The Analects of Confucius: Memorable Quotes

Image Credit: Oxford University Press

Growing up, I often heard people jokingly start a statement with “Confucius says…” Though I could not grasp what it meant at the time, it was understood that any statement that starts this way is supposed to convey some seemingly important truth and/or wisdom. It was only when I started my journey into philosophy, and subsequently read The Analects, that I began to appreciate the wisdom and importance of this man also known as Master Kong or Kongzi. In what follows I give my favourite quotes from The Analects (some considered to be authentic to Confucius, others not).

Books 1-5

“‘One does not worry about the fact that other people do not appreciate one. One worries about not appreciating other people.'” (1.16)

“If one studies but does not think, one is caught in a trap. If one thinks but does not study, one is in peril.” (2.15)

“When you understand something, to recognize that you understand it, but when you do not understand something, to recognize that you do not understand it — that is understanding.” (2.17)

“What is over and done with one does not discuss, what has taken its course one does not complain about, and what is already past one does not criticize.” (3.21)

“If one sets one’s heart on humaneness, one will be without evil.” (4.4)

“When you come across a superior person, think of being equal to him. When you come across an inferior person, turn inwards and examine yourself.” (4.17)

Books 6-10

“Those who understand a thing are not equal to those who are fond of it, and those who are fond of it are not equal to those who delight in it.” (6.20)

“Even in the midst of eating coarse rice and drinking water and using a bent arm for a pillow happiness is surely to be found.” (7.16)

“The Master [i.e. Confucius] cut out four things. He never took anything for granted, he never insisted on certainty, he was never inflexible and never egotistical.” (9.4)

Books 11-15

“Repay hostility with uprightness and repay kindness with kindness.” (14.34)

“A man of understanding does not waste people, but he also does not waste words.” (15.8)

“Do not inflict on others what you yourself would not wish done to you.” (15.24)

“If one commits an error and does not reform, this is what is meant by an error.” (15.30)

Books 16-20

“…nine things the gentleman concentrates on: in seeing he concentrates on clarity, in listening he concentrates on acuteness, in expression he concentrates on warmness, in demeanour he concentrates on courtesy, in words he concentrates on loyalty, in deeds he concentrates on reverence, when he is in doubt he concentrates on asking questions, when he is indignant he concentrates on the problems, and when he sees opportunity for gain he concentrates on what is right.” (16.10)

“Zixia* said: ‘If day by day one is aware of what one lacks, but month by month never forgets what one is capable of, one may definitely be said to be fond of learning.’” (19.5)

“Zigong* said: ‘For a single saying a gentleman may be considered wise and for a single saying he may be considered unwise, so words simply must be used with care.’” (19.25)

*Zixia and Zigong may have been disciples and/or followers of Confucius.

For reference:

In compiling these quotes, I used the Oxford World’s Classics Series edition, translated by Raymond Dawson [SA | Intl].

[Editor’s note: This post originally consisted of four separate posts.]