Virtuous contempt (wu 惡) in the Analects

In Justin Tiwald (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Chinese Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Much is said about what Kongzi liked or cherished. Kongzi revered the rituals of the Zhou. He cherished tradition and classical music. He loved the Odes. Far less is said, however, about what he despised or held in contempt (wu 惡). Yet contempt appears in the oldest stratum of the Analects as a disposition or virtue of moral exemplars. In this chapter, I argue that understanding the role of despising or contempt in the Analects is important in appreciating Kongzi’s dao in two related though distinct ways: 1) exemplary individuals (such as the nobleman) regularly despise people and and hold them in contempt, and 2) reflecting on the targets of contempt might help uncover some tacit worries that Kongzi had concerning his own teachings on self-cultivation. In the concluding section, I state more general reasons why we might consider certain negatively valenced emotions such as contempt to be morally laudable.

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Hagop Sarkissian
CUNY Graduate Center

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