Analects Book 4 presentation

As with Book 2 and Book 3, Confucius dominates Book 4 of the Analects with the curious exceptions of Chapter XV and Chapter XXVI. The only plausible explanation for these two anomalies is that they were slipped in by an unscrupulous or careless editor. 

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The supreme Confucian value of goodness (仁/rén) is the most important theme of the book, and is explored in great depth by the sage in the first seven chapters.  Even he, however, is brought to the point of despair by his ruminations on this highly elusive quality, lamenting in Chapter VI that: “I have never seen a person who truly loves goodness and truly detests evil.”

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Confucius also expounds further on the qualities of a leader in the book. In Chapter XI, using a device commonly found in the Analects, he contrasts a leader’s lofty love of virtue and respect for the law with the mean materialism and deviousness of a small-minded man (小人/xiǎorén).  In the following chapter, he moves on to another key theme of the book by going on to criticize people (presumably small-minded ones) who act out of self-interest (利/) rather than the common good.

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Filial piety is the final major topic covered in the book, though the actual term  for it (孝/xiào) only makes one single appearance. In this regard, Chapter XXI provides some valuable if rather sobering advice for all of us:  “Always keep the age of your parents in mind. Let this knowledge be both a source of joy and dread.” 

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