Resentment and the struggle for recognition

An elementary everyday concern is being sufficiently or appropriately recognized and appreciated by other persons. One basic feature of ethical life thus appears to be—to use Hegel’s expression—the “struggle for recognition” and the potential resentment generated by the perceived lack of recognition and how to cope with its absence or denial. The disappointment and frustration of not being recognized and acknowledged by others strikes many as a natural response. Even as such feelings are to be expected, and can be appropriate in the face of social injustices, emotional reactiveness and negativity represents an ethical, psychological, and social problem.

In this context, one can pose questions such as: Do such feelings naturally lead to justifiable negative reactions, and their associated reactive emotions, which are to be accepted as part of social life? Or do negative affects become debilitating to one’s own moral life as well as to the well-being of others? Such questions are pressing issues today, as individuals who feel unrecognized, unappreciated, and unfairly slighted take their revenge on the communities they feel has slighted them through violence or through the subtler means that concerned Nietzsche in his historical diagnosis of ressentiment in the Genealogy of Morals. Ressentiment is, accordingly as argued earlier, the pathological form of resentment that governs conventional morality and religion.

Issues of recognition and resentment have been central in modern and contemporary European philosophy and social theory. There is good reason here to take up the question of the dialectic of recognition and misrecognition in order to examine (1) if and to what extent recognition and resentment play a significant role in classical Confucian philosophy and (2) whether a reconstruction of early Confucian ethics with respect to this dialectic of recognition and misrecognition can offer an alternative critical model of conceptualizing this grammar of social and psychological conflict and diagnosing the present.

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