Confucianism: A Very Short Introduction
BY DANIEL K. GARDNERView on Amazon
Confucianism is a philosophical tradition based on the teachings of ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius (551 BCE - 479 BCE), who is considered to be one of the most significant thinkers in East Asian history.
In the 2,500 years since Confucius offered his teachings, many interpretations and schools have arisen from his thought — some of which have been key guiding principles for various Chinese dynasties over the centuries.
However, the core idea that draws the diverse tradition of Confucianism together is that living a good life depends on the quality of our social relations. The core Confucian texts of Confucius, Mengzi, and Xunzi encourage us to question and reflect on the roles we occupy, as well as the obligations we have in those roles — to friends, family, social communities, and even the global population.
This reading list consists of the best books of and about Confucianism. From introductions to core Confucian texts, after reading the books on this list, you’ll understand exactly why this great philosophical tradition remains so influential today. Let’s jump in!
Published in 2014, Confucian specialist and professor Daniel K. Gardner’s Confucianism: A Very Short Introduction is a brilliant starting place for anyone with a budding interest in the subject. Gardner offers a compelling survey of the philosophy and history of Confucianism, illuminating its answers to the questions of what makes a good person, as well as what makes a good government. Gardner examines how the answers offered by Confucius shaped, and continue to shape, Chinese culture and society. Coming in at an accessible 152 pages, this is a very nice entry point to Confucian philosophy.
For a more in-depth and academic examination of the philosophy behind Confucian thinking, look no further than David L. Hall and Roger Ames’s 1987 Thinking Through Confucius. In their rich analysis, Hall and Ames attempt to build a bridge between Western philosophy and Confucianism, investigating what philosophy as practiced by both traditions even means. A more demanding and challenging read, enthusiastic students of Confucianism will derive much value from this work.
Turning from introductions to primary Confucian texts, where better to start than with the most accessible collection of aphorisms and verses attributed to Confucius himself? The Analects — here translated, contextualized, and introduced by famed Chinese professor and author D. C. Lau — are a collection of Confucius’s sayings brought together by his pupils shortly after his death in 497 BCE. Together, they express the Confucian code for living according to virtue. If you’re interested in Confucian philosophy, this beautiful work belongs on your bookshelf.
Mengzi was a Confucian philosopher who lived just one century after Confucius. His deeply influential interpretation and expansion of Confucian thought — based on the judgment that people are generally good — is translated and contextualized brilliantly by Bryan Van Norden in Mengzi: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries. This edition is also accompanied by selected passages from the classic commentary of Zhu Xi, a Chinese philosopher who lived from 1130 to 1200. This essential primary work will augment the understanding of any Confucian student.
Xunzi was a Confucian philosopher who lived two centuries after Confucius. In contrast to Mengzi, Xunzi’s interpretation and expansion of Confucian thought was based on the judgment that people are inherently bad. In Xunzi: The Complete Text, beautifully translated by Eric L. Hutton, Xunzi presents a sophisticated vision for Confucian ethics, politics, warfare, language, ritual, human nature, and more. This edition includes helpful contextual and exploratory notes, making this an essential work for any serious student of Confucian philosophy.
Explore more reading lists of the best philosophy books:
Essential Philosophy Books by Subject
What is philosophy? Why is it important? How can it improve your life? Discover the answers to all these questions and more with our free, 3-lesson introductory email course:
1 email per day for 3 days. Join 50,000+ thinkers. No spam. Unsubscribe any time.
Learn everything you need to know about Nietzsche in just six 30-minute daily chapters. This course distills his best and most misunderstood ideas, from God is dead to the Übermensch.
★★★★★ (12 reviews)Learn More about Course
★★★★★ AmazingThis course is amazing! You can agree or not with Nietzsche’s views, but the professionalism, the methodology, the clarity, and deepness of the investigation is really comprehensive. I totally advise philosophy fans to do this course.
VERIFIED BUYERElsa V. on 6 December 2022
★★★★★ Very informativeVery good and informative. Written with easy and comprehensible language. Enjoyed throughout - every line of the course was a delight. Keep doing what you're doing!
VERIFIED BUYERMilad A. on 24 November 2022
★★★★★ ExcellentThe course was interesting and challenging and exceeded my expectations. The content was excellent, stimulating, and well written. A lot of depth was shared on each topic. There is much to learn from this great thinker. Thank you for the opportunities.
VERIFIED BUYERRobert J. on 19 July 2022
★★★★★ Wonderful introductionEasy to understand, entertaining and thought-provoking and has given me some new approaches that I’ll continue to think about. The first and last chapters were my favorites. I find the question 'why is there anything at all?' is a mind blower. And the last chapter (especially about absurdity) relates to that. Thanks!
VERIFIED BUYERMario H. on 26 November 2022
★★★★★ Wonderful introductionWonderful, clear, concise, and very informative. This is a great introductory course, exactly what I was looking for in general and enough depth to inspire further investigations. I also really enjoy the reading lists at the end of the chapters and have taken up a few suggestions. Thanks!
VERIFIED BUYERMatt J. on 16 September 2022
★★★★★ Brilliant primersBrilliant primers on all the major topics of philosophy. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect but the content provides a ton of value, it's all brilliantly written and delivered and covers so much. Highly recommend if you're at all interested in philosophy.
VERIFIED BUYERRebecca L. on 7 August 2022
Each philosophy break takes only a few minutes to read, and is crafted to expand your mind and spark your curiosity.
3 MIN BREAK