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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.


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Correspondence to Amy Olberding.

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Olberding, A. Confucius’ Complaints and the Analects’ Account of the Good Life. Dao 12, 417–440 (2013).

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  • Analects
  • Good life
  • Moral maturity
  • Motivation
  • Desire