Resentment and the ethics of alterity

The strategy of an other-oriented self-interestedness, in which self and other are conceived as relationally conjoined and complementary rather than as irreconcilable contraries or as isolated individuals, introduces an alternative model to how resentment is typically conceptualized in Western ethics in terms of an either-or between the selfishness of egoism and selflessness of altruism.

According to the interpretative reconstruction offered in this chapter, early Confucian ethics suggests that reducing resentment in others also reduces its being turned by others against oneself. In the image of selling resentment as buying disaster, the ethical is conjoined with and not divorced from pragmatic concerns as is emblematic of postmodern Western accounts of ethical asymmetry and alterity. Instead of “selling resentment,” Confucius is interpreted in the Chinese tradition based on one passage in the Analects as advocating repaying resentment with uprightness instead of virtue, since only the virtuous are to be repaid with virtue. However, another interpretive tradition attributes the idea of repaying resentment with virtue to Confucius and thereby potentially transforming calamity into good fortune.39 The reason for this is that, as F. T. Cheng (Zheng Tianxi Ш^АШ) argued in the 1940s, “retaliation or revenge lowers oneself to the level of the wrongdoer, and resentment shows a lack of magnanimity”40

The ethical point ofview cannot be divorced from the pragmatic conditions in which it is cultivated and realized. The social interactive process of undermining the causes of resentment in others and oneself is pragmatically associated with good fortune. Still, it accomplishes more than pragmatically decreasing the potential resentment of others against oneself. It would, in addition, undo the feverish state of one’s reactive emotions and their moral-psychological fixations in one’s heart-mind (xin A). Undoing resentment is consequently a shared social undertaking rather than the romantic vocation of the heroic, isolated, noble individual who always sacrifices himself or herself for others.

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