Class #8

Confucian Timeliness

Reading:  Analects, Books VIII, XVII, XVIII

Lecture PowerPoint Deck

In this class we will focus on the issue of "timeliness," which is formulated many times over in the text, but most succinctly conveyed in a passage from Book VIII: "When the Way prevails under Heaven, appear; when it does not, hide" (VIII.12 and 14 are related passages). In the Analects, the doctrine of timeliness is generally linked to the issue of political participation by members of the community of Ru (Confucians). We will see that later in Confucianism, the idea of flexible action which it implies comes to be more broadly applied.

Book VIII is a queer book. It is structured like an asymmetrical onion. The core of the book appears to include passages 2 and 8-17, all simple aphorisms of Confucius (some quite important). If Books 3-7 together formed a single early text, as some people think, then this early core of Book VIII may have been a short, concluding book attached to that set. But at some time, followers of Confucius' youngest disciple, Zeng Shen, inserted passages 3-7, all quoting their late Master, including his deathbed words. The book was still a short one, however, and at a date later yet--perhaps during the late fourth century B.C., the framing passages were added (1 and 18-21).

Parts of Book XVII (especially 17.1, 4, 5, and 7) and all of Book XVIII were almost certainly put together many years after Confucius' death. These sections of the Analects incorporate legends about Confucius which are clearly fictitious anecdotes, but which illustrate tensions around the issue of political action in the light of the doctrine of timeliness. A set of passages on a similar theme which occurs earlier in the text: XIV.38-42.