Quotations by Confucius


By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
(Attributed)
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The superior man goes through his life without any one preconceived course of action or taboo. He merely decides for the moment what is the right thing to do.

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Trickling water, if not stopped, will become a mighty river.

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
(Attributed)

http://www.bartleby.com/66/86/2386.html
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Better than the one who knows what is right is he who loves what is right.

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
(Attributed)
    (Source)
Added on 12-May-04 | Last updated 5-Jul-20
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Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
(Spurious)

Though it has been included in books of quotations, the earliest connection between this thought and Confucius is found in the mid-1980s. See here and here for more discussion.
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When things are investigated, then true knowledge is achieved; when true knowledge is achieved, then the will becomes sincere; when the will is sincere, then the heart is set right; when the heart is set right, then the personal life is cultivated; when the personal life is cultivated, then the family life is regulated; when the family life is regulated, then the national life is orderly; and when the national life is orderly, then there is peace in this world.

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
Liki [Record of Rites], ch. 42
Added on 8-Jan-08 | Last updated 8-Jan-08
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Respectfulness, without the rules of propriety, becomes laborious bustle; carefulness, without the rules of propriety, becomes timidity; boldness, without the rules of propriety, becomes insubordination; straightforwardness, without the rules of propriety, becomes rudeness.

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
The Analects [Lun Yü], 8.2 (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse, tr. Legge (1930)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.:
  • "Without ritual, courtesy is tiresome; without ritual, prudence is timid; without ritual, bravery is quarrelsome; without ritual, frankness is hurtful." [tr. Leys (1997)]
  • "Unless a man acts according to the spirit of the rites, in being respectful, he will tire himself out; in being cautious, he will become timid; in being brave, he will become unruly; in being forthright, he will become derisive." [tr. Chin (2014)]
  • "Respectfulness without the rituals becomes laboriousness; discretion without the rituals becomes apprehensiveness; courage without the rituals becomes rebelliousness; straightforwardness without the rituals becomes impetuosity." [tr. Huang (1997)]
  • "Courtesy uncontrolled by the laws of good taste becomes labored effort, caution uncontrolled becomes timidity, boldness uncontrolled becomes recklessness, and frankness uncontrolled become effrontery." [tr. Soothill (1910)]
Added on 13-Mar-12 | Last updated 22-Jun-20
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The Master said of Yen Yuan, “Alas! I saw his constant advance. I never saw him stop in his progress.”

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
The Analects [Lun Yü], 9.20 (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse, tr. Legge (1861)]
    (Source)

Probable origin of the frequently attributed "It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop." Alt. trans.:
  • 'Confucius remarked of the same disciple [Yen Hui]: "Alas! he is dead. I have observed his constant advance; I never saw him stop in his progress."' [tr. Ku Hung-Ming (1898)]
  • "Alas for Hwui! I saw him ever making progress. I never saw him stopping short." [tr. Wilson (1900)]
  • 'The Master, referring to Yen Yüan, said: "Alas! I ever saw him make progress, and never saw him stand still."' [tr. Soothill (1910)]
  • 'The Master said of Yan Hui: "Alas, I watched his progress, but did not see him reach the goal."' [tr. Leys (1997), 9.21]
  • 'The Master said about Yan Hui, "Such a pity! I only saw his progress; I never saw where he got to."' [tr. Ames/Rosemont (1998)]
  • 'The Master, referring to Yan Hui, said, "It is a pity! I saw him moving forward but did not see him complete his journey."' [tr. Annping Chin (2014)]
  • "I saw him ever making progress. I never saw him stopping short." [tr. Jennings]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 25-Nov-20
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If you don’t know how to serve men, why worry about serving the gods?

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
The Analects [Lun Yü], 11.11 (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse]

Common translation of this Analect, source unknown. Other translations:

  • 'Chi Lu asked about serving the spirits of the dead. The Master said, "While you are not able to serve men, how can you serve their spirits?"' [tr. Legge (1861)]

  • 'Tszlu propounded a question about ministering to the spirits of the departed. The Master replied, "Where there is scarcely the ability to minister to living men, how shall there be ability to minister to the spirits?"' [tr. Jennings (1895)]

  • 'A disciple (the intrepid Chung Yu) enquired how one should behave towards the spirits of dead men. Confucius answered, "We cannot as yet do our duties to living men; why should we enquire about our duties to dead men?"' [tr. Ku Hung-Ming (1898)]

  • 'When Chi Lu asked about his duty to his spirits the Master replied: "While still unable to do your duty to the living, how can you do your duty to the dead?"' [tr. Soothill (1910)]

  • 'Zilu asked how to serve the spirits and gods. The Master said: "You are not yet able to serve men, how could you serve the spirits?"' [tr. Leys (1997)]

  • 'Jilu asked how one should serve the gods and spirits. The Master said, "When you don't yet know how to serve human beings, how can you serve the spirits?"' [tr. Watson (2007)]

  • 'Jilu [Zilu] asked about how to serve the spirits of the dead and the gods. The Master said, "You can't even serve men properly, how can you serve the spirits?"' [tr. Annping Chin (2014), 11.12]

  • 'Ji Lu asked about how to serve and worship gods and spirits. Confucius said, "You still have not served men well. Why do you bother serving gods and spirits?"' [tr. Li (2020), 11.12]
Added on 12-May-04 | Last updated 10-Dec-20
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What is called a great minister is one who serves his prince according to what is right; and when he finds he cannot do so, retires.

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
The Analects [Lun Yü], 11.23 (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse; tr. Legge (1861)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.:
  • "Men I call statesmen are those who will serve their master according to their sense of duty; who, however, when they find they cannot do that, consistently, with their sense of duty, will resign." [tr. Ku Hung-Ming (1898)]
  • "Those whom we call 'great ministers' are such as serve their prince conscientiously, and who, when they cannot do so, retire." [tr. Wilson (1900)]
  • "He who may be called a great minister is one who serves his Prince according to the right, and when that cannot be, resigns." [tr. Soothill (1910)]
  • "A great minister is a minister who serves his lord by following the Way, and who resigns as soon as the two are no longer reconcilable." [tr. Leys (1997)]
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To let a sudden fit of anger make you forget the dangers you risk for yourself and for those who are nearest and dearest to you — is this not clouded judgment?

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
The Analects [Lun Yü], 12.21 (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse; Annping Chin (1983)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.:
  • "For a morning's anger to disregard one's own life, and involve that of his parents; -- is not this a case of delusion?" [tr. Legge (1861)]
  • "If a man allows himself to lose his temper and forget himself of a morning, in such a way as to become careless for the safety of is own person and for the safety of his parents and friends: -- is that not a case of a great delusion in life?" [tr. Ku Hung-Ming (1898)]
  • "For a morning's anger to forget his own safety and involve that of his relatives, is not this irrational?" [tr. Soothill (1910)]
  • "To endanger oneself and one's kin in a sudden fit of anger: is this not an instance of incoherence?" [tr. Leys (1997)]
  • "Because of one morning's anger, to forget your own safety and even endanger those close to you -- this is faulty thinking, isn't it?" [tr. Watson (2007)]
  • "And as to illusions, is not one morning's fit of anger, causing a man to forget himself, and even involving the consequences those who are near and dear to him -- is not that an illusion?" [tr. Jennings]
A common paraphrase of this is "When anger rises, think of the consequences." This is attributed to Confucius in Kang-Hi (K'ang-hsi, Kangxi) The Sacred Edict, Maxim #16 (1670, 1724) [tr. Milne (1817)]. An alternate translation is "In anger, think of the trouble" [tr. Baller (1892), ch. 16, sec. 15]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 23-Nov-20
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Zigong asked how to practice humanity. The Master said: “A craftsman who wishes to do good work must first sharpen his tools. In whatever country you settle, offer your services to the most virtuous ministers, and befriend those gentlemen who cultivate humanity.”

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
The Analects [Lun Yü], 15.10 (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse; tr. Leys (1997)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.:
  • 'Tsze-kung asked about the practice of virtue. The Master said, "The mechanic, who wishes to do his work well, must first sharpen his tools. When you are living in any state, take service with the most worthy among its great officers, and make friends of the most virtuous among its scholars."' [tr. Legge (1861), 15.9]
  • 'Zigong asked about the practice of humaneness. The Master said, "Artisans who wish to excel at their craft must sharpen their tools. When you live in any given state, you should serve the worthiest among the counselors and befriend the most human among the educated professionals."'[tr. Annping Chin (1983)]
  • Part of this is often quoted, without citation: "The expectations of life depend upon diligence; the mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools." The quote can be found in English as early as the late 19th Century.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 22-Nov-20
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Tsze-kung asked, saying, “Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?” The Master said, “Is not RECIPROCITY such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.”

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
The Analects [Lun Yü], 15.24 (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse; tr. Legge (1930)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.:
  • Zigong asked: "Is there any single word that could guide one's entire life?" The Master said: "Should it not be reciprocity? What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others." [tr. Leys (1997)]
  • Zigong asked: "Is there a single word that can serve as the guide to conduct throughout one's life?" The Master said, "It is perhaps the word shu. Do not impose on others what you yourself do not want." [tr. Chin (2014); Chin translates shu as "treating others with an awareness that they, too, are alive with humanity"]
  • Zi-gong asked: "Is there one single word that one can practice throughout one's life?" The Master said: "It is perhaps 'like-hearted considerateness.' 'What you do not wish for yourself, do not impose on others.'" [tr. Huang (1997)]
  • "Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you."
See also the Bible, Matthew 7:12.
Added on 27-Sep-10 | Last updated 22-Jun-20
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Only the wisest and the stupidest never change.

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
The Analects [Lun Yü], 17.3 (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse; tr. Leys (1997)]
    (Source)

Alt trans.:
  • "Only the supremely wise and the abysmally ignorant do not change."
  • "It is only the supremely wise or the deeply ignorant who never alter." [In Sir Gilbert Parker, The Weavers (1907)]
  • "There are only the wise of the highest class, and the stupid of the lowest class, who cannot be changed." [tr. Legge (1930)]
  • "There are two classes that never change: the supremely wise and the profoundly stupid."
  • "Only the supremely wise and the most deeply ignorant do not alter." [Source]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 22-Jun-20
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Observe a man’s actions; scrutinize his motives; take note of the things that give him pleasure. How, then, can he hide from you what he really is?

confucius-what-he-really-is-wist_info-quote

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
The Analects [Lun Yü], 2.10 (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse] [tr. Giles (1907)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.:
  • "See what a man does. Mark his motives. Examine in what things he rests. How can a man conceal his character?" [tr. Legge (1930)]
  • "Observe [shi] what a man does. Look into [guan] what he has done [you]. Consider [cha] where he feels at home. How then can he hide his character?" [tr. Chin (2014)]
  • "See what a man does; contemplate the path he has traversed; examine what he is at ease with. How, then, can he conceal himself?" [tr. Huang (1997)]
Added on 29-Nov-16 | Last updated 5-Jul-20
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To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage.

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
The Analects [Lun Yü], 2.24 (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse, tr. Legge (1930)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.: "Not to act when justice commands, that is cowardice." [tr. Leys (1997)]
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A gentleman seeks virtue; a small man seeks land. A gentleman seeks justice; a small man seeks favors.

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
The Analects [Lun Yü], 4.11 (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse; tr. Leys (1997)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.:
  • "The superior man thinks of virtue; the small man thinks of comfort. The superior man thinks of the sanctions of law; the small man thinks of favours which he may receive." [tr. Legge (1930)]
  • "The gentleman [junzi] worries about the condition of his moral character, while the common man [xiaoren] worries about [whether he can hold on to] his land. The gentleman is conscious of [not breaking] the law, while the common man is conscious of what benefits he might reap [from the state]." [tr. Chin (2014)]
  • "The superior man seeks what is right; the inferior one, what is profitable." [Source]
Added on 12-May-04 | Last updated 5-Jul-20
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A man should say, I am not concerned that I have no place, I am concerned how I may fit myself for one. I am not concerned that I am not known, I seek to be worthy to be known.

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
The Analects [Lun Yü], 4.14 (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse; tr. Legge (1930)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.:
  • "Do not worry if you are without a position; worry lest you do not deserve a position. Do not worry if you are not famous; worry let you do not deserve to be famous." [tr. Leys (1997)]
  • "Do not worry that you have no official position. Worry about not having the qualifications to deserve a position. Do not worry that others do not know you. seek to be worthy of being known." [tr. Chin (2014)]
  • "Do not worry about having no office; rather, worry about whether you deserve to stand in that office. Do not worry about nobody knowing you; rather, seek to be worth knowing." [tr. Huang (1997)]
Added on 19-Mar-10 | Last updated 22-Jun-20
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When you see a worthy man, seek to emulate him. When you see an unworthy man, examine yourself.

見賢思齊焉、見不賢而內自省也。

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
The Analects [Lun Yü], 4.17 (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse; tr. Leys (1997)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.:
  • "When we see men of worth, we should think of equalling them; when we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves." [tr. Legge (1930)]
  • "When you meet a worthy person, think how you could become his equal. When you meet an unworthy person, turn inward and examine your own conduct." [tr. Chin (2014)]
  • "On seeing a worthy man, think of equalling him; on seeing an unworthy man, examine yourself inwardly." [tr. Huang (1997)]
  • "When you see a good man, try to emulate his example, and when you see a bad man, search yourself for his faults."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 5-Jul-20
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I have never seen anyone who loves virtue as much as he loves beautiful women.

9.18 吾未見好德、如好色者也。

15.13 吾未見好德如好色者也。

Confucius (551-479 BC) Chinese philosopher [Ku'ng Ch'iu / King Qiu, Ku'ng Fu-tzu / Kong Fuzi]
The Analects [Lun Yü], 9.18 and 15.13 (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse; tr. Huang (1997)]
    (Source)

The phrase is repeated in both locations in the Analects. Alt. trans.:
  • "I have not seen one who loves virtue as he loves beauty." [as 9.17 and 15.12, tr. Legge (1930)]
  • "I have never seen anyone who loved virtue as much as sex." [tr. Leys (1997)]
  • "I have never met a person who loved virtue as much as he loved physical beauty." [tr. Chin (2014)]
  • "I have yet to meet a man as fond of high moral conduct as he is of outward appearances." [tr. Ware (1950)]
Added on 18-Apr-14 | Last updated 5-Jul-20
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