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The dialectic of recognition and resentment in the Analects

At first glance, thinking about recognition and resentment in the context of early Confucian sources might appear as an alien imposition. However, bringing an alternative question to bear on a text can bring about new insights and noteworthy passages in the Analects point to the necessity of countering various reactive feelings in the context of not being adequately recognized and acknowledged by others.

From the beginning of the text in Analects 1:1, being ethically noble is explicitly linked with not being yun fm. Yun has been translated in various English editions of the Analects as indignation, feeling hurt or bothered, and as being resentful. The negative feeling of yun is (1) socially mediated and (2) reactive toward others, since it is linked to others “not knowing” or—in the interpretation developed in this essay—“not recognizing” (buzhi ^?h) one:

To learn something and practice it; is this not a pleasure? To have friends come from afar; is this not a delight? Not to be resentful (yun tm) at other’s failure to recognize (buzhi ^?n) one, is this not to be ethically noble (junzi M^)?26

In Analects 1:1, being noble, or ethically exemplary, is explicitly linked with not being yun fm, which has been translated as indignant, feeling hurt, to be bothered, and resentful. This feeling of resentment is linked to buzhi ^?h, which means that the other does not “know” one, implying the other’s lack or denial of recognition and appreciation. The conception that ethical nobility calling for a particular kind of response to the absence or privation of something from others, which is meaningful for oneself, without reactively worrying about it is similarly evident in Analects 1:16:

I do not worry (huan Ш) about not being recognized. I worry about not recognizing (buzhi ^?n) others.27

Huan is rightfully not typically translated as resentment. Huan signifies to suffer from (illness, misfortune, and disease), to be troubled by, or—as possible in its first occurrence in this passage—a reactive emotion akin to resentment. Non-recognition is here the occasion for another type of reactive emotional condition, namely worrying. Huan indicates an inappropriate reactive being worried in its first use and an appropriate ethically oriented being worried in its second use in 1: 16.

Additional support for this interpretation is evident in another one of the canonical Four Books (Sishu Щ§). Mengzi differentiated having

inappropriate anxieties about not being recognized, thereby becoming psychologically and ethically perturbed, and the ethically noble person’s moral concern for cultivating benevolence and propriety, which constitutes a task of a lifetime.28 In Mencius 4B28: 7, for instance, huan Ш functions as a form of anxiousness that is contrasted with you Ш. You has an overlapping but divergent range of meanings: anxiety, concern, worry, being bereft, and sorrow. The pursuit of becoming ethically noble in relation to others is a challenging responsibility that is to be pursued without anxieties or reactive negative emotions. Benevolence (ren) is a task; that is, as Zengzi Ц ^ specified in the Analects, the ethical vocation

92 Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in Early Twentieth-Century German Thought is a heavy burden that ends only with death.29 Providing evidence once again for the significance of the task of undoing negative affects in the Analects, the ethically exemplary figure of Confucius is portrayed as warning against resenting either heaven or other persons in Analects 14:35: “I do not resent (yuan) heaven and do not fault (you A) others” (buyuantian, buyouren A^A,AAA).

What then is the trouble with negative and reactive emotions? Aren’t they evolutionary adaptations? Might they not be salutary as in the examples of just indignation and divine wrath of the Biblical tradition? The sense of justice and ethical judgment of what is good and bad are also central parts of Confucian ethical psychology. But reactive feelings against heaven and others are perceived as anxiety provoking afflictions formed and mediated in social processes of misrecognition or the perceived lack of recognition by others. If it can be compared to recent debates over the ethics of recognition, early Confucian ethics approximates more closely an ethics of recognition than an ethics of distribution, since distributive justice (that is, of who appropriately receives what) follows the dialectic of interpersonal recognition.30

Early Confucian sources reveal an asymmetrical relational strategy for dismantling the complex emotional compounds of resentment by minimizing what one expects from others while at the same time intensifying what one expects from oneself. In this sense, I am more responsible than the other. Rather than focusing on what others ostensibly owe me, and the slights I might have received from this recognition and regard not being given to me, I am asked to turn my attention to whether and how I am recognizing and regarding others.

 
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