Analects Book 4: Overview

Book 4 of the Analects begins with an exploration of the meaning of goodness. Only people who practice it constantly in their daily lives without a desire for personal profit are able to enjoy true satisfaction and contentment. “Small-minded men” who only pursue it for personal gain will never be truly fulfilled and happy.

Even though Confucius claims that he has never seen “anyone whose strength is not sufficient” to practice it, he despairs that he ever hasn’t seen anyone who “truly loves goodness and truly detests evil” either. The path he urges everyone to follow is indeed a lonely one!

Goodness is of course a key component of Confucius’s leadership toolkit. In Chapter V, Confucius says, “A leader never abandons goodness, even for as long as it takes to eat a single meal; in moments of haste and confusion he still stays true to it.” So, too, are objectivity and fairness. In Chapter X, he comments: “In dealing with the world, a leader has no prejudice or bias: he takes the side of what is right.” A love of virtue and respect for the law are two other important elements.

Confucius provides some practical advice on how to cultivate your leadership capabilities. In Chapter XIV, he counsels, “Don’t be concerned if you don’t have an official position; be concerned if you don’t deserve such a position. Don’t be concerned if you’re not famous; be concerned if you don’t deserve to be famous.” In Chapter XVII, he adds: “When you see someone who is worthy, think how you can become their equal. When you see someone who is unworthy, look inside and examine yourself.” In other words, it is your responsibility to examine yourself and identify the areas you need to improve upon. While others can help point the way for you, only you can commit yourself to follow it.

Book 4 also features more guidance on the practice of filial piety, starting with some useful pointers on how to deal with recalcitrant parents. “When serving your parents, you may gently remonstrate with them,” Confucius counsels, but if they fail to listen to you “remain respectful and do not contradict them.” In the final analysis, maintaining family harmony is more important than being right.

He also advises that you should treasure your time with them by not traveling too far while they are alive and always keeping their age in your mind, concluding that this knowledge should be “both a source of joy and dread.”

Confucius dominates Book 4 of the Analects with the curious exceptions of Chapter XV and Chapter XXVI featuring the disciples Zengzi and Ziyou respectively. The only conceivable explanation for these two anomalies is that they were inserted by unscrupulous or careless editors for reasons that will no doubt remain obscure forever.

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