Confucian ethics and the politics of resentment

In the early Confucian tradition of moral reflection, resentment is overcome through recognition. To appropriately know the self undermines negative affects against others and the course of “heaven” (tian ^, which should be understood as signifying something closer to “nature” than to a spiritual realm), Xunzi accordingly stated:

Those who recognize themselves do not resent others; those who recognize

fate do not resent heaven. Those who resent others are bound to fail; those who

resent heaven do not learn from experience.61

In contrast to standard interpretations ofNietzsche’s philosophy, early Confucian thinking overcomes resentment through the ethical perspective of acting for the sake of others while examining oneself in order to achieve self-recognition. There are appeals to not resent “heaven” or “nature” (tian) in early Confucian writings, as evident in Confucius and Xunzi, which can be interpreted as conditions of its recognition and appreciation. Non-resentment is an epistemic as well as an ethical condition.62 In this context, recognizing oneself and others cannot be radically separated from recognizing heaven and nature, although the address to heaven or nature in Xunzi cannot be interpreted as an appeal to an otherworldly transcendence or an eternal order (to use Scheler’s language) but rather relies on the immanent course and order of the world.

Scheler amended his philosophy of nature and philosophical anthropology, with its emergent levels of the organic, with a transcendent appeal to metaphysics and religion in order to introduce and justify his vision of spirit as the personal and interpersonal in human life. Zhang’s critique of Eucken can be reconstructed in regard to Scheler’s discourse. Confucian ethical discourses accomplish in an earthy, immanent, and humbler and more modest manner what Western religious philosophers, such as Scheler in his appeal to the eternal, require of the transcendent and divine.63 Confucian ethics offers elements of a philosophical framework for a contemporary immanent ethics of the other, for an altruism that is rooted in the moral relational feelings of the natural self, and in the reformation rather than the rejection of the natural and social-historical forces that condition and shape the realities of ethical life. A reconstructed Confucian philosophy offers an account of ethical personalism without requiring an essential or substantial non-relational and non-natural person, self, or spirit.

This makes Confucian arguments potentially more philosophically compelling than traditional Western philosophical arguments that require substantial metaphysical and religious presuppositions.

A reconstructed intercultural Confucian ethics, as envisioned by Zhang and other new Confucian thinkers, can engage in the critique and reformulation of Confucian traditions and perspectives. Historically, ru traditions have frequently been associated with anti-egalitarian, hierarchical, and traditionalist tendencies. Nonetheless, there are historical morally oriented reformist tendencies that prioritize the well-being of the other and the people. Such tendencies are also apparent in the Analects. Prioritizing the ethical while still connecting it with the pragmatic and instrumental concerns about welfare, Confucius is said to remark: “If there is equality, there will be no poverty; where there is peace, there is no lack of population.”64 Mengzi is portrayed as endeavoring to convince King Hui of Liang (MSi) to extend (tui) from an immediate responsiveness to the suffering other to considerations of the general welfare and wellbeing of those one does not perceive.

The alternative critical tendencies in the Confucian lineage come to word particularly in the book associated with Mengzi. Asymmetrical ethics appears there in the context of the self’s natural responsiveness and cultivated responsibility toward others. In the Mencius, the cognitive-affective economy of humans is predisposed toward ethics without the problematic appeal to spirit and the transcendent that Scheler wielded against Nietzsche’s skepticism. It is, to appropriate a phrase from Owen Flanagan, “naturally structured for morality.”65

The genuine ethically exemplary person, and the genuine king whose legitimate power is based in the people and serves their well-being, not only acts for the sake of the people’s well-being but hears, listens, and responds to their voices rather than resenting their desires, demands, and perceived imperfections.

In the opening passages of the book of Mencius, it is not the people but the flawed King Hui who is filled with narrow desires, limiting self-interest, and resentment against his people and neighboring kings. King Hui suffers from his incapacity to recognize that others are suffering and to extend his heart- mind toward others. However, despite the king’s excuses, he is not naturally or constitutively unable to do these things. As Mengzi reveals to the king’s discomfort in their reported conversation, King Hui is affectively and reflectively unwilling to be responsive to, and take responsibility for, those affected by his misuse of his position, power, and wealth. A parallel point about the resentment of the powerful against the weak is made in Mozi’s statement: “Great rivers do not resent the little streams that fill them because they are what can make them great” Й:!ь^).66

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