A Deceptively Profound Question
Philosophers generally jump right in with big questions such as: Do we have a free will? What is the meaning of life? Is experience objective? What is morality?
Confucius, however, took the opposite approach in his teachings. Rather than start with the great big philosophical questions, he asked this fundamental and deceptively profound question:
How are you living your life on a daily basis?
For Confucius, everything begins with this question – a question about the tiniest things. And unlike the big, unwieldy questions, this is one we all can answer.
Confucius – China’s First Great Philosopher
Confucius, who lived from 551 to 479 BC, was the first great philosopher in the Chinese tradition. His vast and enduring influence comes not from grand ideas, but from deceptively simple ones – ideas that flip on its head everything we understand about getting to know ourselves and getting along with other people.
The Analects, a collection of conversations and stories compiled by disciples of Confucius after his death, is full of concrete, minute details about what Confucius did and what he said. We see how he talks to different people when he walks into a room. We learn, in specific detail, how Confucius behaves at dinnertime.
You might wonder how any of this could be of philosophical significance. You might be tempted to flip through the Analects for yourself and search for passages where Confucius says something really profound. But to understand what makes the Analects a great philosophical work, we need to know what he did on a daily basis.
The reason these daily moments are important is because they are the means through which we can become different and better human beings.
The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life
Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh
The Path is being published in more than 25 countries.
The philosophy of Confucius, also known as Confucianism, emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. He is traditionally credited with having authored or edited many of the Chinese classic texts including all of the Five Classics, but modern scholars are cautious of attributing specific assertions to Confucius himself. Many years after his death, aphorisms concerning his teachings were compiled in the Analects.
Confucius’s principles had a basis in common Chinese tradition and belief. He championed strong family loyalty, ancestor veneration, and respect of elders by their children and of husbands by their wives, recommending family as a basis for ideal government. He espoused the well-known principle “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself”, the Golden Rule.
Confucius is widely considered as one of the most important and influential individuals in affecting the lives of humanity. His teaching and philosophy greatly impacted people around the world and still linger in today’s society.
Michael Puett is the Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History and Anthropology, as well as the Chair of the Committee on the Study of Religion, at Harvard University. He is the recipient of a Harvard College Professorship for excellence in undergraduate teaching.
Pruett’s interests are focused on the inter-relations between philosophy, anthropology, history, and religion, with the hope of bringing the study of China into larger historical and comparative frameworks.
. Christine Gross-Loh (website)
Christine Gross-Loh is a journalist and author. She writes on history, education, philosophy, and global parenting and has been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and Vox. She has a BA from Bryn Mawr College and a PhD from Harvard University in East Asian history.
Books written by Michael Pruett include:
- Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity
- The Ambivalence of Creation: Debates Concerning Innovation and Artifice in Early China
- The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life
- To Become a God: Cosmology, Sacrifice, and Self-Divinization in Early China (Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series)
Books written by Christine Gross-Loh include: