proportionate revenge, in which there would be a simple 'equality of suffering'; however this view confounds the concepts of "justice" and "revenge," and disregards the fact that "eye for an eye"[2] justice was a philosophical advance on the normative practice of the day, (cf "Blood feud, Vendetta", infra) and that Scripture elsewhere prescribes “Do not seek revenge . . . love your neighbor as yourself”[3].

Of the psychological, moral, and cultural foundation for revenge, philosopher Martha Nussbaum has written: "The primitive sense of the just—remarkably constant from several ancient cultures to modern institutions...—starts from the notion that a human a vulnerable thing, a thing that can be invaded, wounded, violated by another's act in many ways. For this penetration, the only remedy that seems appropriate is a counter invasion, equally deliberate, equally grave. And to right the balance truly, the retribution must be exactly, strictly proportional to the original encroachment. It differs from the original act only in the sequence of time and in the fact that it is response rather than original act—a fact frequently obscured if there is a long sequence of acts and counteracts". Desire for the sustenance of power motivates vengeful behavior as a means of impression management: "People who are more vengeful tend to be those who are motivated by power, by authority and by the desire for status. They don't want to lose face," says Social psychologist Ian McKee.[4]

See also