Goodness in the Analects

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Julia Sanders
World Lit. S1
Free Essay
12/2/12

Simple Goodness

Stemming from five classic Chinese texts, the Analects are one of four books created in the Song era to embody Confucian thinking. Independently, the Analects present a complete collection of ideas attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius, referred to as “the Master” throughout the Analects. The core ideals of Confucianism, accredited to sages, preceded Confucius. However, he receives credit as founder of the religion (Gardner). The Master attributed his wisdom to a lifelong process. “At 15 I set my heart on learning; at 30 I firmly took my stand; at 40 I had no delusions; at 50 I knew the Mandate of Heaven; at 60 my ear was attuned; at 70 I followed my heart's desire without overstepping the boundaries of right” (Confucius). This mandate, which Confucius refers to as “the Way”, leads to the only sort of salvation offered by Confucianism: true goodness. Although he never clearly defines true goodness, the Analects of Confucius describe the path that one must take to attain salvation.

True goodness, according to the Master, stems from the embodiment of virtues, most importantly empathy. Instead of defining goodness, Confucius demonstrated examples of virtuous actions through stories. Followers of Confucianism, confused by the ambiguity of salvation, often questioned the Master as to how they could attain goodness. Confucius often responded by providing situational examples of personal displays of goodness, often further confusing the curious follower. As Daniel Gardner says in Zhu Xi's Reading of the Analects, “Confucius characterizes true goodness in different ways, depending on whom and about whom he is speaking.” This suggests that true goodness varies between persons, molding to each situation.

In contrast to his common vagueness, Confucius often spoke of a primary element of goodness: empathy. “Is there one word that can be practiced for the whole of one’s life? The Master...
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