Passages from the Analects of Confucius

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Glen Szabo

Intro. To Eastern Philosophy

Paper 1: Confucius

128. Confucius said: "If your words are grand, you will find that it is difficult for your actions to measure up to them." [14.21] This passage appears on page 14 in the text in the section on words and actions.

The point that Confucius is trying to make here is that speaking in an exaggerated manner of yourself or your deeds is just as easy as speaking of them in any other way. But it is much harder to actually perform lofty actions than it is to perform relatively less difficult ones. Hence, it is considerably more functional to speak mildly of yourself or your actions if you intend uphold your statements in practice. Further, if you rarely speak, or even do not speak at all, your deeds and actions will generally always exceed your statements. In this same section on words and actions from the Analects, Confucius even says, "I wish I could avoid speaking." (130). This shows that he prefers letting his actions speak entirely for themselves. Also, in this same section again on words and actions, Confucius says, "The ancients were reluctant to speak, fearing that their actions would not measure up to their words."(126). In saying this, Confucius further buttresses his tendency of ‘less talk, more action' by referring to practice of the ancients, or those he carries great respect for. Obviously, Confucius rested great importance upon being humble, particularly in the case of what he said.

In thinking of this passage, I very much share the same attitude as Confucius. I feel that actions speak louder than words, because it takes the same amount of energy to utter highly self-flattering statements as it does to speak precisely of your actual abilities. The end result is self-defeat if someone is in the habit of exaggerating his or her words. Moreover, I feel an innate respect for a person whose actions are regularly surpassing their comments, because it shows their modesty. Confucius surely knew the formula of respect through humility.

87. The Duke of Sheh told Confucius: "In my land, people are just. If a father steals a sheep, the son will turn him in. Confucius said, "The just in my land act differently. The father conceals the wrongs of his son, and the son conceals the wrongs of this father. This is justice." This passage appears on page 10 in the text in the section on filial piety.

From the text, it can be said that Confucius values the importance of family and respect for those older than himself over the elemental principle that says stealing, in any situation is wrong and should be corrected. This verse is from the section on filial piety, which means a devotion to and reverence for parents and family. To Confucius, the highest and deepest respect for parents and elders should take precedence over everything else. In the same section on filial piety, Confucius says, "When at home, a young man should serve his parents; when away from home, he should be respectful to his elders"(78). Although I doubt that Confucius was in favor of thievery, he put a greater importance on respect for parents, which meant not going against them. Again from the section on filial piety, Confucius says, "In serving your parents, you may disagree with them from time to time and seek to correct them gently. But if they will not go along with you, you must continue to respect and serve them without complaining."(86). His values concerning filial piety seem to overshadow other basic morals.

Although I think that Confucius was justified in his staunch adherence to the notion of ‘family first', I disagree with the way in which he put it above other moral issue, particularly theft. His devotion seems blinding in that he may be morally righteous in his utter reverence for family and elders. But this does not mean that those he holds in such high esteem (family and elders) will share his flawless morals, thus causing him to sometimes...
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