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Is the ethical the ultimate form of ressentiment?
According to Nietzsche, in the Genealogy of Morals, what is conventionally conceived to be moral and the highest good is in fact lowly and only the ultimate realization of ressentiment. Indeed, impartial and universalized love is the highest fulfillment of ressentiment. This objection, despite Nietzsche’s own understanding of Confucius, misses the point of Confucianism. Other early Chinese non-Confucian sources, Mozi §^, for example, warned how lack of order, obedience, and mutual love allowed resentment and hatred to flourish.45 As with Xunzi after him, Mozi contrasted “public righteousness” (gongyi &Ш) with private or selfish resentment (siyuan fA^).46
Even while early Confucian thinkers shared this terminology, they rejected Moist (mojia ШШ) doctrines of an impartial universal love as insufficient for caring for the concrete specific other and oneself. The universal ethical point of view or an altruistic moral perspective is an impossible ideal that is detrimental to ethical life that begins with family, friends, and neighbors rather than universally equal persons. The Mencius contains examples of how it is a moral ideal that cannot be performatively put into practice without falling into either contradictions or moralistic fanaticism.
Early Confucian ethics offers a robust rationale for the cultivation of an asymmetrical and graded humaneness; for instance, of bringing comfort to the elderly, confidence to friends, and nurturance to the young in Analects 5: 26. This situated appropriateness contrasts with an undifferentiating objective stance or equalizing global feeling of love or sympathy. Impartiality does not entail neutrality; on the contrary, impartiality in the Confucian context requires being partial for those for whom one has greater responsibility and responsively addressing one’s moral concern to the specificity of who they are. The ethically noble person is thus described in Analects 4:10 as acting without prejudice. In Analects 2:14, the ethically exemplary person is described as being “all-embracing and not partial," while the “inferior person is partial and not all-embracing”
Ethical agency presupposes affectively grounded yet reflective processes of discernment and judgment. The ethical agent cultivates his or her abilities to make distinctions about merit, character, and the significance of relative bonds of friendship, filiality, family, and familiarity. Confucian texts such as the Classic of Familial Reverence (Xiaojing ^M) stress the asymmetrical responsibilities of parents to children, the old to the young, the powerful to the weak, and the wealthy to the poor. In its opening chapter, familial reverence is described as the root of education and remembrance of others as orientating self-cultivation (xiushen ШМ).47 Familial reverence, the medium of moral life and its cultivation, accordingly does not aim at mere control and subordination. Its purpose is to prepare children for becoming autonomous and socially responsible moral agents who have a sense of their own individual moral life in relation to others.48
Scheler rejected Nietzsche’s privileging of the egotistical and heroic over the other-oriented and pacifistic, noting the former’s destructive effects in modern Europe—in particular the First World War—and the latter’s contributions to general happiness and well-being in the East, which was increasingly threatened through Westernization.49 Scheler critiqued Nietzsche’s thesis ofthe ascetic nature of altruism, distinguishing genuine sacrifice for the other from the domination of the other that transpires in the name of a higher good that is in reality born of ressentiment. If the person of ressentiment envies and damages others through love as a form of ultimately self-interested revenge, it is genuine love of the other rather than self-affirmation that is its opposite. Scheler accordingly claims that in his work on ressentiment: “I pointed out that it is precisely this aspect of true sacrifice which distinguishes true asceticism from the illusory asceticism of ressentiment”50 The distinction between appropriate and inappropriate selfsacrifice reflects Scheler’s strategy of differentiating a genuine form of ideal values that would evade Nietzsche’s critical suspicions. This escape, however, presupposes that which Nietzsche has placed in doubt: a transcendent realm of ideal spiritual values and the eternal. It reveals his continuing affinities with his teacher Eucken’s philosophy of spirit.51
An alternative strategy to the ones articulated in Scheler’s ethics of sympathy and Nietzsche’s ethos of self-affirmation is indicated in the early Confucian discourse of resentment. This strategy involves cultivating the self in the context of the real psychological motives of action. The lack of magnanimity associated with resentment, for instance, is not overcome by being negated and transcended in order to realize a superior state of being. It is rather recognized and confronted within the actual workings of the self. In early Confucian philosophy, ethical reflection and judgment have need of a realistic yet ethically oriented sense of human psychology and anthropology in order for the ethical to be enacted and practiced. Observing, listening, and learning from others becomes central to ethically interacting with others and cultivating one’s own disposition. The late Eastern Han dynasty philosopher Xu Gan (170-217) articulated in his Balanced Discourses (Zhonglun Ф!й) how sociability—listening to others and attuning one’s feelings in relation to others—furthers and constitutes wisdom.52
It is better to cause resentment in others than to do wrong, such as—in an example in the biaoji ^§й chapter of the Book of Rites (Liji Ш1Й)—causing resentment by refusing to make a promise that cannot be fulfilled. The resentment produced by the refusal to promise would be less damaging than the resentment that would result from breaking the promise. Wisdom includes not being an unnecessary cause of the other’s resentment. This wisdom extends to the art of government that necessitates taking action while minimizing “animosity and resentment.”53 It encompasses even the king’s ability to govern. The early Confucian discourses associated with the proper names of Mengzi and Xunzi portray how the king’s rule is destabilized by permitting the resentments of the people and other kings to flourish. The festering of resentment eats away at and dissolves the bonds of ethical life and the lifeworld. The consequent destruction of the ethical brings disaster upon families, communities, and society.
The Confucian concern with counteracting and lessening reactive feelings in others, and with not provoking such feelings, is utilized in Confucian arguments for the necessity of ritual, music, and poetry for moral life. The purpose of this is to maintain the fabric of everyday life and stable government. These practices of ritual, music and poetry are not secondary ornamental considerations, as they instruct and orient agents, helping them to regulate their emotions appropriately. The rituals of everyday interactions and ritual propriety (li Ш) accomplish more than a regulation of the emotions. They emancipate the self from its narrowness and place it into the fullness of life in all of its dimensions.
The repeatedly stated esteem of Confucius for the Book of Odes (Shijing m&) is centered in an appeal to their function in promoting ethical self-cultivation and balancing nature and nurture. The classic songs of Zhou ^ need not serve to conservatively reinforce the conformity of traditional tastes. Poetry and music join one with others and with the self, allowing for the creative appropriation of contextual relationships. The odes teach sociality and the art of sociability; they promote self-contemplation and reveal how to regulate feelings of resentment (yuan ^) and other destructive emotions.54
Confucian ethics requires confronting self-deception and false consciousness with honesty and straightforwardness of mind. It calls for honesty with oneself and others and for a recognition of one’s own resentment rather than its concealment, something which also concerned Nietzsche. The emphasis is on not feigning a moral condition one does not understand. In Analects 5:25, Confucius is said to explain:
Clever words, a pretentious appearance, and excessive courtesy: Zuo Qiuming found them shameful, and I also find them shameful. Concealing resentment and befriending the person resented: Zuo Qiuming found them shameful, and I also find them shameful.55
The Confucian critique of flattery and obsequiousness, as in Analects 1:15 and 2: 24, and promotion of a genuineness of feeling, straightforwardness of mind, and individual constancy in the face of social pressures point toward a resonance between the ethics of nobleness in the texts of Nietzsche and early Confucianism. James S. Hans has argued that both appreciate the reality and mechanisms of resentment in ordinary moral life. Neither employs guilt—the resentment against resentment—in a futile and toxic attempt to cure it and to better humanity through external discipline and internal self-negation.56 Both rely on their own variety of a project of individual and personal self-cultivation that encompasses emotion and reason. There is good reason not to proceed as far as Hans’ assertion that each practice of individuation occurs in an “aesthetic context without ground" since there is no existential abyss in Confucian thought and self-cultivation is not merely aesthetic. Cultivation occurs in response to a web of aesthetic, ethical, and psychological conditions and claims.57
Nietzschean and early Confucian thought share a concern with the selfcultivation of genuineness and generosity stemming from self-affirmation and reject motivations formed by the negation of the other. They diverge insofar as Nietzsche performatively and evocatively focuses our concern on our own individuality in opposition to social conventions and pragmatic accommodations, whereas Confucians demonstrate how social rituals and conventions are a principal vehicle of ethical individuation rather than being mere conformity or a prudential self-betrayal of the genuinely ethical.
It might be maintained in response to such a Confucian critique of Nietzsche that Nietzsche highlights the non-calculative generosity of the cultivated noble self. For example, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra is an exemplar of the practice of selfcultivation (Bildung) that develops the highest bestowing virtue, which naturally and generously pours forth its gifts like the sun, without any expectation of return or exchange. There are numerous passages in praise of self-overflowing virtue in Nietzsche’s works, and such virtue is a key element of Nietzschean self-cultivation.58 Nonetheless, Nietzschean virtues always proceed from the self to the other without the Confucian concern with or recognition of the asymmetrical mutuality (shu of self and other in which ethics also proceeds
from the other to the self.
Nietzschean virtues of friendship and generosity are arguably akin to Confucian reciprocity and mutuality. Shu is a sharing with others without calculation, exchange, or an instrumental expectation of receiving something in return. They diverge from a Confucian perspective insofar as Nietzsche does not adequately articulate the “push” or extension (tui №) that requires seeing and interpreting oneself from the other’s perspective and extending one’s responsiveness to widening circles of beings from the family to humanity and to the universe itself in the Neo-Confucian interpretation of Mengzi’s heart-mind (xin). The non-calculating and incalculable reciprocity between self and other is a basic feature of Confucian ethics that makes it a significant alternative to Western ethical models.
There are traces of the earlier Confucian discourse of recognition and resentment in later Neo-Confucian texts that reconfirm the affinity and difference between the asymmetrical sociality of Confucian ethics and the asymmetrical individualism of Nietzschean ethics. Wang Yangming ТЩ Щ, for instance, elucidates the idea of reciprocal reproof without causing resentment in oneself or others in his “Encouraging Goodness through Reproof.” The “way of friends” is the social realization of the good. It signifies both accepting reproof from others without feeling resentment toward them, since they are our best teachers, and moving others to improve themselves without fault-finding and without making them feel shame and resentment.59 Mozi described the non-resentful state of mind of the ethically exemplary person (junzi) as a self-confidence that is maintained even when mistaken for a non-exemplary person.60
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