Analects is a book of collected sayings of Confucius (Kong Zi, 551-479 B. C.
). It is one of the most important texts of Confucianism. This classical text has been translated by a lot of Western people, and remains a hot topic in Chinese Studies (or Sinology). Herbert Fingarette’s book Confucius — the Secular as Sacred focuses on “Li”, one of the core concepts about “human nature, comportment and relationships” in Confucianism.
As a professional philosopher, the author is interested in philosophical interpretation of Analects. Actually, he has given the first such reading of Confucianism in the West. That is, he has touched upon subjects in Confucianism that a philosopher in the West will pay attention to. In order to understand the Confucian classic, Herbert Fingarette did not stop at reading many translated versions of Analects, he went further (or back) to studying the original text. By so doing, he has managed to surpass the “interpretations” already done by scholars from theology, psychology, anthropology and other fields of study, and to grasp the suggestiveness of the original, thus stepping closer to the heart of the Confucian teaching.
This report is based on my recent reading of Herbert Fingarette’s Confucius — the Secular as Sacred and my own understanding of Confucianism. What enables Fingarette to approach Confucianism as a philosophy and Analects as a philosophical book (not a “Bible”) is that he has found that Confucianism is more concerned with human life, human relationships and social order. The teaching of Confucianism has provided the basics of the world outlook, modes of thinking, values, and behavioral norms for the Chinese since it came into being some two thousand years ago. In this sense, Confucianism is the most influential philosophy in China. Confucius, as the founder of the teaching, becomes the greatest thinker, philosopher, and educator in Chinese history.
Confucius’s disciple and the following Confucians and Confucianists have made contributions by editing, commentating, and developing the teaching. However, the many schools of Confucianism all base their theories on Analects, and look upon the book as their common scripture. As a philosophy, Confucianism explicates how to make the many dimensions of man’s existence more reasonable. What Confucius was mainly concerned with is how to revive and maintain an ideal society.
He felt a sympathetic understanding for the traditional institutions, rituals, music, and literature of the early Zhou Dynasty, and tried to rationalize and justify them in ethical terms. Confucius lived in a time of upheavals. He believed that only by restoring the Zhou Li (rituals) could an ideal human society be achieved. On the one hand, the unnamed Zhou religion constitutes part of Li — “holy ritual” and “sacred ceremony. ” Confucius interpreted the religious rituals of the Zhou Dynasty not as sacrifices asking for the blessings of the gods, but as ceremonies performed by human agents and manifesting the civilized and cultured patterns of behavior developed through generations of human wisdom.
Li embodied, for him, the ethical core of Chinese society. On the other hand, Confucius applied the term “ritual” to actions beyond the formal sacrifices and religious ceremonies to include social rituals: courtesies, accepted standards of behavior and social relationships. He saw these time-honored and traditional rituals as the basis of human civilization, and felt that only a civilized society could have a stable, unified, and enduring social order. However, the society is not mechanically composed of men. Men become a truly human as their raw impulse is shaped by Li, the specifically humanizing form of the dynamic relation of man-to-man. According to Confucianism, all human relationships involved a set of defined roles and mutual obligations between the prince and officials, and fathers and sons; each participant should understand and conform to his/her proper role.
If each one does what he is supposed to do according to Li, the society will run very smoothly. As a ruler, one must follow the ruler’s rule; otherwise he will lose his position. Force, threats, and punishment were thought to be the unwise ways to solve problems. Starting from individual and family, people acting rightly could reform and perfect the society.
Therefore, Confucianism was the affirmation of accepted values and norms of behavior in primary social institutions and basic human .