In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Confucius

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies—Western Languages
  • Bibliographies—Asian Languages
  • Journals and Series
  • Concordances/Indices to the Analects
  • The Life of Confucius
  • Textual History of the Analects
  • Translations of the Analects
  • Commentaries on the Analects
  • Anthologies of Studies on the Analects
  • Pedagogy

Philosophy Confucius
Eric L. Hutton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0290


“Confucius” is the Latinized version of the Chinese term Kongfuzi 孔夫子, which is a more elaborate version of the more common term Kongzi 孔子. Both Chinese terms are honorifics meaning “Master Kong,” and refer to the man Kong Qiu 孔丘. (“Kong” is his family name, and “Qiu” is his personal name; he was also called by a polite “style name,” Zhongni 仲尼, in place of his personal name.) His dates are traditionally given as 551–479 BCE. Throughout much of Chinese history, he was regarded by many Chinese as one of the greatest sages to have ever lived, a view that in later periods was also adopted by many in Japan, Korea, and even Vietnam. Thus in the roughly two-and-a-half millennia that have passed since his lifetime, a tremendous amount has been written in multiple East Asian languages about him, his ideas, and their influence, and after Europeans established contact with China and these other East Asian countries, ongoing discussions in multiple Western languages were added to this already substantial and continuously growing body of literature. In order to assist anglophone philosophers, few of whom can read Chinese at this time, this bibliography focuses primarily but not exclusively on recent English-language studies of Confucius, and especially studies of the text that is traditionally taken to be the most reliable—but not unproblematic—source of information about his views, the Lunyu 論語 (literally the “Compiled Sayings,” normally translated in English as the Analects). In the selections here, somewhat greater weight has been given to those resources that are accessible electronically, that use the modern pinyin romanization system for Chinese terms and names, and that point readers to other relevant writings.

General Overviews

Of the general overviews of Confucius and the Analects available in English, Dawson 1981 represents a fairly typical and traditional view among sinologists and historians, whereas the other overviews listed here approach the subject from the disciplinary perspective of philosophy and religious studies. Ivanhoe 2000 is the shortest and is especially well suited as a reading for students, while Slingerland 2009 is somewhat longer and draws more attention to interpretive disputes. Both remain relatively close to the kind of traditional view espoused in Dawson 1981. (Also presenting a similar overview is the editor’s introduction in Van Norden 2002, cited under Anthologies of Studies on the Analects). Huang 2013 adopts a very different, problem-oriented approach to the Analects that develops relatively new interpretations on several important points, but likewise still largely agrees with traditional understandings of the text. In contrast, both Fingarette 1972 and Hall and Ames 1987 represent significant departures from the traditional view, but in very different ways. Although controversial, Fingarette 1972 was extremely influential in getting philosophers and others to reevaluate their views of Confucius, and is still generating responses even forty years after its initial publication. Olberding 2014 (cited also under Anthologies of Studies on the Analects) can also serve as a general overview that mixes a variety of interpretive stances.

  • Dawson, Raymond. Confucius. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981.

    Although slightly dated now, this is still a useful, highly compact, systematic overview of the Life of Confucius and the content of the Analects, with a decent balance between historical, philosophical, and sinological concerns. Uses the older, Wade-Giles system of romanization for Chinese terms and names.

  • Fingarette, Herbert. Confucius: The Secular as Sacred. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.

    Defends the relevance of Confucius for contemporary philosophy. Focuses on Li 禮 (“ritual,” “rites”) and uses J. L. Austin’s idea of “performative utterances” to explain ritual’s power. Argues against interpreting Confucius as concerned with people’s inner psychological states. Uses the older, Wade-Giles system of romanization for Chinese terms and names.

  • Hall, David, and Roger Ames. Thinking through Confucius. Albany: SUNY Press, 1987.

    This account of Confucius’s thought is controversial but remains influential in some circles. It presents Confucius as promoting creativity and unique personal expression. It opposes typical accounts casting Confucius as stressing obedience to tradition and fixed moral norms. Uses the older, Wade-Giles system of romanization for Chinese terms and names.

  • Huang, Yong. Confucius: A Guide for the Perplexed. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.

    Discussion is largely focused around a series of philosophical problems and how Confucius responds to them. Argues for the plausibility and attractiveness of Confucius’s answers. Includes extensive discussion of the issues raised by Analects 9.18, 13.18, and 14.34, among others.

  • Ivanhoe, Philip J. Confucian Moral Self Cultivation. 2d ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2000.

    Revised edition of an earlier (New York: Peter Lang, 1993) publication, which originated as a series of public lectures for a nonspecialist audience. Chapter 1 (“Kongzi”) provides a very compact but illuminating introduction to the thought of Confucius through a focus on his views about moral development.

  • Slingerland, Edward. “Classical Confucianism (I): Confucius and the Lun-Yü.” In History of Chinese Philosophy. Edited by Bo Mou, 107–136. New York: Routledge, 2009.

    A very condensed but thorough discussion of textual issues, the thought of Confucius, and historical background (the main text is 25 pages) informed by the perspective of religious studies. Highlights a number of interpretive disputes, especially in the notes. Includes a helpful, partly annotated bibliography at the end.

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