The Analects of Confucius

The Analects of Confucius Summary and Analysis of Books XIV and XV


Books XIV and XV present a mix of subject material in a broad collection of sayings and discussions. Some scholars believe Books XI through XV to have originated from a separate school than the one which collected Books III-VII, which are generally regarded as the core texts for The Analects. Book XIV touches on much of the same material we have seen before: the Way, goodness, and the conduct of a knight. Some scholars see a theme of reclusion and propriety in the face of public office in this book as well. Book XV is largely the same but features more observations and sayings from Confucius as opposed to the discussion-based passages in recent books. However, most scholars do not see an overarching theme to this book.

Book XIV opens with Yuan Ssu's question about compunction. Confucius responds that the gentleman accepts reward when a country is ruled according to the Way, but refuses reward when it is not. This description is echoed in Chapter 3, when Confucius states that the true knight is not one who simply sits idly at home and does nothing.

Whether we consider the gentleman or the knight, it becomes clear through the work as a whole that both the chun-tzu and shih are multi-faceted beings governed by a complex, and sometimes seemingly contradictory, set of rules. Indeed, Confucius's observations of certain individuals seem to depend on where in the text they occur. Consider Kuan Chung, whom he disparaged in Book III, Ch. 22 as a man of "very narrow capacities." In Chapters 17 and 18 of Book XIV he again becomes the topic of discussion. Tzu-kung argues that despite Kuan Chung's aid to Duke Huan, he was not a good man, seemingly in agreement with Confucius's earlier remarks. Instead, Confucius states just the opposite, arguing that if not for Kuan Chung's assistance to Duke Huan, a barbarian invasion by the tribes of Ti might have been successful. The last line of Chapter 18 is of particular interest as it seems Confucius even defends Kuan Chung's actions and tacitly seems to begrudge any judgment against him. In it, he asks if it would truly have been proper for Kuan Chung to make such sacrifices and go off quietly without being recognized for his contributions.

Chapter 30 finds Confucius elaborating on the idea of the gentleman a bit more. He lists three characteristics of such a person. Confucius tempers these statements by saying that he has had no success in meeting them, echoing a very similar passage in Book IX, Ch. 28. Tzu-kung responds by telling Confucius that his description of the gentleman is an apt description of Confucius himself. This modesty on Confucius's part is acknowledged immediately by the disciples, who understand that Confucius would never openly speak this way about himself. They respectfully offer their glowing opinion of him to counter his statement that he has not met any of the qualities he outlines.

However, Confucius still manages to surprise his pupils once in a while. Chapter 37 features such an occurrence in a conversation Confucius has with Tzu-kung. He complains that he is not recognized or known by anyone. This is not meant literally, but to indicate Confucius's desire to be recognized for his merits by a ruler. This admission surprises Tzu-kung, who inquires as to why Confucius is not known. His answer is typically abstract. Confucius states he does not blame Heaven or men for not knowing him. He finds comfort in the studies of antiquity that he has undertaken and assures himself that perhaps he is recognized after all, in Heaven.

Book XV features a broad collection of topics without a singular theme. In Chapter 1 we see that Confucius has attained an audience with the Duke Ling of Wei. The Duke asks Confucius about military matters, a topic he admits he knows very little about, adding that his expertise lies in the ordering of ritual vessels. The next day he takes his leave. As we have seen before, Confucius has turned down political opportunities when faced with less than moral consequences in favor of meeting with power holders. Despite the wait he endured to meet with the Duke of Wei, Confucius's discussion with him is short, possibly because the topic of warfare is brought up. In Chapter 6 we see that Confucius was unable to convince Duke Ling to use the services of Ch'u Po Yu as his recorder. When Yu died he gave orders not to receive honors due a minister, in a posthumous show of defiance against the Duke's offenses. We can infer that Confucius did not harbor a positive relationship with the Duke.

Research is necessary to fully understand a text as dense and difficult as The Analects. However, even in such cases there are instances where research cannot reveal what might have been meant by the authors. In Chapters 18 and 19, for instance, we are presented with two contradictory statements. In Chapter 18 Confucius is quoted as saying that the gentleman is not distressed that others do not know of his merits, only that he may lack capacity. However, in Chapter 19, he is quoted as saying that the gentleman is distressed if he ends his days without making a reputation for himself.

In Chapter 35, Confucius states that when it comes to goodness, one need not avoid competing with, or disagreeing with, one's teacher. Contrasted with statements about ritual and the respect of one's elders, this comes as something of surprise. Moral authority and autonomy are presented as being of great importance when distinguishing what is good. If one disagrees with one's teacher over what is good, Confucius encourages the expression of individuality. In the next chapter, Confucius also states that consistency is expected of a gentleman, not blind fidelity. Consistency can be seen here as ethics while fidelity seems to represent a simple following of rules. These statements seem to argue for free thought as opposed to dogmatic obedience. Consider the difficulty in making "thinking for one's self" part of a teaching curriculum. However, as is mostly the case in The Analects, as we begin to feel a grasp on one aspect of the teachings another chapter presents contrasting information. In this case, Chapter 38 immediately follows with a statement on how one should "intent upon the task" when serving one's prince. It is reasonable to assume that ethical concerns are paramount in all considerations, but we cannot be sure.


In Book XIV, Chapter 1 Confucius directly ties the condition of a state to the attitude of the gentleman. When considering Yuan Ssu's original question regarding compunction, the implication is that the true gentleman takes no pleasure when the country is not ruled according to the Way, and that he may feel guilt over this. Although it is not stated clearly, Confucius can be interpreted as saying that a land that is not ruled justly needs the attention of the true gentleman.

Compare this passage with Chapter 3, in which Confucius states that the true knight is not one who simply sits idly at home and does nothing. A call to action is implied more directly in this chapter. Although some scholars see themes of reclusion in this book, these chapters seem to encourage the direct engagement of the scholarly knight in the affairs and consequent well-being of the state. It can be argued that some distinction can be made between the knight and the gentleman, but their characteristics seem to overlap considerably.

In Book XIV, Chapter 30 goodness, courage, and wisdom are highlighted as the characteristics of the gentleman. In upcoming books, the habit of listing three qualities will be revisited. Other than the obvious respect these disciples have for Confucius, this exchange also denotes a cultural understanding between teacher and student where the student tried to anticipate and meet the needs of the teacher.

Book XIV, Chapter 37 offers a strange mix of humility and pride in Confucius's character. Confucius seems to reconcile his own ego by reminding himself that he may be exalted by higher powers. While much of Confucian ideology concerns itself with Heaven, this sudden outburst from Confucius may have demonstrated his deepest held feelings about his place in the world and how he felt he could or should be perceived.

The contradiction of Book XV, Chapters 18-19 is indicative of the "assembly" nature of the text, but the juxtaposition is curious. When considered in light of Confucius's recorded statements in Book XIV, Chapter 37, it is possible that these two chapters reflect the duality and frustration Confucius felt over remaining true to his ideals while also wanting to influence politics in the hopes of spreading that very ideology. As we now know today, he was able to become quite well known while planting the seeds of Confucianism.