181: The Analects of Confucius

by Gerard

181.112: Pelikan, Jaroslav, ed. Sacred Writings: Confucianism: The Analects of Confucius. Translated by Arthur Waley. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1992. 233 pp.

Dewey Construction:

  • 100: Philosophy and Psychology
  • 180: Ancient, medieval, and eastern philosophy
  • 181: Eastern philosophy
  • 181.1: Far East and South Asia
  • 181.11: China and Korea
  • 181.112: Confucian philosophy

Confucius (more formally known in China as Kongzi) was born in 551 BCE near present day Qufu. Throughout his relatively long life of 72 years, he compiled and transmitted the foundations of Eastern philosophy in a set of texts called the Five Classics. The Analects is a collection of sayings and commentary by Confucius that was not finalized until 250 years after his death. The Analects are now held above the Five Classics and occupies a spot as one of the “Four Books,” the core of Confucianism.

Because the book is a collections of sayings, you have to get used to the quick-hit flow of the text. It’s not like other ancient texts, with narratives, commandments, and parables. Each saying requires pause and reflection. You get things like this:

“The Master [Confucius] took four subjects for his teaching: culture, conduct of affairs, loyalty to superiors and the keeping of promises.”

Then, two sayings later:

“The Master fished with a line but not with a net; when fowling he did not aim at a roosting bird.”

There’s no purposeful flow, but rather a metaphorical one. Each of the Master’s actions and thoughts serve to highlight the twin tenets of li and ren. Li comprises the entire spectrum of interactions with members of one’s family and society. It dictates normal behavior and one’s external responses. Ren is the concept of inner virtue and of feeling good when being virtuous. It dictates one’s inner life. These two concepts, when tied to yi (righteousness), form the conception of agency in Confucianism.

Arthur Waley’s translation and the included footnotes and endnotes are thorough and plentiful. There multiple meanings given for some tricky phrases, and the introduction helps the reader get ready for the actual meat of the book. With all the supporting material included, this edition was very well done. If you want to get started in Eastern philosophy, you had better start here.