Home Psychology Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in early Twentieth-Century German Thought
Three: Resentment and Intercultural Confucian Ethics A Nietzschean or a Confucian Ethos?
One could offer reasons for the positive role of resentment in social life or for an equality of strength that is articulated through the affirmation of the nobility and generosity of the self. Both could be strategies for modifying Nietzsche’s genealogical critique of morality. A different strategy is suggested by the analysis of resentment developed in the Analects.
Nietzsche distinguishes two different ideals of character: the reactive resentful character and the affirmative lordly one. The early ru M or “Confucian” authors of the Analects, attributed to Kongzi, interpreted the distinction between the exemplary person (junzi ША) and the petty person (xiaoren EA), the “small person” who is unable to exhibit “smallness” or humbleness of the heart-mind, in light of the negative affects. The petty or ignoble person is portrayed as resenting being kept at a distance and acting out of a limited moral psychological condition; that is, out of small-minded selfinterest and mean-spirited feelings of resentment toward others in an anxious and insecure self-centered and partisan search for profits, favors, comforts, and accolades. As the Great Learning (Daxue ФФ) confirms, in contrasting the path of resentment with the path of kindness and tolerance, animosity and resentment undermine the capacity to achieve a straightness of mind and wholeness of character.41
Negative emotions in the Analects are, as seen in the previous discussion above, understood through a variety of moral psychologically interrelated yet distinct terms that do not all mean to resent: yun fm (to be indignant, to feel hurt or discontented by), yuan ^ (to blame, to complain of), fen 'Й, and huan Ш and you Щ. (to suffer, be worried or troubled by). The authors of the Analects can consequently be said to be aware of the ubiquity of resentment under certain conditions and the ethical requirement to challenge it and related reactive feelings both within oneself (e.g., not being resentful) and in relation to others (e.g., not engendering resentment in others in personal life and in government). Early Confucian ethical thought identifies this moral- psychological work on the emotions as being a key element of the ethically noble character of the junzi. This is emphasized in the understanding of resentment and related reactive affects revealed in early Confucian sources. Clearly, negative affects might play a positive role and be worthy of praise such as indignation against injustice and viciousness, yet they threaten to overflow their proper degree, damaging others and the persons whose comportment and attitudes are shaped by them.
Untangling resentment in oneself as well as in others is a primary element of becoming a gentleman, who as both Confucius and Mengzi are recorded as noticing does not resent heaven or humans, and genuinely noble in the ethical sense. This nobility is achieved through self-cultivation and is contrasted with the ethically flawed comportment of the petty person who is fixated on his or her own limited concerns and selfish interests. It accordingly should be part of a well-rounded account of resisting and unfixing reactive emotions against others. The recognition of the other in her or his asymmetry is necessary for unraveling the nexus of resentment. This asymmetrical recognition is visible in Analects 1:1 and 1:16. To this extent, early Confucian literati have a nuanced and realistic moral psychology of resentment as well as the ethical self-cultivation and selfrectification requisite for dismantling resentment in achieving a condition of asymmetrically gradated and appropriately enacted humane benevolence.
98 Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in Early Twentieth-Century German Thought
The early Confucian model of self-affirmation through cognitive-affective self-rectification suggests an alternative to Scheler’s appeal to spirit and Nietzsche’s underestimation of the ethics of the other. Self-affirmation does not require the negation of the other. It leads to a cultivation of the self that involves confronting one’s own resentment. A resentful state of mind is tied up with a narrow self-concern and egoism that expresses a limited or small conception of the self as well as an exaggerated sense of one’s merits, such that one can act for others without necessitating the same in the calculative expectation and instrumental logic of exchange.
The Confucian ethical point of view relies on the reciprocity (shu Ш) of seeing the other as being analogous to oneself. This analogousness is not, however, the equal symmetry between independent individual agents that is always in the end a conditional self-interested exchange. An ethical claim is perceived as being asymmetrically made upon oneself independent of one’s own claim upon the other and thus does not entail the symmetry that reduces the other to oneself and occasions the resentment of not being treated equally by the other. Analogy is in this setting not identity, given the importance of making distinctions in moral judgment and the asymmetries operative in interpersonal human relations.
The asymmetrical and proportional character of the ethical signifies the impossibility of expecting of others the same as what one expects of oneself and of experiencing this ethical demand without resentment; that is, to expect and demand more of oneself than of others, such that the other’s lack of recognition and appreciation is not perceived as a justification of one’s own lack. Indeed, beyond this, it brings forth the asymmetrical demand that one recognize the other regardless of whether the other recognizes oneself. Even if the logic of reciprocal and equal exchange naturally flows into resentment against others, the asymmetry in the early Confucian articulation of reciprocity and mutuality (shu Ш)—a notion in which sympathy and kindness toward the other come to be accentuated rather than a pragmatic instrumental exchange—turns questions of resentment and responsibility back upon oneself:
I do not worry (huan S) about not holding a good position; I worry about how
I make myself fit to gain a position. I do not worry about being unrecognized; I
seek to be fit to be recognized.42
According to the interpretation developed in this chapter, the “anxiety” and “worry” expressed in Analects 4:14 encompass feelings of resentment. It can be understood to entail the need not to feel resentment at not holding a good position and being recognized, a common concern in ordinary ethical life, but focusing instead on becoming ethically worthy of others’ recognition: that is to say, “I do not resent being unrecognized; I seek to be worthy of recognition"
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