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Analects | Book 14 | Summary



Book 14, at over 40 chapters, is one of the longest in The Analects, focusing mostly on proper conduct in various situations. In government a public servant focuses on one's own job, not other people's, and isn't motivated by a salary but should not be afraid to "stand up to" a ruler. Interestingly, not following The Way does not automatically make a ruler fail. The Master says in Chapter 19 Duke Ling of Wei doesn't follow The Way, but he has able administrators who keep him from failing. However, a public servant needs to be "prudent in speech" when The Way is not followed in a state.

The Master again emphasizes that the ideals of humaneness, or perfect virtue, and the gentleman are difficult to truly achieve. Avoiding greed, boasting, resentment, and bullying is difficult, but doing so doesn't necessarily make someone humane. The Master says again even he hasn't achieved three "ways of the gentleman," although his follower Zigong seems to disagree in Chapter 28. The achievement of ideals is also difficult to judge from the outside. The Master twice declines to condemn a government minister, Guan Zhong (Kwan Chung), who didn't die along with his ruler (an apparent violation of filial piety), as definitely not humane, saying in Chapters 16 and 17 he went on to limit the power of the conquering Duke Huan (Hwan) and preserve important cultural traditions.

As in other books in the collection, the Master also assesses a number of past and contemporary political figures. Some situations are too specific to learn much from, but a few focus on the importance of sincere self-improvement. The Master clearly disapproves when in Chapter 24 an official sends a messenger to say he wants to improve himself rather than coming himself. In the last two chapters the Master criticizes two people for failing to improve because they are not deferential enough to their elders and superiors. He suggests the older one has wasted his life and the younger one is on the same path.


Students of the Master often ask about the humaneness of a specific person or a person with specific attributes, as in this book of The Analects. When they do, they often try to judge the humaneness of a person, or lack thereof, by their behavior. In the most authentic books in the collection the Master usually declines to judge the person humane or not. This seems to be a pattern in which the students confuse humaneness with something more like rightness of action, or even ideas of honor. In contrast, when the Master does define humaneness he usually equates it with more internal qualities, such as consideration rather than external behavior. This is one of his deepest points—morality is not just doing good. Good behavior must be the result of good intentions to be truly humane.

However, good intentions don't always mean that a virtuous person can achieve the desired result. In Chapter 21 the Master disapproves of the assassination of the duke of Qi, the overthrow of a legitimate ruler. He feels he must object to Duke Ai and the Three Families, asking them to punish the assassin. However, when they will not act he does not insist, saying his obligation was to report. As in this case, it often seems a strategic retreat is required to work toward a virtuous government in the future. Instead, in Chapter 37 the Master suggests some "men of quality" choose to "withdraw from their times" or "withdraw from their place," presumably meaning withdrawing from a government when they cannot influence it toward being a virtuous one, as the Master himself was unable to.

A number of chapters in Book 14 refer to the conduct of a "man of quality" or the "complete man." These labels don't appear elsewhere in the collection, but the qualities associated with them seem to align closely with the concept of the ideal gentleman. The "complete man" is perhaps a slightly broader label encompassing not just virtuous thought and action but also accomplishment in ritual and music, and it may be possible to be a "man of quality" without being a gentleman. However, they can all be placed on the spectrum of expectations for correct behavior.

A few chapters in Book 14 start to depict the Master as more of a legend than the humble teacher mainly shown in the earlier books. In Chapter 35 the Master seems to complain that no one below Heaven can understand him or his teachings. He is teaching "lowly things," but "they reach up above." Two other chapters build the legend of the Master by focusing on difficulties he faced. The comments of a gatekeeper show people didn't expect him to succeed. Another passerby comments in Chapter 39 on his playing of chimes, implying he seems frustrated, and quotes from the Book of Songs to say he should yield to pressures against him. The Master first replies sarcastically but then continues seriously—he cannot give up on something so fundamentally important.

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