Recognition and Resentment in the Confucian Analects


ERIC S. NELSON, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Massachusetts Lowell. Specialties: Chinese philosophy, European philosophy. E-mail:


Early Confucian “moral psychology” developed in the context of undoing reactive emotions in order to promote relationships of reciprocal recognition. Early Confucian texts diagnose the pervasiveness of reactive emotions under specific social conditions and respond with the ethical-psychological mandate to counter them in self-cultivation. Undoing negative affects is a basic element of becoming ethically noble, while the ignoble person is fixated on limited self-interested concerns and feelings of being unrecognized. Western ethical theory typically accepts equality and symmetry as conditions of disentangling resentment; yet this task requires the asymmetrical recognition of others. Confucian ethics integrates a nuanced and realistic moral psychology with the normatively oriented project of self-cultivation necessary for dismantling complex negative emotions in promoting a condition of humane benevolence that is oriented toward others and achieved through self-cultivation.