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Analects | Quotes


One does not worry ... that [others] do not appreciate one. One worries about not appreciating [others].

Confucius, Book 1

The Master repeatedly emphasizes that virtuous people should be concerned with what they themselves think and do, not with what others think of them. Focusing on others' feelings and concerns will build goodwill and connections, whereas focusing on one's own desires only reinforces disconnection and resentment.


If one studies but does not think, one is caught in a trap.

Confucius, Book 2

Learning through study (xue) is very important in the Master's philosophy. Knowing and understanding the established traditions and rituals are vital to living a harmonious life.

However, simply learning what to do without knowing the reasons for doing so could trap a person in behaviors that might be technically correct but nonetheless don't fit the situation. The Master makes a point of rejecting the parts of tradition and ritual that no longer have purpose, and he wants his students to think critically.


The gentleman never shuns humaneness even for the time it takes to finish a meal.

Confucius, Book 4

Encompassing two of the Master's most important ideals, humaneness and the gentleman, this statement demonstrates the important relationship between them. Humaneness is the essential quality without which a gentleman ceases to be a gentleman.


The gentleman wishes to be slow in speech but prompt in action.

Confucius, Book 4

The ideal person fully considers what they will say before speaking, using humaneness and ritual to consider others' perspectives and respond respectfully. However, they don't hesitate to take action when needed.


The humane man ... wishing himself to be successful ... sees that others are successful.

Confucius, Book 6

This is another statement of the Master's core principle of reciprocity, or benefiting others for one's own benefit. In this case he states seeing to others' success is humane, or virtuous, and will help the human man be successful. Linking the interests of others with the interests of self internalizes them and ensures doing the right thing for everyone.


I transmit but do not create. Being fond of the truth, I am an admirer of antiquity.

Confucius, Book 7

The first sentence is one of the Master's most famous sayings, and it shows the value he places on using the traditions of the past to help improve people and society. He found truth in idealized societies of long ago. This is sometimes criticized as inflexible, but the Master demonstrated the power of the approach by choosing the best parts of the past to create a new philosophy.


When I walk with two others, I always receive instruction from them.

Confucius, Book 7

Part of the Master's fondness for learning, he points out, is spending time with others, which is always an opportunity to observe their strengths and weaknesses, both of which can be learned from. Strengths may be thoughtfully adopted, and weaknesses show pitfalls that can be avoided. The humane person should remember there is always more to learn.


Is humaneness really so far away? If we ourselves wanted humaneness, then humaneness would arrive.

Confucius, Book 7

True humaneness is more than virtuous action; it is the desire to convince other people to do the right thing. This statement makes it seem deceptively simple, achievable by simply wanting it sincerely. However, in reality selfish and less lofty desires interfere, and it takes constant attention and hard work to make this change in yourself.


If one is not yet capable of serving men, how can one serve ghosts?

Confucius, Book 11

This is one of the statements that shows the Master as agnostic, more concerned with serving the living than spirits of nature or the dead. Indeed, serving the living is likely far more difficult than the simple observation of rituals that honor the spirits. He says serving the dead without first taking care of the living is hollow.


The gentleman is easy to serve but difficult to please.

Confucius, Book 13

Going on to contrast the gentleman with the small man, who expects perfection of those who serve him and is pleased even if others don't follow The Way, this passage reminds that the ideal person considers the varied situations of the people who serve them, not expecting more than they might be able to deliver. But everyone should still be expected to follow the virtuous path of The Way to the best of their abilities.


Firmness, resoluteness, simplicity, and reticence are close to humaneness.

Confucius, Book 13

Quite a variety of attributes are associated with humaneness throughout The Analects. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it covers a relatively wide range in one statement. The humane person should not be wishy-washy or overly complicated, and should speak less rather than more.


What the gentleman seeks in himself the small man seeks in others.

Confucius, Book 15

The Master again tells students the ideal person looks within for fulfillment instead of looking for it from someone else. This statement is as true today as 2,500 years ago. People who look within themselves to change instead of looking for change in others are much more successful.


Do not inflict on others what you yourself would not wish done to you.

Confucius, Book 15

This is the Master's most well-known and direct expression of his principle of reciprocity. Since it is essentially the Golden Rule expressed backward, it is sometimes called the Silver Rule.


The gentleman is correct but not inflexible.

Confucius, Book 15

This statement highlights an important balance in the Master's philosophy. The ideal person should act correctly, which in Confucianism is largely governed by ritual. However, people should not do this so inflexibly that they cannot use their own judgment to apply humaneness.


By nature close to each other, but through practice far apart from each other.

Confucius, Book 17

Another statement open to interpretation, this quote seems to say people share an essential nature but are separated by what they practice. So people who choose to practice The Way can separate themselves from those who live without a moral code. It implies everyone can improve themselves through choosing to live positively.

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