I am virtuous, and I hate you.

Actually, both parts of that conjunction are false: I am far from virtuous, and I probably don’t hate you.  (Really I don’t.)  But say I were virtuous: what would be the problem with me hating some people?  Would feeling hatred toward some individuals detract from my overall moral standing?  And forget about poor old un-virtuous me.  What about someone who, by all accounts, really was virtuous–Confucius.  Would it detract from his moral standing if he hated some people?

In fact, we know that Confucius despised or hated (wu 惡) some people, and that he thought it the mark of a junzi that he, too, would like harbor hatred.

17.24 – Zigong asked, “Does the nobleman have hatred (wu 惡) too?”  The Master replied, “He has hatred.  Hatred for those who pronounce the bad points of others; hatred for those who remain below while criticizing those above; hatred for those who are bold yet lack propriety; hatred for those who are plucky yet violent.”   The Master added, ‘Do you, Zigong, have hatred as well?’ ‘[Yes.]  Hatred for those who pass plagiarism for wisdom; hatred for those who pass insolence for courage; hatred for those who pass slander for uprightness.’

Indeed, hatred appears in the oldest stratum of the Analects as a disposition or virtue of moral exemplars.  We are told, rather unambiguously, that only morally exemplary individuals (renzhe 仁者) can truly love other people, and truly hate them (4.3).

Nevertheless, the virtue of hatred is seldom discussed in the secondary literature; more prominent are discussions of other virtues, such as being loyal, filial, or sincere.  In fact, whenever hatred (wu 惡) is discussed, commentators often seem anxious to bleed hatred of all its emotional content.  Consider Tu Wei-ming’s gloss of 4.3:

…. only those of jen know how to love men and how to hate them (4:3), for the feelings of love and hate can be impartially expressed as fitting responses to concrete situations only by those who have reached the highest level of morality.  This is predicated on the moral principle that those who sincerely strive to become jen abstain from evil will (or, if you wish, hatred); as a result, they can respond to a value-laden and emotion-charged situation in a disinterested but compassionate manner.

Others (e.g. Yong Huang, Wing-tsit Chan) are similarly reluctant to embrace the straightforward, literal reading of the passage—that a morally exemplary (ren 仁) person really (and properly) hates some people.

What gives?  Is it wrong to hate?

62 replies on “I am virtuous, and I hate you.”

  1. Hi Hagop! Great question. Maybe worth throwing into the mix is the heart of shame from Mencius 2A/6. “Shame” is really “xiu-wu 羞惡.” That “惡” is often interpreted as being somehow also (along with 羞) about shame, or seeing things as beneath you (maybe “disgust”). But could the passage be saying that in some sense our sense of righteousness or dutifulness derives in part from a kind of hatred?

    • Thanks for the suggestion, Dan. I think that fits in very well with the idea I’m exploring here. I see that Graham cites the bear paw passage below, which is obviously something else to work in here. The general importance of feeling hatred is also stated pretty baldly in Analects 4.6 (though with regards to ren and not yi):

      4.6 – The Master said, “I have not seen a person who loved ren, or one who hated (wu 惡) what was not ren. He who loved ren would esteem nothing above it. He who hated what is not ren would be ren himself; he would not allow anything that is not ren to be associated with his person.

      There is some difficulty in parsing the phrase 其為仁矣. Nonetheless, hating what is not ren is here described as a key to being ren (or, minimally, to practicing ren). It is a virtue. So yeah, that’s the tack I’d want to take.

    • Dan, is there a reason why you and others read 羞惡 as xiu-wu rather than as xiu-e (as 2A9 suggests)?

    • Sometimes it’s used as a noun: what’s bad,as in the third syllable of “推惡惡之心” in 2A9.

    • LY 17.26 looks like another example to me: 年四十而見惡焉,其終也已! The “見惡” is often taken to be passive (“be hated”), but it looks to me that that leaves the “焉 (=於之)” without an antecedent.

    • I think we don’t have to look to controversial cases.

      From the Mencius (Sturgeon, Legge)

      4A1 是播其惡於眾也
      “he thereby disseminates his wickedness among all below him”

      4A9 眸子不能掩其惡
      “The pupil cannot be used to hide a man’s wickedness”

      6B7 長君之惡其罪小,逢君之惡其罪大。今之大夫,皆逢君之惡
      “The crime of him who connives at, and aids, the wickedness of his prince is small, but the crime of him who anticipates and excites that wickedness is great. The officers of the present day all go to meet their sovereigns’ wickedness…”

      Analects (Sturgeon, Legge)

      4.4 無惡也
      “there will be no practice of wickedness”

      5.23 不念舊惡
      “did not keep the former wickednesses of men in mind”

      12.16 不成人之惡
      “does not seek to perfect their bad qualities”

      12.21 攻其惡,無攻人之惡
      “To assail one’s own wickedness and not assail that of others”

      19.20 天下之惡皆歸焉
      “all the evil of the world will flow in upon him”

      “banish away the four bad things”
      “What are meant by the four bad things?”

    • Oops, Dan, you weren’t saying we have to look to a controversial case. Your point about 17.26 is important for its own reasons.

    • Bill, my bad. I should clarify: yes, as è, 惡 can be used as a noun, which is the substantive adjectival use — “the bad”/”the evil,” or as you say, “what’s bad.” What I meant to say, elliptically as it turns out, was that as wù, it refers to someone’s attitude (in verb form) of scorning/despising and so may make more sense to pair with xiu since that would parallel the other xin in 2A6. Xiu-è makes the pair a verb + object, which in 2A6 would break the pattern of listing a pair of attitudes (verb + verb) for each xin in the four-xin list. I think that’s why most people treat 惡 in 羞惡 as wù rather than è.

    • Oops again! I’m sorry, Manyul!

      My thought has been that 惻隱之心 has to be read as “sadness-at-sadness heart,” not as “sad-sad heart,” if it’s to save the baby and ground 仁; and my impression has been that people (or at least some people) do read it that way. But 隱 in the local sense, and in fact each of the other characters in 怵惕惻隱, aren’t very familiar to me; I’m out of my depth here.

      2A6 also has 不忍人之心`, which is (negative)verb-object, though indeed that’s not one of the 4.

    • Hi Manyul.

      Let’s suppose you’re right that the other three of the 4 do run parallel in that
      (a) In two of them, the two characters are present as near synonyms,
      (b) In three of them, the two characters play the same sort of role as each other in the phrase.

      When you weigh that against the presence of “推惡惡之心” in 2A9 (and bearing in mind the verb-object “不忍人之心” in 2A6), which seems more likely to you as a reading of 秀惡: xiu-wù or xiu-è? Do you at least think it is an error simply to gloss the phrase authoritatively as “xiu-wù,” as everyone does?

      And does anyone else have an opinion?

    • Hi Bill; I don’t think it’s an error, unless there’s some compelling reason to gloss it as xiu-è instead. Parallel construction is a stylistic cue for interpretation, and it’s defeasible. But it is, I think, the consideration that as a matter of fact people use in order to render 羞惡 as xiu-wù — that was the answer I was trying to give to your initial question. The question is, then, whether there’s some reason to go with xiu-è instead. The reason here in this post’s context seems to be that it then takes care of the “hate” problem in Mencius, since the binomial would then be read as “to be ashamed of the despicable/ugly/uncouth (etc)” rather than “to be ashamed and to hate.” Is that right? Hagop adduces other instances of 惡, however, than the Mencius reference. So maybe you have a different reason in mind.

    • Hi Manyul.

      I forgot to mention here one reason favoring xiu-è that I mentioned in the Deference thread: that the xiu-wù reading reads the pair as something like a word, so that reading tends to predict that one would find the pair elsewhere; and one doesn’t find it elsewhere. (Also, by the way, 惡惡 wù-è does appear a number of times in other texts, so the general construction with è as an object isn’t a stretch.)

      Your premise seems to be that parallelism is a pretty compelling reason, so that local parallelism clearly overrides, say, the presence of “推惡惡之心” just a few lines away.

      Even if you’re right about how to parse 惻隱, the parallelism of the three pairs seems to me weak (the constructions differ, and it’s not clear to me that 是非 is determinately a pair of verbs rather than adjectives), and I imagine parallelism is a powerful argument mainly in poetry. (I seem to recall repeatedly being surprised at passages that flouted rules of parallelism in the Analects and/or Mencius – but I don’t have particulars handy!)

      If I understand you, you’re supposing that 惻隱 should be read as a pair of rough synonyms. Above, I raised the question whether 惻隱 even can be read that way in this context (the only context in which it ever appears). That comes down, I think, to the question whether 隱 can mean specifically compassion, as 惻 can; or instead can only mean, say, pain. My relevant reference works are all in deep storage, except for Liu’s Chinese Dictionary (by Liu Dah-Ren). It gives the following definitions for the character 隱:

      (v.) To retire; to conceal; to hide; to keep out of sight; to keep secret; to lean on.

      (adj.) Retired; obscure; dark; fixed; settled; tranquil; mournful; painful; worthy of compassion; suffering.

      So if Liu Dah-Ren is to be trusted, 惻隱 has to be read as a verb-object pair, parallel to xiu-è and not parallel to xiu-wù. (If it is read as a pair of synonyms, it can only mean suffering, not compassion; and surely here the pair doesn’t just mean suffering.) Is he wrong?

      I suppose one might be led to think that 惻隱 is synonyms because one supposes it is just a continuation of a series that begins with 怵惕. But the long phrase 怵惕惻隱 makes sense as anxious compassion for suffering, in which the last character is the object.

      I agree with you that there are no implications for the issue of this thread. The reason I brought up the issue in this thread is simply that I was frustrated at making the argument and having it ignored. You know how it is with scientific revolutions. So when I had an excuse, I asked explicitly for response, and my excuse arose in this thread. Now this is where I have managed to start an actual discussion; if I don’t press the issue here, it’s a little ridiculous to try again later.

      People do seem to think it matters that we should read 秀惡 as xiu-wù: for there’s a conspicuous solid opinion about it, rather than the occasional doubt one might otherwise expect, or rather the consensus on the opposite view.

      I’m not sure what the broader philosophical implications would be. I have an inchoate half-thought about that, partly expressed on the other threads in which I’ve made my case (something to do with whether the two-character phrases support the idea that the four hearts are specifically about emotions or even feeling-flavors), but really it just seems to me the universal view is definite and obvious error on a core phrase in a core passage. However, I’m not expert enough to think that I know all the obvious evidence, much less the subtle evidence. So I still want to ask – anyone – is there still a reason for the received reading?

    • By the way, Manyul and Dan, I’m very grateful for your responses to me in general, and on this in particular!

      And especially, Manyul, thank you for originating this web site and serving as its Glorious Leader for so long, before you took on partners in that. I think it’s an immense service to the field, and to the grand projects that the field itself serves. And to me.

    • (Bill, that’s very kind. I think it’s clear to everyone that you are the wind beneath our wings — the Zhuangzi reference, not the Beaches one…)

    • Granted, I have been trying to shoot everyone down with hot air – but must you simply fly away? Couldn’t you turn and ‘tack? I mean, has my new evidence changed your mind? 🙂

    • I had hoped to hover for a while… But in the back of the labyrinth that my blogging-mind (博斗之心 ?) has become, I have been wandering about and mulling your points. (Can you mix those metaphors without tumbling out of the sky for flying too close to the sun?) Just a couple of things for now, and I hope you don’t mind me flitting about like a dove:

      I agree, as I said, that parallel construction is defeasible — and the reasoning there can be clearly circular, in any case: “Because 惻隱, 辭讓, and 是非 are verb-verb (to include verbal infinitives or participles), so must 羞惡 be verb-verb…” 惡惡 wù-è is probably the clearest case where it makes sense to read it as verb-object. Interesting to consider is 不忍人之心, which is repeated prominently at the beginning of 2A6. 不忍人 looks like negativeparticle-verb-object, so it fits the verb-object model. But it clearly is an abbreviation for something much longer in meaning. Taken as complete, it would be “not bearing people” which sounds like the heart of misanthropy. To read it as more like “not bearing the suffering of others” you have to read more into it, obviously. So, getting to a mini-point here, it seems to me like the issue of whether a binomial pair should be read as verb-verb and or verb-object may, in the end, be less important than how we expand the binomial into a larger semantic unit. Take 羞惡, then. Our options are, with liberties, “to be ashamed and to be disgusted” or “to be ashamed of the disgusting.” Couldn’t either of those be expanded plausibly into one’s desired larger unit, something like “to have an aversion to what is shameful and/or disgusting”? So, second mini-point: when a binomial pairing is an abbreviated expression for something larger, the only good reason to read it strictly in one grammatical way is if that will be the only way to expand the binomial into one’s desired larger unit. Now take 惻隱. I’ve always looked upon it as “suffering and grieving.” Since its identified as 仁之端, and knowing what we know about 仁, that can expand to “being affected by the pain of others.” If we don’t like “grieving” for 隱, couldn’t we just use “mournful,” as applied either to the agent (or the 心) — verb-verb — or to some object that the agent suffers — verb-object — and get the same result either way?

      So, the payoff point, sort of: interpreting/translating these binomials is a retrofitting process based on trying out and returning to adjust, so that the larger meaning emerges through tests of coherence with other meanings in the text. ䷊

    • Hi Manyul, Thank you again, sorry again …

      Looks like I messed up a Sturgeon search: in fact 惻隱 does appear often enough as a phrase on its own, as I noticed looking for something else. I have to grant that 隱 might here mean grieving, conceived as a kind of compassion for the departed, though that seems to me maybe a stretch. I’m not sure. Somehow I think of the mourning sense of 隱 as referring to the fact that the mourner is cooped up in the hut and miserable. Also mourning for the departed doesn’t seem to fit the image of 怵惕惻隱 … but of course you may be right.

      Your point about abbreviations is interesting and important I think. It’s related to my dissatisfaction with xiu-wù. Regarding 惻隱 and 羞惡, I think a difference between the synonymous-verbs reading and the verb-object reading, is that the verb-object reading doesn’t need to say that those phrases are abbreviations, while the synonymy reading kind of does. So it’s somewhat important for the synonymy reading that other phrases nearby are clearly abbreviations.

      I don’t think 辭讓 or 恭敬 need to be read as abbreviations, because the former is a word for politeness (but from when?) and the latter is made of terms that are commonly used alone with all the meaning they need here. 是非 does seem as though it has to be read as a kind of abbreviation, something like 是是非非, unless it too is a word, which I haven’t checked.

      The rest of this comment argues that 不忍人 is definitely not an abbreviation. I’ve poked around using Sturgeon searches, and I haven’t found any sign of its being an abbreviation. It looks to me as though the verb 忍, taking a person or something like a person as an object, has a full life of its own. One piece of evidence is that although the phrase 不忍人 appears five times in Pre-Qin and Han materials outside 2A2, it never appears as part of a longer phrase of the sort you’re thinking of. Another is that phrases of the form “忍X” and “不忍X” are often used in that positive sense (of compassion toward X, or something like that) when X is a particular person or creature. Here’s the only case I’ve found where there’s a longer phrase such as you were thinking of: From the Zhuangzi: 不忍百姓之無天也.

      My guess is that (despite the character) the root idea of 忍 is something like “be indifferent to, be unmoved by.” That fits both the idea of 忍 as bearing and 不忍人 as sympathy. The term 忍心 appears in the Shijing, already meaning “hard-hearted” according to Legge.

      Here are some examples from various texts; I went through so much material that I eventually gave up on giving exact references.

      From Han Feizi 說林上 23:
      孟孫獵得麑,使秦西巴持之歸,其母隨之而啼,秦西巴弗忍而與之,孟孫歸,至而求麑,答曰:“余弗忍而與其母。”孟孫大怒,逐之,居三月,復召以為其子傅,其御曰:“曩將罪之,今召以為子傅何也?”孟孫曰:“夫不忍麑,又且忍吾子乎?” (Almost the same passage appears in the Shuo Yuan.)

      From Han Feizi 六反

      Han Feizi, from 內儲說下:
      晉厲公之時,六卿貴。胥僮長魚矯諫曰:“大臣貴重,敵主爭事,外市樹黨,下亂國法,上以劫主,而國不危者,未嘗有也。”公曰:“善。”乃誅三卿。胥僮長魚 矯又諫曰:“夫同罪之人偏誅而不盡,是懷怨而借之閒也。”公曰:“吾一朝而夷三卿,予不忍盡也。”長魚矯對曰:“公不忍之,彼將忍公。”公不聽,居三月, 諸卿作難,遂殺厲公而分其地。

      Shuo Yuan 反質 19:
      古聖人緣人情,不忍其親,故為之制禮. [to protect people from spending too much on mourning]

      From the 大戴禮記, 曾子立事 section:

      Lüshi Chunqiu 君臣相賊,長少相殺,父子相忍 etc
      And 野人之無聞者,忍親戚兄弟知交以求利。
      And 人之情,非不愛其子也,其子之忍,又將何有於君? …其身之忍,又將何有於君?…其父之忍,又將何有於君
      And 以小利之故,弟兄相獄,親戚相忍
      And …而萬災叢至矣。上下之相忍也…

      Zuo Zhuan, 昭公 Year 14, beginning –費人不忍其君 is translated as “The people of Fei cannot bear to be separated from their lord” (Wisdom of Chinese Culture series, Chiao Liu Publishing (Canada)).

      Similarly, from Shuo Yuan尊賢:

      How can they endure that I should be [thus]? (Legge)
      How can ye bear to see us thus? (Legge, same line in diff’t poem)

      From a list of antonyms in Xin Shu 新書, 卷八:
      (parallelism in 1st two pairs?)

      When 忍 takes as an object something like a feeling that the subject has or might have, it seems to mean something like control of that feeling, or as I’d like to think, being hardened against, or indifferent of, that feeling. Here are some examples:

      Mozi 35 (Anti-Fatalism I):
      The ancient wicked kings did not control the sensuality of their ears and eyes and the passions of their mind. (Mei, trans.)

      Wenzi: 忍垢而輕辱
      Han Feizi: 輕忍飢餒之患
      Huainanzi: 忍羞
      Huainanzi: 忍訽而輕辱
      Xunzi etc: 忍恥

      Lüshi Chunqiu 忍所私以行大義

      Xunzi, 解蔽:

    • I should have said that so far as I could tell, phrases of the form “忍X” and “不忍X” where X is a particular person or creature, are always – not just often – used in such a way that 不忍 indicates something like compassion, and never indicates being unable to put up with X.

    • Haha, more time to blather on!

      So, second mini-point: when a binomial pairing is an abbreviated expression for something larger, the only good reason to read it strictly in one grammatical way is if that will be the only way to expand the binomial into one’s desired larger unit.

      Well, one’s desired interpretation is itself unlikely to be absolutely certain; and there are other kinds of evidence, such as parallelism.

      Xiu-è makes the pair a verb + object, which in 2A6 would break the pattern of listing a pair of attitudes (verb + verb) for each xin in the four-xin list. I think that’s why most people treat 惡 in 羞惡 as wù rather than è

      My thought about the philosophical value of getting 羞惡 right is that it will help us see whether Mengzi’s pairs are meant to classify hearts by kinds or flavors of feeling rather than, say, by objects of concern or (as I suspect) by no neat scheme at all.

      One might think his cooking analogy would support a “flavors of feeling” view. But in the cooking case as Mengzi describes it, what people have in common is not that we all experience certain kinds of flavors; it’s that certain kinds of comestible object please us all. The cooking analogy supports the “objects of concern” view and opposes the “flavors of feeling” view.

      A philosophical attraction of the “kinds of feeling” view as opposed to the “objects of concern” view of the descriptive tags for hearts is that one may think a heart has to allow for “extension” and thus must be inherently flexible as to the objects it can have, so that hearts cannot simply be identified by the objects they’re concerned about.

      But the objects-of-concern view does preserve flexibility. 不忍人 doesn’t say which people. And regarding 羞惡 in particular, Mengzi actually tells us that reading 惡 as an object in a heart-tag is compatible with推 (2A9).

      Further, if we look beyond 羞惡 to Mengzi’s other labels for kinds of heart in 2A6, we find that in none of them do both characters certainly name kinds of attitude or feeling (by the bearer of the heart). No more than half of them can possibly fit that description: 惻隱 and 是非. The certainly verb-object tag 不忍人 is not just repeated, it’s Mengzi’s main or overall tag, which is relevant to philosophical considerations if not to the most immediate kinds of parallelism.

      Outside 2A6, here are all the other phrases in which Mengzi uses 之心 to pick out a kind of 心:

      Verb-object, admitting extension:
      2A9: 推惡惡之
      7B31: 人能充無欲害人之心,而仁不可勝用也; …

      Verb of action, admitting extension:
      7B31 cont’d: …人能充無穿踰之心,而義不可勝用也

      Manner-attitude, admitting extension:
      6A6: 恭敬之心

      Attitude, not admitting extension:
      6A8: 豈無仁義之心哉

      Paradigmatic bearer:
      3B3: 父母之心,人皆有之
      4B12: 大人者,不失其赤子之心者也

    • Oops again: Manyul, I think you are completely right about 惻隱, and Liu Dah-ren is wrong when he says say that as a verb, 隱 never means to mourn or even to suffer. For Mengzi says in 1A7, “王若隱其無罪而就死地”! I think that establishes that 惻隱 is a pair of approximate synonyms.

      One further point in favor of “xiu-wù” is Zhu Xi’s explicit say-so – for whatever that’s worth.

      Here’s another possible difference in content between xiu-wù and xiu-è:

      1. If the right reading is xiu-è, the whole tag refers mainly to shame at one’s own bad, not to aversion at the bad in others.

      2. What I found to be never a phrase outside of 2A6/6A6 was 羞惡 — except in Zhu Xi’s commentary on Mengzi. (It turns out I hadn’t messed up a search about 惻隱. Where I messed up was in thinking I had done such a search. I apologize for posting comments so poorly checked.)

      Suppose 羞惡 is not in fact a word, and yet is to be read xiu-wù, i.e. xiu and wù. Now, isn’t it odd to read an objectless wù 惡 as referring specifically to shame or guilt or self-disapproval or anything like that? It seems to me that wù 惡 refers to dislike or loathing fairly generally – so that xiu-wù 羞惡之心 would seem to name a pathology. I’m not sure I’ve seen wù 惡 meaning specifically disgust, or suggesting by itself any particular kind of object of the dislike. I would think Mengzi’s audience would find the phrase “xiu-wù zhi xin” puzzling. Shame and dislike? Dislike of what? It doesn’t go without saying that we tend to be correct in our dislikes. “惡惡” isn’t redundant; it’s a moderately common phrase. (I don’t think there is a similar problem about 惻, 隱, or 羞.)

      3. Actual evidence that wù 惡here would be awkwardly indeterminate is Zhu Xi’s interpretation. He says the wù 惡 in Mengzi’s tag refers to a dislike of people’s badness generally, not one’s own, or not specifically one’s own: “羞,恥己之不善也。惡,憎人之不善也.”

      If he is right about the most plausible way to read xiu-wù, and I’m not sure he is, then I think that point weighs further against xiu-wù as a reading at all, for three reasons:

      First, this reading may give 羞惡之心 too much of a prima facie overlap with 是非之心.

      Second, it seems to me out of character for Mengzi to put that much emphasis at a basic level on the aspect of justice that implies disapproval of others. It would seem more like him to emphasize the right attitude toward the deeds and character of others by way of a positive term, or a pair like 是非.

      Third, in 7B31, Mengzi characterizes the basic heart behind 義 solely in terms of one’s own wrongdoing: “人能充無穿踰之心,而義不可勝用也.”

    • I’m not sure there is a good reason, to be honest. Maybe parallelism with the other hearts? But the 2A/9 parallel does strike me as important. I think you’ve got me convinced. (I still mean to get back to the other thread, but right now the Canucks are about to take over my attention.)

  2. I think it is difficult to distinguish between hatred of a type (coincidence of attributes) and a person (which may exhibit this coincidence of attributes) — and yet we must. Given that the hatred in this instance (and I think “hatred” is a perfectly acceptable attribute) is described categorically, it is appropriate to claim that it is not specific. In a certain sense, it is analogous to the Christian “hate the sin, not the sinner,” insofar as the problematic aspect is the coincidence of attributes and not the person himself. Of course, this does not, at least not necessarily, excuse the person since presumably they have personal volition and have chosen either deliberately or by neglect of cultivation, to share in the excoriated coincidence of attributes.

    • I think there is a certain attractiveness to taking the ‘hate the sin / not the sinner’ approach here. But I want to be careful not to read that distinction back into the early Confucian texts. It may be the correct reading, but I am drawn to the other reading–that it may be virtuous to hate the sinner, and not just the sin. Assuming some people truly are despicable, why *wouldn’t* someone with strong moral conviction just hate them, full stop? Also, the canonical statement makes it clear that persons may be the target of hatred, and not attributes:

      4.3 – The Master said, “Only the moral exemplar can real love other people, and hate (wu 惡) them too.”

    • You are right, although conceptual differences of all kinds are wrapped up in this approach. Is Confucius meaning the emotive aspect of hate that is commonly experienced (as Dan mentions, close to disgust) or is it a rational act similar to deliberate approbation, or something else? I’m of the opinion that Confucius’ use of language is frequently idiosyncratic, insofar as he isn’t exactly using conventional usage of common words, which is doubly difficult when we aren’t even quite sure what conventional usage is at the time he is speaking (let alone when his sayings were redacted). That’s why I suggested when Slingerland was in town that it is a dream for the philologically inclined. Even (I think) 4.3 can be read with 人 as a category noun rather than referring to people rather than simply “others.” If that were the case, Confucius would be arguing that only the one accomplished in 仁 can know what true humanity (as a category distinct from individuals) looks like in order to love or hate it. In that case, it would be a proto-humanism rather than a didactic statement. I think we find this use of category nouns emerging just about the same time as Confucius, so it is possible that the evolution in ethics is first and foremost an evolution in the use of language, which could explain (or not explain) Otto’s old theories about the axial age.

  3. This is a very interesting topic.

    I believe that it’s because human nature derives from Heaven. Confucianism teaches how to cultivate this nature. This is the point of Tu-Weiming’s gloss.

    Furthermore, of all Heaven-conferred virtues, none is more esteemed than benevolence.


    • J&M: I agree that there is an imperative in some early texts to cultivate ourselves because human nature derives from Heaven. But I’m curious–why do you think that precludes the virtuous exemplar ‘hating’ certain people (assuming they really are despicable and may, in fact, be impeding efforts at cultivation)?

    • I don’t think it precludes exemplars from hating certain people – In fact, the texts quite clearly state that they did.

      However, I would suggest that this be understood in the context of their teachings as a whole.

      First, there is a strong tradition of wuwei in Confucian texts, such as:


      Second, the texts consistently state benevolence to be the main teaching of the Sages.

      Third, I believe that further insight can be derived from studying the nature of Heaven. I don’t have a good enough grasp of the texts to give definite answer at the moment. (Perhaps someone can continue along this line of thought?)

      In my view, all three aspects work together. First, Heaven is wuwei. The Sages are like Heaven. Heaven is also benevolent. The Sages are like Heaven, etc.

  4. Also in Mencius, we find the famous use of 惡 in the bear paws passage (6A.10) 死亦我所惡,所惡有甚於死者,故患有所不辟也。… 使人之所惡莫甚於死者,則凡可以辟患者,何不為也?In this context hatred is used to drive one away from immoral behavior, just as desire 欲 for what is good drives one toward good behavior. I think “despise” in this case may be a better translation than “hate”. Could that be the same for the Analects (17.24) passage you cite, Hagop? No to go all Du Weiming on you, but perhaps Confucius and Zigong despise (i.e., hold in contempt or feel repugnance for) certain people and their behavior, but don’t feel an active antipathy toward them. In fact, the use of the 者 nominalizer in that passage could be referring to the behavior itself rather than the people who engage in it. (The initial question 君子亦有惡乎 seems to phrase it more abstractly.) Confucius might still feel 仁 for those d-bags if they just stopped engaging in objectionable conduct.

    • Graham–so do you think that hatred is an instrumental virtue–having value only insofar as it drives one away from bad behavior? I’d be open to that idea. What I have in mind are two different cases: one in which someone just hates another person but this does not, in fact, cause him to distance himself from whatever it is that prompts his hatred, and another person who hates someone and goes on to reform his own conduct out of a revulsion for being thought of as sharing this other person’s despicable traits. Maybe the latter is acceptable but the former problematic.

      But, regarding your other point, I think (along the lines of my exchange with Joel, above), that there are passages that target persons straightforwardly, instead of some quality/situation + 者. Analects 4.3 is a prime example. So while the sin / sinner distinction may be operative in some places, there are clear statements targeting people and not qualities.

      What would it mean to despise something yet not feel active antipathy toward it? What would it mean to loathe someone but feel…. indifferent toward them? (I can’t believe you’re going all DWM on me!) I think the view you put forward has some merit, but I actually feel like it would be *wrong* in some sense to claim that one really despises, say, domestic violence but fails to feel any active antipathy toward its occurrence or its perpetrators.

      And yes, I think ‘despise’ works just as well for 17.24.

    • I was making the sinner/sin distinction again by suggesting that Confucius might not feel antipathy toward the people (them), but toward the behavior. I suppose it’s the difference between thinking of a wrongdoer as categorically evil or as redeemable. But I see your point that the distinction may be largely semantic; in the real world of emotions, one does hate the perpetrator of heinous acts. BTW, my colleague in philosophy here in Toronto, Tom Hurka, has written a lot on the flip side of this: motivations for virtuous acts (http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~thurka/).

  5. Mencius on Confucius on hatred (tr. Lau):

    “Confucius said, ‘I detest what is specious. I detest the foxtail for fear it should pass for seedlings; I detest flattery for fear it should pass for what is right; I detest glibness for fear it should pass for the truthful; I detest the Cheng for fear it should pass for the proper music; I detest purple for fear it should pass for vermilion; I detest the village worthy for fear he should pass for the virtuous.’ ”

    Seems to support a literal and straightforward reading of A 4.3!

  6. Aversion to hate seems like some kind of Christian-world moral reaction that Nietzsche pointed out somewhere. (References, anyone?) In fact, “hate” itself seems more like a socially constructed emotion than, say, disgust. What is hatred? Dante writes of the wrathful and the sullen — is hatred something like that? I wonder if hate is a concept that developed precisely as a vice and so would, of necessity, rub against the idea of the virtuous. That would be a good reason, if true, to resist translating 惡 as “hatred” and instead as something like “disgust.”

    • Very interesting post and comments. As an outsider, may I point to the fact that the hatred described seems to be a sort of “objective” hatred, not tainted by (subjective) sentiments? In this sense the wise might say that s/he is the only one who is able to truely love and truely hate. Normal people, could be the implied premiss, by contrast, are rather dominated by their emotions instead of enacting them. Are sentiments the real problem, what the wise needs to get rid of, since they hinder him/her?
      Another very marginal question: I thought Confucianism did not condamn plagiarism in literary works. What is really the point about this condamnation here?

    • You’re in good company in wanting to read the hatred as ‘objective’. But I think there are two things to keep separate here: whether the hatred is merited (which would perhaps track the objective / subjective dimension—i.e. if the hatred is truly merited then it is ‘objective’ in some sense), and whether the hatred is felt as strong emotional affect. I suppose one could have the former without the latter, but I wonder why we would want to deny the latter to a virtuous person.

    • That does sound very Nietzschean, Manyul. I see your point about hatred. I think what you’re saying is that the word ‘hate’ in English refers to an emotion we should probably not feel. It is not good to hate. I wonder if at least some of the scholarly resistance to embracing hatred as a classical virtue stems from considerations such as this.

      ‘Disgust’ as a substitute might work, but I prefer ‘despise’ (also noted by Graham, above). While disgust nicely captures the aversive aspects of Confucian hatred, I think it is too visceral, whereas ‘despise’ seems to have a more evaluative dimension while maintaining the idea that one avoids what one despises.

    • Thanks Manyul, although the notion of a moral reaction in Christianity is possibly more fine-grained than this. There is one account of Jesus’ youth when he was incensed by the peddlers outside the temple. Apparently he was so angry he overturned their tables etc. Perhaps anger is an appropriate response for someone who is principled (some others suggest this below: Scott Barnwell, Amy Olberding and Steve Angle). I do think at least some of the so-called ‘negative’ responses necessary in an account of virtue.

    • Hi Karyn; yes, I agree with the assessments of anger, or “indignation,” as some have pointed to in this discussion. That seems far more compatible with virtuous response, even in the Christian tradition. I was wondering more about the evolution of “hatred” in the Christian world. When Dante sings of the “wrathful” in the Fifth Circle of Hell, it seems less about indignation and more about a violence toward others: “They fought each other, not with hands alone, but struck with head and chest and feet as well, with teeth they tore each other limb from limb.” There’s more built into “hate” in the West that conflicts with virtue, it seems to me, than into “anger.”

  7. The idea that the passage is about correctly identifying the lovable and detestable people seems to me inventive.

    It feels most natural to me to read the passage as saying that only the 仁 person can好 or 惡 people really or fully. That is, the idea is something like this: that only the 仁 person has the requisite internal consistency or stable depth (cf. e.g. 4.2, 4.6, 6.34, 12.10, 12.21).

    Aristotle, describing the differences between the old and the young – useful information for public speakers – says, “They are always suspicious owing to mistrust, and mistrustful owing to experience. And neither their love nor their hatred is strong, for the same reasons; but, according to the precept of Bias [“Nothing to excess”], they love as if they would one day hate, and hate as if they would one day love.” (RhetoricII.13, 1329b20-25, trans. Freese).

    That reading suggests a strong reading of 惡 in this context, which is indeed awkward. It seems inconsistent with other things in the Analects, such as 4.17 (cf. again 12.21):

    The Master said, “When we see men of worth, we should think of equaling them; when we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves.” (Legge)

    Of the young, Aristotle says nearby (II.12) that they are high-spirited and emotional, and so their feelings are vehement and uncomplicated, but changeable. We might read Confucius at 4.3 as distinguishing between uncomplicated vehemence and wholeheartedness. The former doesn’t imply the latter.

    And once we’re thinking along those lines, it seems natural too to think that wholeheartedness doesn’t imply vehemence, violent passion, or brooding on the object of one’s 惡-ing. Hence that reading might help reconcile 4.3 and 4.17, because the main conflict is that hating can seem to imply brooding.

    That still doesn’t tell us whether Confucius is making a mistake here.

    Perhaps the chance that he is making a mistake is marginally reduced by the possibility, or likelihood, that his remark was in response to some disciple’s arrogant pronouncements about whom he approved and whom despised. One might make such a response even if one’s view were only that 仁’s unique wholeheartedness is a necessary condition of any complete attitude, hence of fully loving or hating (and that for other reasons a 仁 person would never hate someone). To reconcile that complex view with other passages we’d have to appeal to flexibility in the meaning of 惡. And in any case, surely Confucius didn’t hate the village worthy?!

    • Bill: I want to ask for a little clarification vis. your distinction between ‘correctly’ hating vs. ‘really / fully’ hating. It seems to me that you’re not really arguing against the ‘correctly hating’ reading, but are trying to add to it. Is that right? Put another way, how can one claim that fully / really hate another person (from depth, stability, etc.) without also thinking that the hatred is correctly targeted?

    • I did mean to reject any reading that puts any emphasis on the idea of choosing the right particular people to love or hate, though I didn’t offer any argument in support of that rejection beyond suggesting that it may go too far beyond the words of 4.3.

      One could certainly argue that if a REN person loves or hates someone, the person must in fact be worthy of love or hate. But it seems to me that that’s not something that follows immediately and obviously, and so it need not be part of the intent of the remark. There’s a conceptual gap between being of one mind and being correct. For example, a good person might sometimes virtuously trust misleading evidence or false reports. (Also, since I think we don’t have very good information about the range of variation in meaning of the word REN in Confucius’ mouth, nor about the circumstances of the remark in 4.3, we can’t be sure that he’s speaking in 4.3 of the most perfect virtue he recognizes.)

      At the end of your paragraph, in case you mean to ask, “Surely a REN person who hates Smith must think Smith is actually worthy of hatred – yes?” my answer is, “Yes, and I don’t think that principle involves any non-negligible leap.”

    • I think ‘stability’ and ‘depth’ are reflected in, say, 12.10. But there are other passages that speak to proper targeting. For example, 15:28 子曰:“眾惡之,必察焉;眾好之,必察焉。 [The Master said, “It doesn’t matter if the multitude hates someone; you must still examine the person and judge for yourself. It doesn’t matter if the multitude loves someone; you must still examine the person and judge for yourself.”]

      Actually, when not think that 4.3 might support both readings?

    • My thought wasn’t “Confucius says X elsewhere, so 4.3 means X.” It was that the language of 4.3 looks like it pretty plainly says this and only this: that only the 仁 person can 好 or 惡 people. So if we can make sense of that, there’s a very strong presumption in favor of the view that that’s what he means. And we can make sense of that if we suppose that he (and perhaps his audience at the time) regarded attitudinal coherence/integrity as a special feature of 仁. Other passages seem to show that he did so.

      In English if you say “She really knows how to drink,” you just might mean to imply that she knows which occasions are right. I think if you say “She really knows how to love or hate,” your remark wouldn’t have such an implication. My impression is that “knows how to” is friendlier in general to such implications than is 能, but maybe I’m mistaken.

      But even if I’m right, one could object to my argument as follows: that while I’m unwilling to stretch 能, I’m relying on stretching 好 and 惡. My response is that I think mine is a much more natural kind of stretch.

  8. I guess one could be virtuous and still hate, but that might be at odds with “forgiveness” (Shù 恕). Lunyu 4.3 says the Junzi hates, though Lunyu 4.4 suggests he/she doesn’t.
    Spealing for myself, Having an open mind and developing understanding often defuses hatred. I view psychopaths, for example, as sick, and since I don’t hate people who are sick, I don’t hate them. If I feel anything, it would be pity. As for people who are “merely” inconsiderate, “hate” is certainly too strong of a word to capture how I feel. Again, I try to be understanding. Some people simply don’t get it or are not paying attention. I don’t hate such people. People who do get it, but just don’t give a damn, well, they anger me. I’m not sure “hate” is the right word. (But I notice some of the respondents have addressed that.)

    • I know what you mean vis. psychopaths and others who are not fully in control. Hate is not the appropriate or natural response. And I’m coming around to the idea that ‘hate’ may not be good even for the last group you mention–namely, those who get it but just don’t give a damn.

  9. Just one quick thought: I think that what the Analects and other early texts have to say about anger is relevant here. I find persuasive the interpretive thread in several of the above comments that “hatred” may be the wrong translation/understanding of wu, because “hatred” means to us something that is wrathful, sullen, violent, brooding. In other words, it lingers and overflows its proper target. Contrast this with the right kind of anger, such as Yan Hui’s: in 6:2, we are told that he does not “transfer his anger.” Zhu Xi explains the intuitive idea as not getting angry at one person because of what someone else did, and endorses Cheng Yi’s more abstract explanation that “the anger is in its object, rather than in oneself.” In other words, Yan Hui was not roused into a general state of anger, which anger could spill over onto people other than the appropriate object of his anger.

    • Steve: Yes, I agree that targeting is important. A junzi couldn’t direct anger at inappropriate targets simply because he was emotionally aroused and in a generally high charged affective state. But, what about appropriate targets? Graham raised the possibility above that a junzi might not *feel* hostility or disdain toward an appropriate target even if, evaluatively speaking, he or she deserved to be despised. I think there is a general resistance to approving negative emotions, and the thoughts you raise here might explain some of that resistance. But I think there is some room to question the idea that one can really find another despicable without feeling some appropriate emotion–even if it is strong and nasty.

    • I wonder how much of a coincidence it is that an alternate meaning of “despise” is to ignore, to leave out of account; and to hold danger in contempt can similarly mean to leave it out of account.

      Separately, I wonder whether 惡 can have a meaning like that.

  10. It seems worth noting that 17.24 records a conversation between Confucius and Zigong. And, at least some of what Confucius here claims to despise plausibly tracks limitations Zigong has. The first two elements, in particular, target those who are inappropriately judgmental. And it is just this that Confucius criticizes in Zigong (e.g., 14.29 or even 5.9 where Confucius appears to turn Zigong’s penchant for ranking others against him in a very pointed way). Because of this, I would be inclined against taking the claims Confucius makes here as unambiguously general, as a cataloging of hate-worthy characteristics or types. It may be that Confucius is rhetorically embellishing his reactions to failings Zigong has as a pedagogical and hortatory move – such would read this as communicating something like: “What do I despise? I despise just those weaknesses you tend to display.” Zigong would presumably have more cause to take his faults seriously if he were to think them summoning special disgust from Confucius. Put simply, at least two of the four qualities Confucius claims to despise appear to belong to his interlocutor. This should give one some pause in reading the claims as general and abstract rather than strategically pedagogical.

    • Thanks, Amy. I tend to be very sympathetic to these sorts of contextual considerations. Let’s say I agree with your reading here: why not think that there is at least some plausiblity to the claim that Confcuius would hate those qualities in Zigong and, mutatis mutandis (whoa! haven’t written those words in ages), in whomever else they appeared? Why not think a more general claim can be extracted from this exchange? Could there be instances of being overly judgmental that don’t merit derision, that one would not despise? Perhaps….

    • I suppose I distinguish between Confucius’ disapproval of the qualities he identifies and his despising them. The former, I think, is easily granted, but the latter may not as easily generalize and that’s the issue here – whether disapproval rising to the level of despising or hating generalizes.

      My reluctance to see 17.24’s claims as generalizing rather automatically or seamlessly is that Confucius has a pattern of emphatic and pointed speech with Zigong. He calls him a vessel (an insult at worst, faint praise at best), tells him ren is shu (which is, again, something Zigong lacks), and invites him to apply his pernicious tendency toward comparison by comparing himself to Yan Hui (a comparison bound to be unflattering to Zigong). There is, in short, a sharply corrective style to Confucius’ interactions with Zigong. Moreover, I take it as significant that is Zigong here, in 17.24, who introduces the subject of despising or hating, not Confucius. In short, I see the set up of the passage as pregnant with the personalities in it: Zigong, who judges harshly and too readily, who lacks sympathy with others, is asking Confucius about perhaps the most condemnatory emotive judgment of another one can have. And Confucius responds in keeping with a pattern employed elsewhere. He pointedly links his answer with Zigong’s failings, just as he does elsewhere (i.e., in their discussions of shu).

      All this is not to suggest that there is no general import here, but that the *force* of the remarks, the element of hating or despising, is not cleanly or unambiguously general. At the very least, I’d like to shift the burden. Instead of assuming it does generalize, I’d like to treat it as particular and strategic unless and until the remark in 17.24 is borne out by support from other passages that do not have these contextual complexities and also show that the qualities limned here warrant the intensity of response Confucius here suggests.

      Should all instances of being overly judgmental be despised? That seems like using an ox-cleaver to kill a chicken.

    • Zigong does take a few verbal beatings throughout the Analects.

      I actually have some independent interest in whether there is some general import here. I have been thinking about the role of negative emotions in morality, and then got interested in these passages in the Analects. I am struck, for example, by instances where someone lacks anger or hatred toward a truly despicable person. In such cases, I am inclined to say that there is something wrong with the person–that the person falls short of what virtue demands. I tend to think that it’s wrong to forgive or feel indifferent toward the perpetrators of some moral crimes. So I was trying to see to what extent one of my moral heroes might share these sentiments.

    • I can’t think of anywhere that Confucius appears to make a general claim of the sort you describe. He does get rather righteously angry at 11.17. Does that help make the case?

  11. I just saw Steve’s post above mine and tend to agree. I think once you factor out 17.24 (for the reason I gave above), then 4.3 may more plausibly read about how one manages emotions than about the objects ostensibly evoking those emotions. My own suspicion (but it’s only that – a suspicion) about 4.3 is that the crux is the force of the reactions described. That is, I’d couple it more naturally with 2.4 and suggest that at issue here is how much “free rein” people can or should tolerate with respect to their most emotionally forceful reactions. What may be at issue is just “overstepping boundaries” – i.e., the sorts of things that love or hate can provoke people to do. Someone who is ren has “free rein” to hate (or have strong aversions/disgust) because he or she can be trusted not to “overstep boundaries” with it. (Very speculatively, I’m not even sure that the “propriety” of the emotion is seriously in play. Perhaps the ren person can have strong emotional reactions that are *not* (or not always) well grounded in or justified by their objects. She can, that is, have idiosyncratic reactions that don’t generalize into a claim that what she despises is *worthy* of despising because she is emotionally astute and disciplined enough not to react inappropriately out of her strong responses. She can despise and at the same time hold her own reaction in abeyance where her conduct is concerned and perhaps even hold it in some doubt with respect to how warranted it is. But, as I say, that’s very speculative.)

  12. Hi Hagop et al,

    The problem with “hatred” may be (as is suggested above) that it almost always seems to have a corrosive effect for the person who feels it. It often gets the better of us, which is why it threatens to exceed its need and target, as Steve notes. But what about righteous indignation? This seems to better capture the kind of cultivated and political repugnance that Confucius has in mind. Not all indignation is righteous, but properly cultivated indignation aimed appropriately at the right target is. It is public, and expressed (which hatred does not have to be). In this sense, righteous indignation is not only NOT at odds with virtue, but may be its own kind of political virtue.

    • That’s a very interesting suggestion, Sara. One thought off the top of my head is that indignation is often felt toward someone who has made some transgression against oneself. It seems strange (for lack of a better word) to claim that I feel indignant for what someone has done to someone else, but quite natural to say that I feel indignant for what someone has done toward me (or that affects me in some direct way). Having said that, I think ‘righteous indignation’ may be quite appropriate in some contexts as a way of understanding the import of wu 惡.

  13. Interesting comments from everyone.

    Without going off in a tangent, I’m surprised no one has mentioned “Doctrine of the Mean.”

    I have actually discussed this same topic in some other Confucian forums I go to. Generally, the first verse which comes up is:


    I believe this verse resolves many questions in the comments above.

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