E240 Confucius Questions

Assigned: The Analects (820-31).

The Analects

1. The insights of Confucius are offered by means of dialogue -- how might this form add to the impact of the Master's ideas? Also, if you have read some of the Platonic dialogues, how would you say the conversations between Confucius and his circle compare to Socrates' way of setting forth his ideas? Further, how do Confucius' disciples or circle of friends regard him?

2. Confucius often responds to requests for clarification on the nature of learning, teaching, and wisdom. What does he say about these things -- what is it to learn and understand, what makes a good teacher, and what constitutes wisdom? What do you think about these matters?

3. What characterizes "the gentleman," according to Confucius? What relationship does Confucius assert between individual goodness (i.e. following the Way) and the social and political environment? What does he appear to think of the "common people," and of the degree of influence upon them that a gentleman may attain by his own conduct?

4. When Confucius is asked to compare various men with regard to their "benevolence," he offers complex responses. What do you think he means by benevolence, based on specific references to our selections? Why not just offer a single definition and have done with the matter – what's the advantage to Confucius in the gradualist method of definition he employs?

5. Confucius refers to "the rites" and "the Way" several times. How does he define the Way? Why are established religious and ceremonial procedures so important to him? What role do poetry and music play for the individual and society?

6. Do you think that the principles Confucius sets forth about the relationship between the rulers and the ruled are of any value for citizens of a modern democratic society? How do you see the relationship between ordinary people and those who hold elective office in America? Should they set an example for all of us? Or would that be presumptuous and inappropriate? Explain your view.

Lawall, Sarah, ed. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 2nd edition. Volumes 1ABC. New York: Norton, 2002. ISBN A = 0-393-97755-2, B = 0-393-97756-0, C = 0-393-97757-9.