Friday, June 05, 2015

The Analects, Books IV-VI

Book IV

Much of Book IV is concerned with humanity to oneself and others (ren). We should live in that social setting that allows us to cultivate it (4.1). It gives one stability regardless of the circumstances (4.2; 4.5). Setting one's heart on humanity is the way to be without evil (4.4); but it is a high standard because, as Confucius says, he has never come across anyone who truly did, although no doubt they exist somewhere (4.6).

But what is clearly the major message of the book is repeated multiple times: The noble focus on the good and right and not on profit (4.10; 4.11; 4.12; 4.16).

Book V

Book V conveys its themes by having Confucius focus on people. We start out with comments about the men to whom Master Kong married his daughter and his niece (5.1; 5.2). Then we have Master Kong teaching by way of his evaluation of students: his compliments for several (5.3; 5.4; 5.9), his defense of another (5.5), his pleasure at the response of another (5.6), his criticisms of others (5.7; 5.8; 5.10; 5.12). He comments on other people to his students (5.15; 5.16; 5.17; 5.18; 5.19; 5.20; 5.21; 5.22; 5.23;. 5.24; 5.25). And he also talks of himself (5.26; 5.28). In a sense we can think of Confucius as doing ethics by building up profiles: the profile of the noble man or gentleman, the profile of the petty man, and the various ways in which different people approach the one or the other. One advantage of doing ethics this way comes up a lot in The Analects: it makes it easier to avoid confusing different kinds of character traits and practices (e.g., 5.19).

Book VI

The emphasis on persons begun in Book V continues into Book VI. We get three highly praised students, Yong, Hui, and Boniu (6.1; 6.3; 6.7; 6.10; 6.11) and more complex commentary on the students (6.6; 6.8). We also get Confucius's active concern for his students (6.10; 6.14) and his advice for others (6.12; 6.13).

We also get more general commentary on moral character, particularly humanity (ren). We get the contrast between wisdom and humanity (6.22; 6.23; and perhaps 6.26). Confucius also remarks on the absurdity of not focusing on moral life (6.17; 6.19; 6.24; and perhaps 6.25).

to be continued

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