Hi dear readers. In this article on solsarin we are talking about “ what books did Confucius write “. Thanks for your presence.
Confucius ( kən-FEW-shəs; 551–479 BC) was a Chinese teacher, editor, politician, and philosopher of the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history.
The philosophy of Confucius, also known as Confucianism, emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. His followers competed successfully with many other schools during the Hundred Schools of Thought era only to be suppressed in favor of the Legalists during the Qin dynasty.
Following the victory of Han over Chu after the collapse of Qin, Confucius’s thoughts received official sanction and were further developed into a system known in the West as Neo-Confucianism, and later New Confucianism (Modern Neo-Confucianism).
Confucius is traditionally credited with having authored or edited many of the Chinese classic texts including all of the Five Classics, but modern scholars are cautious of attributing specific assertions to Confucius himself. Aphorisms concerning his teachings were compiled in the Analects, but only many years after his death.
Confucius’s principles have commonality with Chinese tradition and belief.
Confucius is widely considered as one of the most important and influential individuals in shaping human history. His teaching and philosophy greatly impacted people around the world and remains influential today.
The best books on Confucius
Confucianism is like liberalism or Christianity. It’s a very rich and diverse tradition and it’s at least 2500 years old. It’s based on the idea that the good life lies in social relations, starting with family, extending to friends, and to other communities in the country and eventually to the whole world. The key question Confucians ask is: What are the roles we occupy? What are the sorts of obligations that we have in those roles?
Of course, Confucius himself is the most famous representative of the tradition which is why I selected The Analects as my first book, though he viewed himself as the transmitter of an earlier tradition.
What are The Analects?
It’s a compilation. It’s not written by Confucius himself. It is more a collection of anecdotes of how he engaged his students, almost in dialogue form. And in them, he comes off as a very charming, humorous figure, not at all dogmatic and very modern. I think that’s partly why he’s been so influential.
There’s this view that Confucius was a conformist, but that’s partly because of the way Confucianism has been misused throughout Chinese history. Also because he does have a somewhat different approach to critical thinking than we have today. For him learning is a question of learning in stages, and the early stages have to do with improving understanding. It’s only once one has a good grasp of what our ancestors have said that one is in a position to evaluate it and to think critically about it.
So the idea that children should engage in critical thinking would seem very odd to Confucius. More generally in Chinese education, and certainly still today, rote learning is considered important at early stages, to get a grasp of what the great thinkers have said in the past. Then at a certain point we have to think critically about what we learn.
Is this a fundamental part of Confucius’ philosophy?
Actually, it’s the Legalists who are in favor of intellectual conformity as a way of securing social order. The Confucians are not in favor of conformity at all. Indeed one of the most famous sayings from the Analects is: “Exemplary persons should pursue harmony but not conformity.”
Harmony really is this idea that you have differences – explained by metaphors like: very tasty dishes composed of many different ingredients that are bland on their own but together they combine to form this delicious dish; or else music, where you have one instrument that sounds OK on its own but when it’s combined with other instruments it produces a beautiful harmony. Confucius himself, if you look at his model as an educator, very much encouraged a constant questioning and constant self-improvement and definitely not a conformist attitude to learning. Rather the opposite I’d say.
second books on Confucius
Mencius lived about one century after Confucius but it was not until the Song dynasty, some 1000 years later, that Mencius’s interpretation of Confucius became the most influential one. Mencius believed that we are born good. He had a fairly optimistic view of human nature as well as the view that the government should rely upon informal means of social control rather than harsh punishment as a way of securing social order and harmony.
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He also has this idea– equivalent to the modern idea of humanitarian intervention–that when there is a ruler who is systematically oppressing the people, there might be a case for using military force to liberate the people. But he is quite clear that certain conditions have to be in place for this to be legitimate. One is that the people have to welcome the invading army, and that the welcome has to be long lasting, not just short-term. Also, there has to be the equivalent of international support for the invasion.
He also investigates what we mean by oppression. And for him, oppression means that the ruler is violating the most basic needs; most notably that of survival. Mencius wouldn’t argue that you could legitimately invade another country in order to promote democracy. If a ruler is systematically killing the people, or systematically starving them, only then might there be a case for humanitarian intervention.
Let’s talk about Xunzi, third book on Confucius
If you look at the texts, he favors the use of ritual as a way of providing social order. He uses the example of marriage rituals, or burial rituals, even drinking rituals, that would lead to the coming together of people of different classes. So if you have a rich person and a poor person involved in a common drinking ritual, part of the effect is that eventually the rich person develops some sort of bond with the poor person and they are more willing to do things on the poor person’s behalf.
So in a way he is saying that ritual–rather than law and harsh punishment–is key to securing solidarity in society, especially a feeling of commonality between the rich and the poor. It’s a way to make people care about the interests of the disadvantaged as opposed to using the law which, ultimately, is not effective in transforming the motivation, especially of the rich and powerful. It’s always been easy in a big county like China to evade the laws if you have to or you want to. The question is: how do we change the motivation of the rich and powerful? Xunzi’s idea about ritual has a lot to say in that respect.
The Records of Music is not as influential historically as some of the other texts, but I think it’s very interesting. It illustrates how music is key for producing a sense of harmony. If the ruler pays attention to the uses of music in securing social order. co-operation and harmony, it is ultimately much more effective than using the law, than using punishment to control people. Rulers, throughout Chinese history, did pay attention to the function of music in securing harmony.
Sometimes they would even send out emissaries to find out what music people were listening to. It’s the equivalent to modern day polling. If people are listening to harmonious music you can tell things are roughly OK.