Confucius: The Concept of Jen
Confucius was not a religious teacher but rather an ethical thinker whose aim was to improve moral and social order. He believed all aspects of life flow from an ethical core and to achieve moral and social order, one must look within oneself. Some of the key concepts emphasized in Confucianism are: the concepts of Good (jen), Ritual (li), Virtue (te, or moral power), and the Gentleman or “superior man” (chun-tzu). All of these concepts are vitally important but for the purpose of this paper, I will focus on the concept of jen and how it works in Confucian philosophy. What is Jen?
The concept of jen (Goodness) is the fundamental virtue of Confucius’ teachings although a concrete definition of jen was not given in the Analects. Waley wrote, “it is only once… that anything approaching a definition of goodness is given” (p. 29). This definition was given in Book XVII 6. Master K’ung said “goodness includes the following traits: courtesy, breadth, good faith, diligence and clemency. He who could put all five into practice under heaven would be Good”. Although not clearly defined in the text, jen is referred to throughout the Analects as goodness, love and humanity. “Jen can be described as the display of human qualities at their finest” (Waley, p. 28). Human qualities that render someone to be Good include loyalty to friends, truthfulness, and obedience to precepts (I 4). Caution, punctuality, and respect are also qualities necessary to be viewed as Good (I 6). Seldom found in Good is clever talk and pretentious manner (I 3). In addition to humanity and goodness, jen means to love others (XII 22). Such feeling applies to all men, not just one nation or race. It is the foundation of all human relationships and Confucius believed that jen should be extended to others. “Do not do to others that you would not like done to yourself” (XII 2). This famous quote still remains strong in today’s philosophy. The person practicing the...
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