The authority of the master in the analects

Philosophy East and West 59 (2):pp. 142-172 (2009)
Abstract
This article takes issue with the stereotype of "Confucianism" as authoritarian, a view common in discussions of modern China as well as in scholarship on early China. By studying the roles of master and students and the relationship between them in the Analects , it attempts to show that according to this text the master did not occupy a position of complete dominance over the student. Masters are not generally considered to be like fathers, and students have more room to dispute with their master than previously recognized. In contrast to later depictions of Kongzi, he is not presented as infallible in the Analects , and his students do not always accept his opinions. Questioning the master is often a good quality in a disciple. The master-student relationship, while undoubtedly hierarchical, did not involve complete submission by the student. It is argued here that there is little basis for concluding that the Analects is fundamentally authoritarian in its depiction of teaching. It further suggests a need for a distinct understanding of teaching authority that is not modeled on political authority.
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