The dao of kongzi

Asian Philosophy 12 (3):157 – 171 (2002)
Abstract
This paper introduces the Analects of Kongzi (better known to English-speakers as 'Confucius') to non-specialist readers, and discusses two major lines of interpretation. According to one group of interpretations, the key to understanding the Analects is passage 4.15, in which a disciple says that 'loyalty' and 'reciprocity' together make up the 'one thread' of the Master's teachings. More recently, some interpreters have emphasised passage 13.3, which discusses 'correcting names': bringing words and things into proper alignment. This paper argues that both approaches are mistaken, based on interpolated and unrepresentative passages. The paper closes with a brief suggestion that the Analects reveals a thinker who emphasises cultivating virtues that allow for the appreciation of complex individual contexts, rather than one who seeks systematic generalisations. An afterword to the paper suggests that we should avoid both 'methodological dualism' (which posits a radical incommensurability between Western and Eastern philosophies) and 'the perennial philosophy' (which ignores differences in favour of similarities).
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