Key Confucian Terminology and the Disciples
1. Junzi – this is the “exemplary person”. The Junzi is the ideal type in Confucianism, it is the kind of person that anyone aiming at human excellence tries to emulate and become.
2. Ren (or Jen) – typically translated as “benevolence” or “authoritative”. Jen can be understood as the kind of “way of being” that captures the exemplary person. A person who is Jen cares about others in a deep and fundamental way, it is part of what and who they are. In the Analects, “jen” actually appears in two senses; (a) as one virtue among others. What this means is that Jen is seen as a virtue (of caring) alongside courage, generosity, etc. In the other sense, (b), it is understood as the kind of state that a person achieves when he has all the regular virtues. So a person who is courageous, generous, kind, filial (and so on) is Jen. It’s what a person is “when they’ve got the whole package” in a way. The book flips between the two uses, though the (b) use is more prominent. When it is used in the sense of (b) it often means “authoritative” and when used for (a) it is closer to “benevolent”.
3. Dao – translation: “the Way”. The Dao is like a path, not a destination. A person who is aiming at Jen or at being a Junzi has chosen “the Way” as their mode of traveling. Although the particular way in which a person will act “on the Way” may differ from person to person, what is the same is that all persons traveling in such a fashion have the same goal in mind – Jen.
4. Xin – translation: “integrity”, or “being true to oneself” or “keeping one’s word”.
5. Xiao – translation: “filial piety” or “dutiful as a child towards a parent”. A person who embodies filial piety acts and feels in the way that one should towards one’s parents. A filial person cares for his parents, worries about them, doesn’t talk back, etc.
6. De – translation: ‘virtue’. “De” can be used in moral and non-moral ways. In the non-moral sense, it is used this way: the de of a carpenter is that carpenter’s skills in building. The de of a chess champion lies in her ability to skillfully think through moves in a quick and effective manner. Now in the moral sense: if the aim is jen or “authoritative conduct” (which makes us the junzi), then we can ask: what is the de of such a person? These will be virtues, such as honor, courage, caring, filial, etc. They are the “skills” of the morally excellent person.
7. He – translation: “harmony”. This is an incredibly difficult word to translate, because it doesn’t mean what we typically take it to mean. I’ll approach it by analogy: a meat sauce (I’m Italian, think of spaghetti sauce) tastes great when it has a lot of different ingredients, all of which add their distinctive natures to the sauce but without any one of them overpowering the others. This is ‘harmony’ in food. Similarly, in relationships. Harmony is the state where differences among persons are allowed to make beautiful and excellent the nature of that relationship, without any particular difference overpowering the rest of them. Confucius often contrasts “harmony” with sameness. Think of a relationship where one party’s desires and aims overpower the relationship. There may be little arguing or discord, but no harmony.
8. Li – translation: “ritual” or “rite”. The “Li” are those customs that prevail in a culture. So, think of holding the door open for a person when they are entering a building. This is your way of being respectful via the appropriation of, or use of, a cultural Li. Without the Li, Confucius thinks, we cannot be Jen or Junzi, because we lose our ability to respond to one another as human beings. Without the Li we are merely animals.
9. Yi – translation: “appropriate”. We might think here in terms of “right action” though the translation wouldn’t work exactly. But it’s close enough for this class. When you think “is this a right action for Confucius?” it is the same as asking if it is Yi. 10. Shu – translation: “reciprocal” or “the Golden Rule”. The Golden Rule is extremely important in Confucianism. “Shu” is the kind of attitude towards others that a person has when he or she is reciprocal, caring about others in the way in which he wants them to care about him (or her).
A Few of the More Important Disciples
It is very easy to get lost in the beginning when reading the Analects because there are so many people referred to or spoken to. And many times, nicknames are used for people! So it can get confusing (the more you read the book, the easier it gets to keep them all straight in your head). Here’s a quick list of the more prominent ones:
1. Yan Hui – Confucius’ main disciple, the one is the most proud of. Hui is said in some places to be more advanced that Confucius in terms of jen. Hui is 30 years younger than Confucius, putting him likely at around 40 years old.
2. Zilu – probably Confucius’ second favorite after Yan Hui. Zilu is a “courage nut”. He always aims at doing daring things, even when they are stupid. Confucius often points this out to him, noting that it is his single-minded pursuit of honor (and not the remaining virtues) that is the biggest obstacle in his pursuit of human excellence.
3. Zengzi – a master of filial piety and general knowledge of the Li.
4. Ranyou – Ranyou is typically seen in a somewhat negative light due to his desire to use Confucius’ teachings as a way to secure a job. He doesn’t seem to care much about the spirit of education or of what he is learning. In some ways, he is like the college student who is “in it” just to get a degree. Confucius often takes him to task for this.