Envy arises from a superiority in others; but it is observable, that it is not the great disproportion betwixt us, which excites that passion, but on the contrary, our proximity. A great disproportion cuts off the relation of the ideas, and either keeps us from comparing ourselves with what is remote from us, or diminishes the effects of the comparison.
It is not the sole superiority of others that causes envy, notes Hume, but one’s proximity with those people. It can also be in relation to the self: both parties covet the same thing, the same object, the same person, by property. How may this thing slip away from being related to the self to someone else?
One compares themself to others that resemble them.
A poet is not apt to envy a philosopher or a poet of a different kind, of a different nation, or of a different age. All these differences, if they do not prevent, at least weaken the comparison, and consequently the passion.
An accountant may have an impressive bank account, more than that of a poet or a philosopher, they are people of different kinds, so remote from each other that the poet or the philosopher will experience no great envy towards the accountant.
However, two poets or two philosophers with similar status risk in being much more jealous from each other, because of their proximity. Superiority causes the passion of envy only in a person close to oneself, which can be compared to (a risky operation, because of its fragility).