, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 417–440 | Cite as

Confucius’ Complaints and the Analects’ Account of the Good Life



The Analects appears to offer two bodies of testimony regarding the felt, experiential qualities of leading a life of virtue. In its ostensible record of Confucius’ more abstract and reflective claims, the text appears to suggest that virtue has considerable power to afford joy and insulate from sorrow. In the text’s inclusion of Confucius’ less studied and apparently more spontaneous remarks, however, he appears sometimes to complain of the life he leads, to feel its sorrows, and to possess some despair. Where we attend to both of these elements of the text, a tension emerges. In this essay, I consider how Confucius’ complaints appear to complicate any clean conclusion that Confucius wins a good life, particularly where we attend to important pre-theoretical sensibilities regarding what a “good life” ought to include and how it ought to feel for the one who leads it.


Analects Good life Moral maturity Motivation Desire 


  1. Ames, Roger T., and Rosemont, Henry, trans. 1998. The Analects of Confucius: A Philosophical Translation. New York: Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
  2. Brooks, E. Bruce, and A. Taeko Brooks. 1998. The Original Analects: Sayings of Confucius and His Successors. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Chin, Annping. 2007. The Authentic Confucius: A Life of Thought and Politics. New York: Scribner.Google Scholar
  4. Cohen, Ted. 1999. Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Creel, Herlee. 1949. Confucius, the Man and the Myth. New York: John Day.Google Scholar
  6. Harbsmeier, Christoph. 1990. “Confucius Ridens: Humor in the Analects.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 50: 131–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Huang, Yong. 2010. “Confucius and Mencius on the Motivation to be Moral.” Philosophy East and West 60.1: 65–87.Google Scholar
  8. Ing, Michael David Kaulana. 2011. “The Ancients Did Not Fix Their Graves: Failure in Early Confucian Ritual.” Philosophy East and West 62.2: 223–245.Google Scholar
  9. Lau, D. C., trans. 1979. Analects. New York: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  10. Nylan, Michael, and Thomas Wilson, . 2010. Lives of Confucius: Civilization’s Greatest Sage through the Ages. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  11. Olberding, Amy. 2011. Moral Exemplars in the Analects: The Good Person is That. New York: Routledge Press.Google Scholar
  12. Plato. 1997a. Apology. In Plato: Complete Works, edited by John M. Cooper. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  13. ____. 1997b. Crito. In Plato: Complete Works, edited by John M. Cooper. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  14. Slingerland, Edward. 1996. “The Conception of Ming in Early Confucian Thought.” Philosophy East and West 46.4: 567–581.Google Scholar
  15. ____. 2001. “Virtue Ethics, the Analects, and the Problem of Commensurability.” Journal of Religious Ethics 29.1: 97–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Swanton, Christine. 2003. Virtue Ethics: A Pluralist View. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Terkel, Studs. 1984. “The Good War”: An Oral History of World War II. New York: MJF Books.Google Scholar
  18. Van Norden, Bryan. 2002. Confucius and the Analects: New Essays. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Wilson, Steven A. 1995. “Conformity, Individuality, and the Nature of Virtue: A Classical Confucian Contribution to Contemporary Ethical Reflection.” Journal of Religious Ethics 23.2: 263–289.Google Scholar
  20. Yu, Jiyuan. 2007. The Ethics of Confucius and Aristotle: Mirrors of Virtue. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Zagzebski, Linda Trinkaus. 2006. “The Admirable Life and the Desirable Life.” In Values and Virtues, edited by Timothy Chappell. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA

Personalised recommendations