Confucius’ remark at Analects 1.6 is often cited to show that he thought proper moral development begins with filial piety and then extends that attitude to ever-larger groups of people (ever less intensely). I shall argue that the remark does not display such a view. Confucius did not in general envision moral progress as extension.
The Master said, “My lads: whenever you are home, be filial; whenever you are out in public be humble toward your elders. Be scrupulous and trustworthy. Care broadly for the many, and associate closely with the virtuous. If you have strength remaining, study high culture and records.”
The remark at 1.6 does not speak of extending one’s concern from few to many, from filial piety through elder-respect to caring for the masses. Nor was it intended to suggest such a view, if the design of the remark is any guide.
In an earlier posting, I argued that at least outside of 1.6, Confucius’ remarks in the Analects do not show him taking the family as the model for the state, nor taking filial piety or other family concerns as models for general virtue or of the virtue proper to governors. On the contrary: at least outside of 1.6, the Analects seems to show that Confucius did not have such a view.
The theory that general or leaderly virtue grows by extension from filial piety is a specific version of a highly abstract or generic theory, that one’s moral progress consists in the extension of a pattern or patterns one already has. Youzi held that view, at least regarding the higher stages of moral progress. Here I shall argue that Confucius did not hold that generic view, and that we should not read such a view into 1.6 in particular. On the contrary: Confucius tended to envision a person’s moral progress as her absorption of (or into) patterns from outside.
I’ll make my argument in four prepared Comments below.
Part A is a brief review of the received reading of Confucius’ remark at 1.6, at least among those who discuss it.
Part B argues broadly that Confucius tended to see moral progress in terms of absorption rather than extension.
Part C squints closely at 1.6, to clarify the terms and structure of the remark; and to argue on largely internal grounds that the remark was not meant to suggest progress by extension, nor does it reflect that idea.
Part D discusses Confucius’ few remarks that do address how filial piety and elder-respect might help someone gain further virtue.
All Chinese passages are taken directly from Donald Sturgeon’s Chinese Text Project web site. All translations are from Legge’s Analects as shown at the CTP, unless otherwise specified. http://ctext.org/analects