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What Did Confucius Teach?
Confucius was a scholar and moralist with a sense of responsibility trying to persuade feudal princes to do what was right. Confucius offered practical advice and did not speculate about absolute knowledge or what happens to people after death.

Wm. Theodore de Bary :: Confucius appears in the Analects as a scholar, as a teacher, as a moralist, as someone who has a sense of responsibility for public service, and who himself tried often to render that service, who was willing to serve as an official if he could find a ruler, a prince, who would listen to him and would act in accordance with the principles that Confucius felt were appropriate; in other words, what was right.

[Excerpt from the Analects of Confucius]

Ji Kang Zi asked Confucius about government, saying, "What do you think of killing the wicked and associating with the good?"

Confucius replied, "In your government what is the need of killing? If you desire what is good, the people will be good. The character of a ruler is like wind and that of the people is like grass. In whatever direction the wind blows, the grass always bends."


Robert Oxnam :: Confucius' teachings are concerned with the way people relate to one another in their daily lives. He sought an order in human interactions that would lead to social harmony.

Irene Bloom :: One of the elements of Confucian thought that might be considered characteristic is its practicality. Confucius was extremely concerned with those things which could be known in the course of ordinary human experience of life, in contrast with the Indian thought of this Axial Age Period, which was, to some significant extent, concerned with absolute knowledge.

Confucius, when questions are put to him having to do with what would be considered the absolute knowledge, deflects to those questions. He wants people to live in the here and now, to live their lives in the best way that they can and not to be concerned with things such as an afterlife that cannot be known.

[Excerpt from the Analects of Confucius]

Zilu asked about serving the spiritual beings. Confucius said, "We don't know yet how to serve men, how can we know about serving spirits?"

"What about death?" was the next question.

Confucius said, "We don't know yet about life, how can we know about death?"

First excerpt from A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, Wing-tsit Chan, ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963), Analects I2:19.

Second excerpt from Sources of Chinese Tradition, Wm. Theodore de Bary, ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960), Analects 12:15.