shu or 'sympathetic ...">

Ritualized exchange: A consideration of confucian reciprocity

Asian Philosophy 18 (1):35 – 50 (2008)
Abstract
In this essay I discuss reciprocity as it unfolds within the context of a Confucian relational ethic. I discuss the relationship between reciprocity and the virtue of shu or 'sympathetic understanding' and then go on to argue that the goods that grow out of reciprocal relationships are necessary for Confucian ethics. These include social equilibrium, a rich sense of self-esteem, and reliable expectations concerning the actions of others. Finally, I discuss the difficulties of acting reciprocally in socially disproportional relationships and in those that involve the manifestation of ill will. It is suggested that Confucian ethics provides a viable account of reciprocity that remains relevant for those living in modern contexts.


The rules of ritual propriety value reciprocity,

If I give a gift and nothing is returned,

that is contrary to propriety;

If the thing comes to me, and I give nothing in return,

that is also contrary to propriety.

(Legge, 1885, p. 65)
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