Key Passages in
the Analects of Confucius
The title of the Analects, Lun-yü, , of Confucius, we can translate as something like "Discourses and Dialogues" -- Analect would be "Digest" or "Collection" from Greek. Here we have sayings and stories about Confucius, or sometimes just about his students. This page is not a commentary on the Analects. It merely identifies passages that are famous, often quoted, or which I consider to be especially expressive for the principles of his thought. The translation referred to is that of Arthur Waley, and there are the occasional complaints about it [The Analects of Confucius, 1938, Vintage Books, 1989]. Wade-Giles and Pinyin writings are both used here a little carelessly, which may be a confusing -- the way to identify each is discussed elsewhere. A full exposition of the Chinese terminology of Confucius may be found at the Confucius page. It is hard to know the proper term for the subdivisions of the Books of the Analects. "Chapters" seems like too much for passages that may be only a sentence long, while "verses" implies too little for those that are substantial paragraphs. Perhaps "paragraph" itself would be the right word.
- 1. "Moral Force" , te, "virtue," i.e. ruling by setting a good example.
- 3. Governing by laws and punishments does not cultivate the virtue of the people. Governing by "moral force" (te) and "ritual" (good manners, ) does.
- 4. Most famous passage in the Analects. Confucius did not know the Mandate of Heaven, , the moral order of the universe, until he was fifty. This list of accomplishments at different ages has often been parodied in Chinese and Japanese literature.
- 5. The concern here is filial piety, , expressed through the practice of . Living parents should be treated with ; having died, parents should be buried with ; and the sacrifice, , to their spirits, should be performed with . This sequence nicely bridges the range in meaning of from manners and propriety to the "rites" of burial and sacrifice. It also puts us on guard against other sayings here that might be interpreted as calling for neglect of the dead. The Confucian practice of the rites is distinctive, and a particular target of Taoist disagreement.
- 12. "The Gentleman is no vessel," . The "gentleman" or "superior man" (, "son of a prince") is no , which can mean "vessel, utensil, implement, instrument," etc. In modern terms, especially Kantian terms, we could render this that the good person is good-in-himself, not good-for-something. The good person is not there just to serve some purpose. This is rather like the older British meaning of "gentleman," as a person who needs no regular trade or profession for a living. Since Confucius was advising rulers, this statement seems a bit contrary to the purpose Confucius himself wanted to serve. Nevertheless, it would fit in well with the response of Mencius to King Hui of Wei, that he had come to offer nothing of "profit," : "Why must you use that word 'profit'?"
- 9. Confucius refers to the circumstance that the minor state of (Ch'i, also written Qy in Pinyin, but also found pronounced "Chi") was enfeoffed to the Ssu [Si] family of the legendary Hsia () Dynasty, while the minor state of was enfeoffed to the Tzu [Zi] family of the Shang () Dynasty. He complains that the records and learning of the earlier regimes have actually been lost in the places where they were supposed to be preserved. Of course, especially for the Hsia, the records may not have existed in the first place.
- 5. Everyone wants wealth and rank, but can only get them in the right way. No one wants poverty and obscurity, but they cannot be avoided if there is no right way to do so. The implication of this passage is that there is only something morally wrong with wealth (or profit, ) if it is obtained through violations of morality. Later Confucianism tended to regard profit as intrinsically immoral. Wealth through rank (), however, earned through progress up the bureaucracy, was never regarded as improper. This all burdened China with a self-righteous but parasitic bureaucracy, which belittled and obstructed productive merchants and businesses. The ideals were fine, of peace and benevolence, but the results could be the horrors of foreign conquest (as with the Manchus) and of poverty and famine. China should not have been one of the poorest countries in the world in the 19th century, but it was.
- 11. The "gentleman" thinks of virtue (te) while the "small person" (, or "mean" person), thinks of the "soil," i.e. work, profit, or comfort.
- 15. Important passage. According to James Legge, who translated the Analects in 1893, "This chapter is said to be the most profound in the Lun Yü." "One thread" that runs through Confucius' teaching: chung () and shu (). Zhong is translated "loyalty," but this is more the Japanese meaning (chu, blind loyalty). The Confucian meaning is "conscientiousness," i.e. trying to do one's duty and one's best. Shu is regard for others, "consideration" or "reciprocity." Shu is defined at 15:23.
- 16. "The superior man understands what is right; the mean man undersands profit," , . "Profit" we have seen. The "gentleman" or "superior man" only thinks about what is right, . "Profit," , also gets translated as "what is of advantage." This is what puts Confucius firmly in the deontological camp when it comes to systems of morality. Whether this is an inclusive or exclusive deontology is a key question for the construction of Confucian ethics.
- 24. Slow in word but prompt in deed. A universal virtue.
- 11. Confucius' student Tzu-kung repeats the basic principle of Confucian morality, "What I do not want myself, I do not do to others"; but Confucius doesn't think he is quite up to that yet, "You have not quite got to that point yet."
- 28. Important passage. Legge said, "There are no higher sayings in the Analects than we have here." "Goodness" in this translation translates rén (or jen, ), "kindness," "love," "benevolence." To establish yourself ("rank and standing"), also establish others. The Confucian balance of Self and Other. "To use one's own feelings as a guide," the Confucian principle of putting yourself in someone else's place. This doesn't always work, since the masochist to himself would be justified in being a sadist to others. Morality instead requires respect for others regardless of whether their preferences are similar to one's own. Nevertheless, Confucius properly understands, as many moralists do not, that morality requires a limitation, but not a denial, of self-interest.
- 20 (or 21). The Master never talked of the "uncanny," , force, disorders, (Japanese ran), or gods, (Japanese kami). Socrates, who talked about the gods all the time, was executed for supposedly not believing in them. But Confucius, who never talked about the gods, eventually became a god. A temple of Confucius always existed in traditional Chinese cities, patronized by students, especially at exam time.
- 34. Confucius, dangerously ill, does not need "expiation" because his practice of morality has already take care of that.
- 5. Tseng Tzu says (about Yen Hui), -- Neng can mean "power, ability, talent." So the idea here is that one may have talent or ability but nevertheless asks advice from those without it. The idea certainly involves humility, and perhaps the thought that "out of the mouth of babes" may come good advice.
- 11. Ghosts () and spirits. Confucius says not to worry about them. The dead? Serve the living first. This is a little surprising considering the importance of ancestors in Confucianism as a religion.
- 1. "Goodness," i.e. rén, is connected to "ritual," i.e. li3 (). This is what puts Confucius at odds with Taoism, where ren is respected but "ritual" is not.
- 2. Contains the principle, "What you don't want yourself, don't do to others."
- 5. The "decree of Heaven," i.e. the Mandate of Heaven (). The meaning of this as "fate." All good men are as good as brothers. This is a little different from the traditional Chinese regard for family, but indicates the universality of Confucius' ethics.
- 7. Government needs weapons, food, and trust. Confucius would lose the weapons first, then the food, since without trust there can be no government at all. Unfortunately, starving people tend to lose the trust in government also, but the point is valid.
- 9. Duke Ai of Lu complains to Confucius' student Yu Juo [You Ruo] that the harvest has been bad, and the tax revenues, which consequently have fallen, are not enough to cover his expenses. Master You asks if he is taxing a tenth of income, and the Duke replies that even two tenths are not enough for him. Then we have some translations that obscure the point of Master You's comment. Arthur Waley  may do the best. When the people (the "Hundred Families") have enough, the prince will have enough. When the people do not have enough, then the prince cannot expect to have enough either. This is still a point lost on those in politics who love taxes and who think that government comes first. If the economy falters, the wise course is to cut taxes, not raise them as did Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, and George H.W. Bush -- only Roosevelt escaped the blame for this, as discussed elsewhere.
- 11. The "rectification of names," i.e. living up to the ideal of being a prince, minister, father, or son. If people don't do this, Duke Ching of Ch'i (547-490 BC) says, you might not live to finish your dinner.
- 19. Why don't we just kill the bad people? Confucius says that good government doesn't need killing. Just set a good example. Vivid image: The way the winds blow, that is the way the grass bends.
- 22. Translation problem. "Ruler" is not in the text. Fan Ch'ih asking about ren, "benevolence." Confucius simply answers in two words, two characters: "Love others." Knowledge? "Know others."
- 6. The good ruler is obeyed even though he doesn't give orders, while the bad ruler is not, even though he does. How can we know what to obey, if the good ruler doesn't give orders? But we already know what is good, and if we do that, we are obeying the good ruler. The bad ruler simply wants things for himself. There is no reason why we should do that, if we can help it.
- 18. Family occasionally overrides morality in Confucius. A father covers up for a son, and a son for a father.
- 41. Confucius knows what he does isn't working, but he keeps doing it anyway. Indeed, Confucius' ideas were not adopted until a couple of centuries after his death.
- 4. "Ruled by inactivity." "Inactivity" is wu wei, "Not Doing" (). This is the basic concept of Taoism, to leave things alone. Confucius is not much different. But in Taoism, the good ruler isn't even noticed. The Confucian ruler needs to be conspicuous and set a good example.
- 23. A single principle? This is about , "consideration, reciprocity": What you don't want yourself, don't do to others.
- 31. The "gentleman" doesn't worry about pay, profit, or poverty in comparison to morality. This is nice, but it resulted in the contempt of Confucians for business, even while they were happy to live well as government officials. People who live at public expense are still like this.
- 25. It is well to be reminded that Confucianism is an ancient and paternalistic system. "Women and people of low birth are hard to deal with," you can't be either friendly or distant.
Psychological Types, Typology of Chinese Virtues
Confucius [K'ung-fu-tzu or Kongfuzi]
The Six Relationships and the Mandate of Heaven
The Confucian Chinese Classics
History of Philosophy, Chinese Philosophy
History of Philosophy
Copyright (c) 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2015 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved