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Analects | Book 15 | Summary



Book 15 focuses mainly on the role of a gentlemen and humaneness in government and public service. As seen before, focusing inward is vital. A gentleman in government should expect more of himself than of others and be upset by his own lack of ability instead of by what others think of him. In short "what the gentleman seeks in himself the small man seeks in others."

The ideal person can only make progress, in civilized or uncivilized countries, by being loyal and faithful in words and sincere and respectful in actions. They should be proud but not argumentative and friendly without forming factions. This last chapter contrasts with Western forms of government that have evolved to value outspokenness and adversarial parties. In a number of ways the effects of this philosophy can still be seen in modern China.

However, that doesn't mean that civil servants should be conformists either. The Master promotes judging people and ideas on their merits, or inherently good or bad qualities, rather than on status. He warns his students in Chapter 23 not to discount good information simply because of who said it and tells them in Chapter 10 to practice humaneness by seeking humane people above and below them. In a well-known statement in Chapter 39 he says, "If there is instruction there is no categorization." This is usually understood as an argument for allowing anyone to study regardless of their social station, as it seems the Master did himself.


Book 15 contains perhaps the simplest expression of the Master's philosophy. It is hinted at in Chapter 3, in which the Master says he does not study and remember many things but uses one thing, or thread, to string everything else together. This chapter seems to connect back to Book 4, Chapter 15 in which Master Zeng explains the "one thread" that binds the Master's way together is "loyalty and reciprocity." The connection is confirmed in Chapter 24, when the Master says "reciprocity" might be the single word to practice throughout life—not doing to others what you don't want done to you. This is sometimes called the Silver Rule since it is basically the Golden Rule stated negatively.

The Master's teachings can often seem to vary with the situation, but a number of chapters in Book 15 present less compromising views of how to achieve humaneness. In Chapter 9 he is recorded as saying preserving life should not compromise humaneness, but achieving humaneness sometimes requires sacrificing one's own life. Humaneness or virtue should be more important to people than fire or water since fire and water can kill a person but humaneness will not. Similarly, the gentleman should plan for The Way over food because The Way, or truth, is more important.

Some of these statements may be deliberately hyperbolic: The Master may be exaggerating slightly to make a point about the importance of humaneness rather than literally expecting students to go completely without fire, water, or food to pursue it. However, another uncompromising statement in Chapter 36 seems more achievable: Students shouldn't defer even to their teacher in the matter of humaneness, but presumably follow their own consciences.

Chapter 21, which says a gentleman is upset if his reputation is not praised after death, seems to conflict with the previous chapter, which says a gentleman cares about his own abilities not being appreciated. However, it can be better understood in relation to the value of filial piety. The Master consistently argues against acting with the motive of building a certain reputation during one's lifetime, but he expects that a person's humane and gentlemanly action during their life should be reflected in a positive reputation after they die. Indeed, it is an obligation of filial piety to honor their parents by leaving their own positive reputation behind.

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