Further Thoughts on Analects 1.1

I’ve been thinking about Analects 1.1 a bit more this morning, especially the final sentence, 人不知而不慍,不亦君子乎?(“Having others not know [you], but not being angered, is this not like the junzi?)

Although I am convinced by the Brooks’ “accretion hypothesis”, and more than likely Book 1 is not the earliest of the texts in the Analects, I think it is a nice touch that the Analects as we have it today begins with such a statement. The final sentence of 1.1 is a warning against a kind of moral motivation many of us (especially scholars, I would guess) have. To be known, to be applauded and praised–this is unimportant for Confucius. The truly “exemplary” person (Ames and Rosemont’s translation of junzi is my favorite) is undeterred by the failure of others to recognize them. It is not recognition that is the goal of the junzi, rather, it is the bringing about of the thriving society, the good society.

This was especially important for Confucius to get across to an audience of scholars, who would likely (and still do today) feel slighted and disheartened by the fact that their hard work may go un-praised and ignored. It is a far more important lesson than may seem upon first reading 1.1, and one that has relevance today. I have seen the lust for position and praise as an enormous motivation of scholars today. I take it that one of the things we should learn from Confucius is that this is a dead end–that this motivation cannot help one to bring about the thriving society (and perhaps can’t even bring the individual to realize their own goals). Recognition is fickle and fleeting. To depend on this, then, is uneven. It’s not something that can keep us strong in our drive to bring about the thriving society. If one is motivated by recognition, when it is impossible, they no longer care. When it is attained, they no longer care. It is not conducive to the moral life. 1.1 here mirrors 4.14: 不患莫己知,求為可知也。 (“Don’t be afraid to have no one know [you], rather seek to do [what would be worthy of] being known.”)

This is a very appropriate way to begin the Analects, and a good lesson for all of us to learn. Maybe the Analects should be required reading for all scholars!

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