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  • Recent Works on Confucius and the Analects
  • Ronnie Littlejohn
Confucius and the Analects: New Essays. Edited by Bryan W. Van Norden. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Pp. x + 342. Hardcover $65.00. Paper $24.95.
Confucius: Analects with Selections from Traditional Commentaries. Translated by Edward Slingerland. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2003. Pp. xxix + 279. Hardcover $18.00. Paper $10.95.

I do not think I can remember reading a professional review of any scholarly work beginning with the imperative "Rush out and buy these books!" But I am not embarrassed to open my comments about these two new volumes on the work of Confucius with just such advice. I think that these works should be included in the personal and institutional libraries of any public interested in classical Confucianism and the Analects. I will review them in the order of their publication. Accordingly, Professor Slingerland's work, although a translation and commentary on the Lun yu, will follow the set of essays compiled and edited by Professor Van Norden. Although this seems to be a rather straightforward procedure, the reader may well wonder whether Slingerland's translation and its extensive use of the commentarial tradition on the Analects in any way displaces one or more of the essays in Van Norden's collection. Remarkably, I did not find this to be true at all. I think this is a tribute largely to the Van Norden anthology and the quality of the scholarship represented by its contributors.

The Van Norden collection contains ten essays. In part 1 there are four grouped under the heading "Keeping Warm the Old," and in part 2 there are six under the topic "Appreciating the New." This is a grouping inspired by Analects 2.11: "One who can keep warm the old, yet appreciate the new, is fit to be a teacher." The editor's principal reason for this division in the material is that the authors of the essays in the first section accept the canonical integrity of the Analects and its worldview (or at least they do not explicitly call this into question or depend on a text or form a critical analysis in any of their arguments). In contrast, the authors in the second section explore issues that have not been a part of the commentarial and interpretive tradition on Confucius or the Analects, and many of them employ a textual critical apparatus to buttress their arguments and hermeneutical constructions.

Before I provide an overview of the component essays, I want to make a few observations about the "Introduction" written by Van Norden. While it is often the purpose of the editor of an anthology to preview the component essays in the collection, [End Page 99] this is not Van Norden's intention. Looking at the result, I must say that I am very grateful he did not follow the usual pattern. What Van Norden has provided is a readily accessible overview of China in the period before and after Confucius, and a very tight and up-to-date summary of the life of Confucius. It is the best five-page introduction I have found to the current literary and textual debate about the Analects arising from the work of Bruce and Taeko Brooks, and a very decent survey of key concepts in the Confucian philosophical lexicon taken from the Analects.

The first essay in part 1 is "Naturalness Revisited: Why Western Philosophers Should Study Confucius" by Joel Kupperman of the University of Connecticut, who was a student of H. G. Creel at the University of Chicago in the mid-1950s. Kupperman holds that there are gaps in Western ethical philosophy that correspond to interesting and important lines of thought to be found in Confucius. What he has in mind specifically is an interest he finds in Confucius on matters of style and decorum in life. He thinks that Western thought has neglected the style of interpersonal interaction because of its preoccupation with moral choice and decision. Although he takes up two possible counterexamples (Nietzsche and Aristotle), I do not believe most readers will find his way of setting them aside to be very satisfying. His work in this part of the essay...


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