Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE TEXT OF CONFUCIUS. *** - The Chinese Classics: Vol. 1. The Life and Teachings of Confucius (Analects, Great Learning, Doctrine of the Mean)
Return to Title Page for The Chinese Classics: Vol. 1. The Life and Teachings of Confucius (Analects, Great Learning, Doctrine of the Mean)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
THE TEXT OF CONFUCIUS. *** - Confucius, The Chinese Classics: Vol. 1. The Life and Teachings of Confucius (Analects, Great Learning, Doctrine of the Mean) 
The Chinese Classics: Translated into English with Preliminary Essays and Explanatory Notes by James Legge. Vol. 1. The Life and Teachings of Confucius. Second Edition (London: N. Trübner, 1869).
Part of: The Chinese Classics
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
THE TEXT OF CONFUCIUS.***
1.What the Great Learning teaches, is—to illustrate illustrious virtue; to renovate the people; and to rest in the highest excellence.
2. The point where to rest being known, the object of pursuit is then determined; and, that being determined, a calm unperturbedness may be attained. To that calmness there will succeed a tranquil repose. In that repose there may be careful deliberation, and that deliberation will be followed by the attainment of the desired end.
3. Things have their root and their completion. Affairs have their end and their beginning. To know what is first and what is last will lead near to what is taught in the Great Learning.
4. The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the empire, first ordered well their own States. Wishing to order well their States, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.
5. Things being investigated, knowledge became complete. Their knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere. Their thoughts being sincere, their hearts were then rectified. Their hearts being rectified, their persons were cultivated. Their persons being cultivated, their families were regulated. Their families being regulated, their States were rightly governed. Their States being rightly governed, the whole empire was made tranquil and happy.
6. From the emperor down to the mass of the people, all must consider the cultivation of the person the root of everything besides.
7. It cannot be, when the root is neglected, that what should spring from it will be well ordered. It never has been the case that what was of great importance has been slightly cared for, and, at the same time, that what was of slight importance has been greatly cared for.
The preceding chapter of classical text is in the words of Confucius, handed down by the philosopher Tsăng. The ten chapters of explanation which follow contain the views of Tsăng, and were recorded by his disciples. In the old copies of the work, there appeared considerable confusion in these, from the disarrangement of the tablets. But now, availing myself of the decisions of the philosopher Ch‘ing, and having examined anew the classical text, I have arranged it in order, as follows:—*
[*** ]Chapter I. The text of Confucius. Such Choo He, as will be seen from his concluding note, determines this chapter to be, and it has been divided into two sections, the first containing three paragraphs, occupied with the heads of “the Great Learning,” and the second containing four paragraphs, occupied with the particulars of those.
[Par. 1. ]The heads of the Great Learning.—“To illustrate illustrious virtue”=the illustrious virtue is the virtuous nature which man derives from Heaven. This is perverted as man grows up through defects of the physical constitution, through inward lusts, and through outward seductions, and the great business of life should be, to bring the nature back to its original purity.—“To renovate the people,”—this object of “the Great Learning” is made out, by changing the character in the text which means “to love,” into another signifying “to renovate.” The Ch‘ing first proposed the alteration, and Choo He approved of it. When a man has entirely illustrated his own illustrious nature, he has to proceed to bring about the same result in every other man, till “under heaven” there be not an individual, who is not in the same condition as himself.—“The highest excellence” is understood of the two previous matters. It is not a third and different object of pursuit, but indicates a perseverance in the two others, till they are perfectly accomplished.—According to these explanations, the objects contemplated in “the Great Learning, are not three, but two. Suppose them realized, and we should have the whole world of mankind perfectly good, every individual what he ought to be!
Against the above interpretation, we have to consider the older and simpler. “Virtue” is there not the nature, but simply virtue, or virtuous conduct, and the first object in “the Great Learning” is the making of one’s self more and more illustrious in virtue, or in the practice of benevolence, reverence, filial piety, kindness, and sincerity. There is nothing, of course, of the renovating of the people, in this interpretation. The second object of “the Great Learning” is “to love the people.”—The third object is said by Ying-tă to be “in resting in conduct which is perfectly good,” and here, also, there would seem to be only two objects, for what essential distinction can we make between the first and third? “To love the people” is, doubtless, the second thing taught by “the Great Learning.”—Having the heads of “the Great Learning” now before us, according to both interpretations of it, we feel that the student of it should be an emperor, and not an ordinary man.
[Par. 2. ]The mental process by which the point of rest may be attained. I confess that I do not well understand this paragraph, in the relation of its parts in itself, nor in relation to the rest of the chapter. Perhaps it just intimates that the objects of “the Great Learning” being so great, a calm, serious thoughtfulness is required in proceeding to seek their attainment.
Par. 3. The order of things and methods in the two preceding paragraphs. So, according to Choo He, does this paragraph wind up the two preceding. “The illustration of virtue,” he says, “is the root, and the renovation of the people is the completion (literally, the branches). Knowing where to rest is the beginning, and being able to attain is the end. The root and beginning are what is first. The completion and end are what is last.”—The adherents of the old commentators say, on the contrary, that this paragraph is introductory to the succeeding ones. They contend that the illustration of virtue and renovation of the people are doings, and not things. According to them the things are the person, heart, thoughts, &c., mentioned below, which are “the root,” and the family, kingdom, and empire, which are “the branches.” The affairs are the various processes put forth on those things.—This, it seems to me, is the correct interpretation.
[Par. 4. ]The different steps by which the illustration of illustrious virtue throughout the empire may be brought about. Of the several steps described, the central one is “the cultivation of the person,” which, indeed, is called “the root,” in paragraph 6. This requires “the heart to be correct,” and that again “that the thoughts be sincere.” “The heart” is the metaphysical part of our nature, all that we comprehend under the terms of mind or soul, heart, and spirit. This is conceived of as quiescent, and when its activity is aroused, then we have thoughts and purposes relative to what affects it. The “being sincere” is explained by “real.” The sincerity of the thoughts is to be obtained by “carrying our knowledge to its utmost extent, with the desire that there may be nothing which it shall not embrace.” This knowledge finally is realized, through “exhausting by examination the principles of things and affairs, with the desire that their uppermost point may be reached.”—We feel that this explanation cannot be correct, or that, if it be correct, the teaching of the Chinese sage is far beyond and above the condition and capacity of men. How can we suppose that, in order to secure sincerity of thought and our self-cultivation, there is necessarily the study of all the phenomena of physics and metaphysics, and of the events of history?
[Par. 5. ]The synthesis of the preceding processes.
[Par. 6. ]The cultivation of the person is the prime, radical thing required from all. I have said above that “the Great Learning” is adapted only to an emperor, but it is intimated here that the people also may take part in it in their degree.
[Par. 7. ]Reiteration of the importance of attending to the root.
[* ]Concluding note. It has been shown in the prolegomena that there is no ground for the distinction made here between so much oracular teaching attributed to Confucius, and so much commentary ascribed to his disciple Tsăng. The invention of paper is ascribed to Ts‘ae Lun, an officer of the Han dynasty, in the time of the Emperor Ho, ad 89—104. Before that time, and long after also, slips of wood and of bamboo were used to write and engrave upon. We can easily conceive how a collection of them might get disarranged, but whether those containing “the Great Learning” did do so is a question vehemently disputed.