The Analects of Confucius best quotes

Socrates is arguably the greatest Western philosopher, Confucius is arguably the greatest Eastern philosopher. Confucius lived approx. 500 BC while Socrates was approx. 400 BC.

While Socrates focused on guiding individuals from kings to slaves on finding the answers to questions they were seeking through self-inquiry and examination, Confucius provided both universal philosophy and guidance for people in positions of authority.

Spending some time studying Socrates and Confucius should be required learning in grade and high school.

Years ago I acquired the book The Analects of Confucius translated into English by Roger T. Ames and Henry Rosemont, Jr. The following are my favorite quotes. Hope you enjoy them as well.

1. “Do not impose upon others what you yourself do not want.”
2. “You want to become the kind of counselor who is an exemplary person, not the kind that is a petty person.”
3. “To go into battle with people who have not been properly trained is to forsake them.”
4. “In instruction, there is no such thing as social classes.”
5. “If proper in their own conduct, what difficulty would they have in governing? But if not able to be proper in their own conduct, how can they demand such conduct from others?”
6. “Don’t worry about not being acknowledged by others; worry about failing to acknowledge them.”
7. “Raise up the true and place them over the crooked, and the allegiance of the people will be yours; raise up the crooked and place them over the true, and the people will not be yours.”
8. “If in one’s conduct one refrains from intimidation, from self-importance, from ill will, and from greed, can one be considered authoritative.”
9. “Set an example yourself for those in office, pardon minor offenses, and promote those with superior character and ability.”
10. “Not yet understanding life, how could you understand death?”
11. “The person who does not consider what is far off will not escape being alarmed at what is near at hand.”
12. “Study as though you cannot catch up to it, and as though you fear you are going to lose it.”
13. “Exemplary persons cherish fairness; petty persons cherish the thought of gain.”
14. “An exemplary person defers on matters he does not understand. When names are not used properly, language will not be used effectively; when language is not used effectively, matters will not be taken care of.”
15. “To know what you know and know what you do not know—this then is wisdom.”
16. “Where everyone despises a person, you must look into the matter carefully; when everyone celebrates a person, you must also look into it carefully.”
17. “Having gone astray, to fail to get right back on track is to stray indeed.”
18. “Exemplary persons understand what is appropriate; petty persons understand what is of personal advantage.”
19. “Exemplary persons associating openly with others are not partisan; petty persons being partisan do not associate openly with others.”
20. “Wealth and honor are what people want, but if they are the consequence of deviating from Dao (noble path, “the way”), I would have no part in them. Poverty and disgrace are what people deplore, but if they are the consequence of staying on the way, I would not avoid them.”
21. “Exemplary persons would feel shame if their words were better than their deeds.”
22. “Exemplary persons help out the needy; they do not make the rich richer.”
23. “In mourning, it is better to express real grief than to worry over formal details.”
24. “Make an earnest commitment to the love of learning.”
25. “Do not plan the policies of an office you do not hold.”
26. “To take doing one’s utmost, making good on one’s word, and seeking out what is appropriate as one’s main concerns, is to accumulate excellence.”
27. “The exemplary person helps to bring out the best in others, but does not help bring out the worse. The petty person does just the opposite.
28. Ji Kangzi was troubled by the number of thieves, and asked Confucius for advice. Confucius replied to him, “If you yourself were not so greedy, the people could not be paid to steal.”
29. “If truly efficacious (effective) people were put in charge of governing for a hundred years, they would be able to overcome violence and dispense with killing altogether.”
30. “Exemplary persons do not promote others because of what they say, nor do they reject what is said because of who says it.”
31. “Learning without due reflection leads to perplexity.”
32. “Exemplary persons are steadfast in the face of adversity, while petty persons are engulfed by it.”
33. (When governing effectively.) “Those near at hand are pleased, and those at a distance are drawn to you.”
34. (On governing effectively.) “Don’t try to rush things, and don’t get distracted by small opportunities. If you try to rush things, you won’t achieve your ends; if you get distracted by small opportunities, you won’t succeed in the more important of government.”
35. (On the five attitudes.) “Deference, tolerance, making good on one’s word, diligence, and generosity. If you are deferential (respectful), you will not suffer insult; if tolerant, you will win over the many; if you make good on your word, others will rely upon you; if diligent, you will get results; if generous, you will have the status to employ others effectively.”
36. “To be poor without feeling ill will is much more difficult than to be wealthy without being arrogant.”
37. “Daily I examine my person on three counts. In my undertaking on behalf of other people, have I failed to do my utmost? In my interactions with colleagues and friends, have I failed to make good on my word? In what has been passed on to me, have I failed to carry it into practice?” – Master Zeng
38. “Exemplary persons are easy to serve but difficult to please. If one tries to please them with conduct that is not consistent with Dao (noble path, “the way”), they will not be pleased. In employing others, they use them according to their abilities. Petty persons are difficult to serve but easy to please. If one tries to please them with conduct that is not consistent with the way, they will be pleased anyway. But in employing others, they expect them to be good at everything.”
39. “In expressing oneself, it is simply a matter of getting the point across.”
40. “Do I possess all knowledge? No, I do not. But if a simple peasant puts a question to me, and I come up empty, I attack the question from both ends until I have gotten to the bottom of it.”
41. “I am not the kind of person who has gained knowledge through some natural propensity for it. Rather, loving antiquity, I am earnest in seeking it out.”
42. “Confucius is driven by such eagerness to teach and learn that he forgets to eat, he enjoys himself so much that he forgets to worry, and does not even realize that old age is on its way.”
43. “To fail to cultivate excellence, to fail to practice what I learn, on coming to understand what is appropriate in the circumstances to fail to attend to it, and to be unable to reform conduct that is not productive—these things I worry over.”
44. “It’s rare indeed for someone to go wrong due to personal restraint.”
45. “The exemplary person takes the high road, while the petty person takes the low.”
He gave them a place and they took a stand,
He led them forward and they followed,
He brought peace and they flocked to him,
He aroused them and they achieved harmony.
In life he was glorious,
And in death he was mourned.”

In the following video I discuss these quotes in greater detail.

-James Kirk Wall

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