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Books That Matter: The Analects of Confucius

Books That Matter: The Analects of Confucius

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Books That Matter: The Analects of Confucius

Course No. 4642
Professor Robert Andre LaFleur, Ph.D.
Beloit College
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4.5 out of 5
14 Reviews
92% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 4642
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for diagrams, illustrations, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. While the video version can be considered lightly illustrated, there are graphics such as Chinese characters, images of philosophers and artifacts, maps, historical art, illustrations, and on-screen text, which may help reinforce material for visual learners.
Streaming Included Free

What Will You Learn?

  • Learn the best ways to approach the Analects as a first-time reader or an experienced reader who would like new insight.
  • Examine Confucian ideas about ritual conduct, learning, and trust.
  • Meet some of Confucius's most important students-and critics.
  • Discover how the Analects shaped much of China's history.
  • Consider the importance of the Analects for the Western world.

Course Overview

Almost everyone is familiar with the name Confucius, but not as many are familiar with the impact his philosophy has made on the world at large—although, at heart, his teachings tackle many of the same philosophical issues as those of ancient Western philosophers such as Plato and Socrates. And like those seminal western philosophers Confucius's concepts of how life should be experienced, the dynamics between citizen and government, the structure of family, and his views on how to operate in an increasingly turbulent society remain relevant hundreds of years after his death. They formed the philosophical backbone of East Asian civilization as well as influencing the Western world in innumerable ways.

The Analectsof Confucius is a collection of ideas that manifested sometime during the 5th century BCE when devoted students of this great Chinese philosopher began compiling and writing down their master’s sage advice on how to live. Although often overlooked as required reading in Western societies, it has gone on to become one of the greatest books in human history, and much of the socio-political life we take for granted has roots found in the teachings of Confucius.

Philosophy itself has a reputation that makes it seem inaccessible to the uninitiated, but the Analects of Confucius is a collection of philosophies and ideas that come from a thinker who was first and foremost a teacher—making it anything but dry ancient philosophy. Many of the passages in the book are ambiguous, contradictory, and even maddening. It is populated with characters and conversations, reflecting a different approach to understanding life than that undertaken by great minds of the Western tradition. Getting to the heart of the Analects—and its importance—a challenging and undeniably exciting intellectual pursuit.

With Books That Matter: The Analects of Confucius, you will enjoy an adventurous exploration of one of the world’s most important philosophical texts. In 24 accessible lectures crafted by Professor Robert André LaFleur of Beloit College—an award-winning instructor and expert on Chinese history and literature, who is currently working on his own complete translation of the Analects—you’ll broaden your philosophical view of the world, and of East Asian history, and you’ll discover why this book still matters to us today. Filled with rich historical context, detailed close readings of key passages, expert interpretations of larger cultural trends, and stories of Confucius and his most notable students (and critics), Professor LaFleur’s course is required learning for anyone who wants a solid understanding of Eastern philosophy and the ways a single book can cross cultures and go on to inspire entire generations across the globe.

Like many great books, its lessons are just as timely today as they were thousands of years ago. The Analects lives on in modern China, powering one of the world’s next great superpowers. It also extends its influence throughout much of the Western world, where its ideas on political life, personal development, familial obligations, social duties, and human connectedness intrigue and inspire anyone curious about what it means to be alive.

Explore Confucius’s Philosophical Legacy

“The Analects is a text that rewards patience, curiosity, contemplation, and effort,” Professor LaFleur says. “Centuries of people have reaped these rewards, and have been guided in their own work by its teachings.” And with Books That Matter: The Analects of Confucius, you can reap these rewards as well.

Blending history, literature, philosophy, cultural studies, and biography, these lectures provide a comprehensive look at a great book that, it’s important to remember, Confucius didn’t actually write. Rather, the Analects was the product of a legacy of collecting—a compilation of ideas attributed to Confucius that didn’t take its present (rather perplexing) form until centuries after the thinker’s death.

How does this lack of direct authorship influence our understanding of what these lessons teach us? This is just one of the many intriguing questions you’ll consider, as well as:

  • How was the Analects meant to be read—and how should new readers approach it?
  • How did the Analects anticipate the chaos of China’s Warring States period?
  • How did Confucian thought merge with political life during the Han Dynasty?
  • How did Confucianism become so linked with China’s civil service examinations?
  • How does the Analects relate to other central texts of Confucian thought?
  • How did the teachings of the Analects eventually migrate to the West?

Investigate Powerful Confucian Ideas

Professor LaFleur takes you deep inside the historical moments and trends that informed Confucius’s teachings, which sought a simpler way of life to combat the political chaos of ancient China. After grounding your approach to the Analects with a look at what we know (and don’t know) about Confucius’ life, career, and teaching philosophy, you’ll examine some of the book’s most powerful, central themes.

  • Remonstrance: At its core, remonstrance is the duty of a child to “correct” the actions of an adult. In the Analects, this obligation is intended to provide a necessary corrective to prevent fathers from imperiling their families—or rulers from ruining the state. For Professor LaFleur, this idea is at the heart of Chinese social and political life.
  • Consummate conduct (ren): Consummate conduct is one of the most complex of Confucius’s teachings and is never explicitly defined. What’s important to remember about this idea—which reveals the true depth of Confucian philosophy and negates the claims of Confucius’s critics—is that it’s not just a lifestyle choice. It’s a matter of life or death.
  • Ritual (li): Confucius believed ritual propriety should always be carried out with lively spontaneity. In performing rituals, one must always be attentive to both grand cosmological concepts and tiny details. Ritual practice, as explored in the Analects, wasn’t just stuffy rule-following but a physical and musical outlet for true joy.
  • Effective rule: What makes an effective ruler? For Confucius, true leaders (and their officials) have to ground themselves in morality and integrity. In short, they had to be true “social characters.” Effective rule, in Confucius’s day, was already a rarity—and it would only become rarer after his death.

Follow the Millennia-long Story of the Analects

As you illuminate your understanding of key passages in the Analects, you’ll also meet the students, philosophers, and statesmen who, in their own ways, contributed to the millennia-long story of this enduring book. These are the individuals responsible for recording Confucian thought, critiquing it, building on it, pillorying it, and resurrecting it for the modern age.

You’ll learn

  • why Yan Hui was Confucius’s favorite student and the embodiment of everything the philosopher valued in a scholar;
  • how Mencius’s collected writings, the Mencius, work as both a spirited defense of the Analects and a significant expansion on its central ideas;
  • why the Legalist philosopher Han Fei believed Confucians were “fuzzy-minded dilettantes” for looking to the past for appropriate models of government; and
  • how the historian Sima Guang’s reinterpretation of Confucian ideas was enormously influential in adapting the lessons of the Analects for later centuries.

Make the Analects Work for You

The winner of multiple teaching awards, Professor LaFleur takes much of the intimidation out of this ancient—but still very relevant—text. His lectures are packed with context that allows Confucius’s wisdom to speak directly to you and your experiences, as well as those of thousands of years of Chinese history.

Perfect for both audio and video, the video lectures of Books That Matter: The Analects of Confucius add another engaging level to your learning experience, including:

  • timelines and maps that help you make sense of China’s epic past;
  • artwork and artifacts from the time of Confucius (and beyond); and
  • visual translations of the Chinese text of the Analects into English.

As with all great philosophical experiences, the Analects is a work whose intellectual richness and insight remain with you long after you’ve read the final passages. So, too, will these lectures, which will help illuminate Confucian teachings—and make them work in your own life.

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24 lectures
 |  29 minutes each
  • 1
    The Hidden Teaching Dynamic of the Analects
    Before diving into the mysteries of the Analects, it's essential to get a broader view of Confucius and his style of teaching. Here, examine how the text's performative nature holds its diverse teachings together, and explore Confucius's mission to return China to a more harmonious era in its history. x
  • 2
    The Analects: A Bird's-Eye View
    The Analects, according to Professor LaFleur, shouldn't just be read. It should be lived. Learn how to enter the book's world by considering Confucius's imaginative ideas about living in society. Also, practice your ability to navigate through the book's tangle of questions and answers, assertions and observations, and challenges and retorts. x
  • 3
    The Man We Call Confucius
    Who was Confucius? How did he manage to become one of the most important figures in world history? Get the full backstory on what historians know about the man called Confucius, including the opinions of thinkers like Mencius and Xunzi, and several illuminating passages from Chapter 10 of the Analects. x
  • 4
    How the Analects Is Organized
    The structure of the Analects offers a helpful way in which to approach and understand the text's deeper meanings. Break down Confucius's book into its chapters" (juan), the scattered nature of its tiny nuggets of knowledge ("analects"), and the generations of historical commentary winding among these approximately 500 individual sayings." x
  • 5
    The Provenance of the Analects
    Archaeological discoveries were key to transforming scholarly understanding of early Chinese texts. In this lecture with the feel of a detective story, unearth the oldest version of the Analects (bamboo fragments found in a tomb in north-central China) and discover why there's no one single version of this world classic. x
  • 6
    The Analects in Miniature
    For those readers who've never encountered the Analects before, there's no better way to approach it than through its first five statements-which contain an entire world of philosophical knowledge. Join Professor LaFleur as he unpacks core themes in these iconic passages, including individual conduct and effective statesmanship. x
  • 7
    Learning to Read the Analects
    While there are no absolute rules for reading the Analects, there are ways to enhance your understanding of its complexities. Tips you'll learn in this helpful lecture include: focus on the early chapters (more likely to be composed soon after Confucius's death) and-paradoxically-acknowledge what the book cannot teach you. x
  • 8
    Confucius's Students: Zai Wo and Yan Hui
    Meet two of the most important and memorable students featured in the Analects. The first is Zai Wo, a devoted (but prickly) student who functions as a sort of trickster character. The second is Yan Hui, Confucius's favorite student and the model for what the thinker valued in his students. x
  • 9
    Confucius's Students: Zilu and Zigong
    In this lecture, meet two more students who accompanied Confucius on his journey of enlightenment: the difficult (and often criticized) Zilu and the mistake-prone (but fiercely loyal) Zigong. Both students, as you'll learn, are surprisingly nuanced followers, and they both experience a powerful intellectual evolution as the Analects progresses. x
  • 10
    Confucius on the Purpose of Learning
    What was the point of gaining knowledge, according to Confucius? Professor LaFleur reveals the answer in this pointed discussion on putting the teachings in the Analects into practice. In a close reading of several passages, you'll get to the heart of how Confucius's teachings relate to the wider world. x
  • 11
    Filial Devotion in the Analects
    Begin investigating several of the core concepts in the Analects that would go on to define Confucian thought in Chinese history. The first of these concepts: filial devotion" (xiao), which is a practical and symbolic way of creating an orderly society at home and in the world at large." x
  • 12
    Confucius on the Value of Remonstrance
    The idea of remonstrance (the duty of a child to "correct" the actions of an adult) lies at the heart of hierarchical Chinese society and politics. How is the concept critiqued in the Analects? How does it protect families and states from ruin? What are some of its potential dangers? x
  • 13
    The Exemplary Person in the Analects
    How does the Analects define an exemplary person? Find out by examining a series of key concepts that work together to shape a whole person" who can properly function as a social and political being. Among these are loyalty (zhong), sincerity (cheng), trust (xin), and virtue (de)." x
  • 14
    Confucius's Ideal: Consummate Conduct
    Explore the highest (and most difficult) of Confucian skills: consummate conduct (ren). Along the way, you'll learn how this concept has dominated 25 centuries of Chinese history, how it reveals the true depths of Confucius's teachings, and why it's not just a lifestyle-but a matter of life and death. x
  • 15
    Confucius on Cultivating the Social Self
    Continue unpacking the concept of consummate conduct by breaking it down into smaller social and moral skills that should always be properly cultivated. As Professor LaFleur reveals, consummate conduct is more than an individual quality; it's profoundly social to its core, tying together family, community, and even the state itself. x
  • 16
    Ritual Conduct in the Analects
    Ritual lies at the heart of the Analects, and is perhaps one of Confucius's biggest action items. Here, delve into the idea of ritual propriety (li), which requires an individual to acknowledge both cosmological concepts and minute details. Ritual, as you'll discover, is so much more than just stuffy rule-following. x
  • 17
    Confucius on Embodied Ritual and Music
    In this second lecture on Confucian ideas of ritual, learn why, in the Analects, ritual is tightly interlinked with the body-so that ritual becomes not just prescriptions but performative actions. Also, learn how Confucius links ritual with music, so that both reflect the height of human emotion and community. x
  • 18
    The Analects on Effective Rule
    In Confucian learning, the greatest challenge is the act of governing. How are we supposed to rule ourselves, our families, and our communities-all under the authority of heaven? Using pointed examples from the Analects, examine Confucian ideas about proper leadership, the importance of advisors, and the need for constant self-correction. x
  • 19
    Mencius: The Next Confucian Sage
    Who took up the mantle after the death of Confucius? Professor LaFleur introduces you to Mencius, whose collected writings are both a spirited defense and significant expansion of the Analects. Filled with long narratives that read like dramatic performances, his Mencius hammered home the idea that people are inherently good. x
  • 20
    Confucius's Daoist and Legalist Critics
    The ideas espoused in the Analects had their share of critics. Here, take a look at some of the most prominent of these, including Xunzi, who felt that humans were born flawed; Daoist critics like Zhuangzi; and the Legalist philosopher Han Fei, who considered Confucius to be a fuzzy-minded dilettante. x
  • 21
    State Confucianism and Buddhism
    In the first half of this lecture, consider how Confucianism moved into the seat of power in China during the four centuries of the Han dynasty and evolved in two very different directions. Then, explore how this new form of State Confucianism" blended with other Eastern belief systems-especially Buddhism." x
  • 22
    Sima Guang and the Confucian Revival
    View the life and works of the Chinese historian Sima Guang as a window into neo-Confucianism: the revived form of Confucianism that emerged in the 11th century. You'll learn how this historian took the lessons of the Analects and adapted them to fit new social, economic, and political complexities. x
  • 23
    Neo-Confucianism and the Political Order
    Go deeper inside the ways neo-Confucianism reshaped the foundations of Chinese education and government. Topics include Ouyang Xiu's essay, On Fundamentals", which celebrated Confucian principles; Zhu Xi's reorganization of Confucian education into the "Four Books" model; and the importance (and misery) of civil service examinations." x
  • 24
    Confucius's Comeback in a Global World
    Conclude the course with a look at Confucian thought in the modern age. How did the West influence internal Chinese affairs (already on the point of collapse before Westerners arrived)? Why were the Analects pilloried during Mao's "Cultural Revolution"? How did Confucius once again become the voice of China? x

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Your professor

Robert Andre LaFleur

About Your Professor

Robert Andre LaFleur, Ph.D.
Beloit College
Professor Robert André LaFleur is Professor of History and Anthropology at Beloit College in Wisconsin, where he has taught since 1998. Having graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Carleton College, Professor LaFleur received his doctorate from The University of Chicago’s John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought, where he combined work in three distinct fields: anthropology, history, and Chinese...
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Books That Matter: The Analects of Confucius is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 14.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good. Would appreciate more similar courses Gave me some understanding of the Analects enjoyed the course.
Date published: 2017-10-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Lecturer is a Sales Rep for Confucius It seems odd that the lecturer spends so many hours of this course "selling" the ideas of Confucius. If we have found (and bought!) the course, we are likely to already have some interest or appreciation, some expectation that learning more about Confucius' ideas would have value. Would I recommend this course to a friend? Depends on the friend. To someone brand new to Asian history and thought, maybe. To someone with passing knowledge of Confucius, say someone who has taken "From Yao to Mao" from the Great Courses, no. The lecturer spends more time describing his own learning path for Confucius than he does comparing or contrasting Confucius' thought with Western (or Indian) thought, and when he does make comparisons, they are lamentably general. So, overall, I was disappointed in the course. A stern editor could have cut the course to perhaps 6 lectures instead of 24 and had something pretty good, but still not terrific.
Date published: 2017-07-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Solid but quite demanding for a beginner like me The professor spends quite a lot of time explaining the nature of the Analects and that Confucius didn't actually write it. It is based on students' notes. The problem is a bit like that of the surviving records of Aristotle's teaching, but more extreme. The professor's method is quite demanding and subtle but, if the listener sticks with the course, it's very illuminating.
Date published: 2017-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Books that matter: The Analects of Confucius New information with insights about a time and place I knew little about
Date published: 2017-06-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Analects Explained I read The Analects before getting the course. The course gave the in insight to understand and read Confucius Analects again with better understanding
Date published: 2017-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worth your time and money I really enjoyed this course. Dr. LaFleur is enthusiastic, insightful, and thorough. I have not read The Analects yet, but I know I will. And I will review this course when I do. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2017-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I wish I were a "Junzi" This is a superb course on a subject matter that could use a bit more attention from The Great Courses. I hope that a similar course on the Dao De Jing is developed, too. This particular course is taught by a scholar of ancient China who seems to have excellent Chinese language skills and a deep understanding of the source material. Confucius is treated competently in other TGC offerings, but not with the depth and specificity on display here. I had read The Analects several times, but I think this would also work for an introduction into that venerable text. I was watching these episodes while eating some cheesecake (it was pretty good) when I said to myself, "this course combines a sensitivity to historical context and a commitment to humanistic studies and applications". The professor explained how the Analects came to be produced in Ancient China, but also pointed out numerous cases in which the lessons of the Analects remain timely and important in the 21st century. As for Professor Presentation: Professor Lafleur was excellent. What Guy Lafleur was to ice hockey, Robert Andre Lafleur is to Confucian studies.
Date published: 2017-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Passionate instructor! The main thing that comes through in this series is the professor's passion for the material, and the study of history generally. He takes a complex subject and gives it a topical organization that even the text of the Analects itself lacks; as he points out, to the uninitiated the Analects seems like 500 fortune cookie sayings scattered with no apparent pattern, but LaFleur extracts substantive topics and themes that make it understandable. I purchased this course as part of a pre-trip study and reading list ahead of my first trip to China. I definitely feel that when I visit the Confucius temple in Beijing, and then later when I visit Qufu, I will have a good background and will be well-prepared to understand the exhibits. Now that I've gone all the way through this lecture series on the Analects of Confucius, I would love to see the same professor do a lecture series on Daoism (Taoism). Well done!
Date published: 2017-03-01
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