(aka Kǒng Zǐ or K'ung-tzu or Kǒng Fūzǐ or K'ung-fu-tzu)

for an explanation see wiki




Kong Qiu or K'ung fu-tzu, more commonly known in the western world as Confucius (551-479 bce), was one of the world's most important political and social philosophers.  His teaching provided an ethical system of bureaucracy that formed the foundation of Chinese government and society for centuries after his death.  Ousted from government service at an early age, Confucius turned to wandering, teaching and reflections.  Although there are no specific texts that can be directly linked to him as the author, The Analects (Lun Yü) , which you can read in this course, contain some of his sayings and conversations as recorded by his disciples and by later generations of his followers.





A portrait of Confucius by Wu Daozi (680-740) from the Tang Dynasty.  Photo credit Wikipedia Commons.

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Some random thoughts:

There is little doubt that Confucius was one of the world's most important philosophers, or was he a religious teacher? Debate still goes on among experts whether his teaching constituted a religion. There were certain religious elements in Confucius' work (clearly his demands for ethical behavior on the part of people. In this respect, one can compare to Jesus of Nazareth or Buddha), but there were parts not clearly formalized as religious (a creator god or an afterlife, for example).

Another thing that I find interesting, and maybe a complete coincidence, was the fact that he was a rough contemporary of Buddha and Plato. These were formative epochs in all three of the civilizations (Chinese, Mediterranean and Indian) that would develop in these areas over the ensuing centuries.

Perhaps, if I had studied Chinese history more closely in graduate school, I would be able to explain how he came to be called Confucius? Somehow you have to get from Chinese characters to a Latin-alphabet name (actually the whole process of translation still seems pretty miraculous to me).

Since I have been living in the United States for the past four or five decades, I can attest to the fact that most Americans have learned about Confucius from pithy sayings that have cropped in David Carradine's long-lived television show, Kung Fu (or its spin-offs, continuations or movies).

Because we cannot be completely sure that any text that is attributed to Confucius was actually written by Confucius--remember that is the same situation that occurs with Socrates where our only knowledge of Socrates comes from Plato--we must be careful when we read Confucius. So please keep that in mind as you read The Analects. The assumption is that aphorisms and passages there contain the essence of Confucius' ideas, but we are not one hundred percent certain. The "chapters," which are arranged according to topic, will read pretty fast for you.

Confucius' principles had a basis in common Chinese traditions that were already centuries old at the time. Most importantly, in addition to the idea of right behavior, Confucius believed in the inherent strength of the family, including ancestor worship and the respect of elders--are these still not features of Eastern society? For Confucius, the keywords were harmony and order, especially as framed by the five links: three family links (father and son; elder and younger brother; husband and wife); one political link (ruler and ruled); and one social link (friend and friend). It was all about order!

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Some recommended online lectures and websites:

  • Wiki entry; combine that with the entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. and you have a lot of great information about Confucius. There is a separate wiki entry for the Analects.
  • Confucius in 21 languages
  • Confucius works at Project Gutenberg, including The Analects. You will find many translation of the Analects available online.
  • The Confucius entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy is well done.
  • Confucius and Confucius' Life Experiences (Just ok)
  • There are many "Confucius quotes" available online. There also seem to be a lot of "Confucius institutes" at colleges and universities in the United States.
  • I'm looking hard for material online, and this was about the best that I could find. You can also check out this paper (in pdf format).
  • For extra credit please suggest to your instructor a relevant website for this unit of the course.  Send the title of the site, the url and a brief explanation why you find the information interesting and applicable to the material being studied in this unit.

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