Class #4

The Confucian School

   1.  The Confucian School
   2.  Analects, "Introduction," pp. i-ix, and Book I

Lecture PowerPoint Deck

Today's class will focus on the basic structure of China's first philosophical school: Confucianism, and on the background of Confucius. Your readings include a general overview of Confucianism and an introduction to the key text of the school, The Analects of Confucius. In introducing Confucianism during Wednesday's class, a number of themes from last week will be developed further.

During the last class, we discussed evidence concerning the culture of the Shang Dynasty (c. 1500-1045 BCE) that pointed towards the very early tendency to view what was wen ("patterned"; "cultured") as of greater value than what was "natural."  This transformation of natural into sacred object through patterning is central to the notion of wen. (Consult the Glossary on wen.)

Having introduced the theme of wen as a cultural value in the Shang, We saw also how the early history of the Zhou Dynasty reinforced this valuation of patterning. The early Zhou rulers constructed a successful empire through newly designed political and ideological institutions, and this state was characterized as well by an intense elaboration, among the elite, of patterns of behavior known as li, a word we generally translate as "ritual." The ritual character of successful Zhou political culture strengthened existing ideas connecting human destiny with patterning, a linkage which Confucianism builds on.

During the long period of disunity and civil war, which began in 770 BCE, the ritual patterns associated with Zhou li became disengaged from the political, ideological, and social bases that originally generated them. The most important of these were the institution of strong kingship, emblematic of the powerful and centralized Zhou state, that had, in fact, brought order to most of its territory over a long period, the religious basis of Zhou power - the high god Tian and the belief that its goodness ensured order in the world - and the social system of hereditary succession to office, that had enhanced the stability and predictability of life. As those "three pillars" of Zhou order disintegrated during the chaotic "Spring and Autumn" period of the Eastern Zhou era, it became unclear where the basis for social stability and a way out of civil war could be found.

Today's readings include three items: an overview of Confucianism and Confucius's life, an introduction to the primary text associated with Confucius, the Analects, and the first "book" of that text (just four pages of text).

Analects readings - both the introduction to the text and Book I - are found within a full online translation of the text. Use the "Bookmarks" of the .pdf file to move around in the text. Note that some material in the Appendixes may be of use to you in better understanding the text.

In today's class I'll try to cover several tasks parallel to those readings: I'll be brief in reviewing the content of the overview, but I'll try to spend some time looking at the way the Analects actually works as a philosophical text.