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The analects of Confucius is an influential form of literature for the Asian society. This book was translated by Legge James in honour of the original work written by Confucius (K’ung Fu-Zi) who was a popular Chinese philosopher.
As translated by Legge, this book emphasises on the need to adhere to one’s traditions and above all, it advocates for acceptable human behaviour that is guided by virtues rather than laws “If they be led by virtue and uniformity sought to be given them by the rules of propriety… and moreover will become good.” (2:10).
Having lived from 552 B.C through to 479 B.C Confucius was very popular among the Asians as his teachings emphasised on individual integrity and good governance that was centred on good morals and ethics.
This write up is going to summarise the major themes captured in the book, critically analyse the contents of the book and its impacts on the Asian community before highlighting the major interesting concepts captured and finally portray the importance of the book.
Themes captured in the book
The central theme of this book calls for people to embrace humanity by virtue of being good. The book states that when an individual is good and has some sense of shame, then, and only then, can we say that, that individual is not guided by law but rather by good virtues.
The book also emphasises that an individual with good virtues is also in a position to influence the people around him to emulate his philosophy of good deeds. This is well illustrated when Legge translates, “He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it.” (2:1).
Another recurring theme in this book is the theme of obedience. The book has played a lot of emphasis on the need to obey our seniors, our rules and the governing laws. The argument presented states that, superior people in the society are more inclined to making rational arguments as compared to their junior’s “The superior man bends his attention to what is radical”(1:10).
Therefore, through obedience a chain of hierarchy that is very important in the Asian society is achieved. Such a hierarchy forms the root of acceptable human conduct as individuals are accountable to the system and thus they become submissive to the system.
This book also emphasises on family values that call for children to be loyal and devoted to their guardians. This therefore outlines the filial concept as translated by Legge “It is not being disobedient.” (2:6). The book highlights that being filial calls for truthfulness, faithfulness and being caring. Therefore to have a well balanced society, filiality is a necessity as it has a lot of bearing in achieving a harmonious society where everyone is respected and cared for.
Further, according to this book, human beings need one another in order to become empowered. And therefore, this calls for acts of kindness as translated by Legge “If the will be set on virtue, there will be no practise of wickedness.”(4:9). Empowering others calls for individuals who are self giving and kind enough to propel others towards achieving their individual goals and as such, the goals of the society.
The book believes in the ability of human beings to change and better their lives and the lives of those around them. In view of this belief as translated by Legge, Confucius calls for the society to embrace learning and the thirst to gain more knowledge.
Legge reports that without the dire need to gain knowledge, the society is subject to foolishness and ridicule as non amongst them will be in a position to balance their virtues for the good of all. Further, as illustrated by legge, with knowledge, the society is able to learn their truths “I do not open up the truth to one who is not eager to get knowledge, nor help out any one who is not anxious to explain himself”(7:20).
The book has greatly emphasised on the need for society to conform to guided traditions and beliefs. It has also emphasised on the need for young people to follow through the teachings of their elders in order to learn from them on how to conduct themselves and govern their properties.
The book is so adamant on the need to adhere to traditions to the extent that it does not advocate for individuals whose acts, words or deeds are contrary to what they believe in or what their traditions and society expects of them “Look not at what is contrary to propriety” (12:7).
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Critique of the book
After a thorough review of this book, it was quite evident that unlike many followed philosophies or teachings that are based on the belief of a supernatural being or a creator, this book did not dwell on such ideologies but rather, dealt on helping human beings better govern their governments and the society at large. Further, the lack of a specific religious ideology in this book makes it more appealing to an audience that is not confined to the Asian Society.
The value and emphasis that the book places on the need to have a government and a society that is conscious of its moral and ethical standing, is admirable though not practical in this century. This is because; the teachings confine human beings to doing good deeds and working towards achieving a perfect being. The teachings do not tolerate mistakes and neither do they advocate for any human behaviour or conduct that is short of righteousness thus, questioning the practicality of the teachings in the society.
The fact that the book upholds traditions portrays the laxity on embracing change and advocating for creativity. The argument on sticking to traditions is not in line with the emergence of globalisation, where people are open to exchanging ideas, cultures, languages and strategies.
This is a global trend that has also captured the eye of the Asian society being addressed by this book. Further, conforming to what the society expects by making our decisions and leading a life that is in accordance to the teachings of our elders is a hindrance to proliferation of innovative strategies.
Impacts of Confucianism on the Chinese/Asian society
The philosophy of Confucianism has influenced the Asian society that firmly believes in the teachings of Confucius in various ways. For instance, over the years the Asian society has demonstrated strong family values that are enviable. It is also important to note that, the Asian society is among the world renowned communities that are keen on adhering to their traditions.
Of particular interest, is the adherence to Asian culture through dress code, food, teachings and rituals. All this are centred on improving physical, emotional and mental attributes. And as such, such traditions have continuously been passed down from one generation to the next.
Throughout the years, the Asian society has been governed through a hierarchical system as advocated for by Confucianism. This system stands for good morals and ethics. The governing system of the Asian societies recognises the elderly people as the stewards of the community as depicted in the book. It further advocates for accountability and integrity on the part of the leading fraternity. Therefore, this book has helped the Asian society shape the nature of their associations by placing emphasis on Confucianism teachings.
Impressive concepts captured in the book
While I was reading this book, there were various recurring concepts that were very interesting in terms of arguments translated by Legge. For instance the fact that Confucius was very concerned about being humane and provoking other people to follow through such teachings of kindness was very touching in the sense that he was crying out for humanity.
Further the diction that he uses to define filiarity “It is not being disobedient.” is rather impressive because he uses humour to capture the attention of the reader (2:6). The teachings on the importance of virtue towards achieving societal harmony were very realistic and thus compelling the readers to believe that they have a role to play therefore, making the book interesting.
The book’s emphasis on being respectful especially to our seniors depicted Confucius view of young people and what he expected of them “A youth, when at home, should be filial, and, abroad, respectful to his elders” 1:24.
Further it was very interesting to learn that the decisions that our senior’s make are based on their radical thinking thus linking them to the character of leaders. In addition, the book had other interesting concepts that are important and practical in any societal setting. This included the teachings on the need to be loyal to one’s self, family and consequently the state, and the need to be humble by speaking carefully.
Importance of studying this book
In conclusion, it is important to study “The analects of Confucius” as translated by Legge because it helps us understand the origin of the Confucianism philosophy’s and its implication to the vast Asian society. Further, the book helps us to understand the ideologies of former philosophers, their view of the society back then and their expectations on the same. The book also helps us to understand the importance of humanity as depicted through various generations.
Legge, J. (2010). The Analects of Confucius. Web.