Three Chinese classics

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Three Chinese classics

dec 28, 2020, 8:38 am

I'm hoping to read more philosophy next year and am planning to start with Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, The Analects by Confucius, and The Art of War by Sun Tzu, in that order over the next three or four months. Anybody interested in joining me?

feb 20, 2021, 1:19 pm

I read through Tao Te Ching and while I enjoyed it, I realised that it's rather very difficult to find any points to discuss when I have so little base knowledge and am more an early learner than anything else.

I've gone on with The Analects, but I find myself a bit lost in the maze of seemingly random and very foreign names scattered on basically every page of the text. It's like some of those names refer to concepts and some to actual people, but knowing nothing about Chinese language or culture, I can't always tell them apart. Does anyone have any advice on how to approach these names?

Or maybe I should be reading some kind of secondary text before jumping into the primary?

feb 21, 2021, 5:54 am

I feel that Edward Slingerlands Trying not to try is a very good introduction to classical Chinese thought, giving a good feel for what Lao Tse, Confucius and some others actually stood for in a way that is understandable to us modern westerners. If it sounds interesting to you, I certainly wouldn't mind rereading it together.

feb 21, 2021, 8:46 pm

>3 wester: Oh, that could be an interesting book to take a closer look at when I have more time, and a shared read does sound like fun, although unfortunately I am currently at my reading limit. Thank you for the recommendation, though!

mar 29, 2021, 10:19 am

Slingerland's title somehow makes me recall CS Lewis' opposition to "The Green Book" (in Abolition of Man) and its urging away from traditional value in the Way/Tao/Natural Law/Reason. Did you notice Abolition's first opening comment (what's the word?) from Analects II, The Master said, He who sets to work on a different strand destroys the whole fabric? In one sense it's true, but is it relevant?
I'm still focused on trying to better understand the religion, philosophy, and culture I grew up in, and am more tempted to look back at Greek and Latin than Chinese, even though the President may think Chinese would be looking forward.
Can you comment: Does Lewis' short summary of the Way in Abolition give a reasonable representation?
All Lewis Chinese references are to Analects- does that reflect substantial overlap with Tzu?
Would you support or discourage the proposed merger of the Inklings and Friends of Jack (Lewis) groups into the Tolkien group?

apr 4, 2021, 10:12 pm

>5 eschator83: Hello there :)

Although I am rather very fond of C. S. Lewis and I did read his Abolition of Man last year, I have to confess that I don't remember very much about it. In any case, I wouldn't make a good judge of Lewis' representation of the Tao, as I myself am only an early learner.

I set up this thread in the hopes of finding points to discuss or even just to write little notes along the way, but having read through both Tao Te Ching and The Analects now, I'm starting with mere impressions and not much understanding. I'm not terribly inquisitive, which is my problem, but I don't mind slow learning much either. My expectation is that some time down the road, I will probably read these books again and gradually understand better their meaning and relevance to the everyday. (I'm rambling now, I think.)

Are you interested in reading these three Chinese classics as well? Or perhaps you've read them already? I'm planning to start The Art of War sometime this month, and after that, probably another month or so later, I want to pick up some Greek philosophy. How much of classical Western philosophy are you familiar with? I, too, am interested in learning more about religion and philosophy, albeit more in the direction of Christianity at the moment.

As to the merging of groups, I'm not sure that I've ever been to the Tolkien group you are referring to, but I personally wouldn't mind much if the Inklings and Friends of Jack groups were merged together.

apr 11, 2021, 12:21 pm

I'm usually focused on religion both because I think it's important and also because I've been given more than 2000 religious books over the years by friends, students and their parents and I feel called to read them. Philosophy is second, but so many philosophers are atheists it's often discouraging. I keep winding up in St Augustine, St Anselm, and St Thomas Aquinas, but I've spent a good deal of time in Plato, Aristotle, and Marcus Aurelius.
I vaguely recall having Art of War in my hands long ago. What draws you to it?

apr 11, 2021, 2:27 pm

>7 eschator83: I am more focused on religion, as well, and I do hope to read more of the spiritual classics in time, but I did see an opinion recently along the lines of philosophy being the gateway to a proper understanding of theology. I have been wanting to start learning some of the foundations of philosophical thought for a while as well, though, to help make sense and find more peace in the everyday.

My mother bought me Peter Kreeft's A Summa of the Summa by Saint Thomas Aquinas, to read a little of everyday when I was maybe fifteen. It was incredibly dry and difficult to read then, but as Saint Thomas appears key to gaining a deeper understanding of faith, I do hope to get back to his writings sometime. Aristotle being the basis of much Thomistic thought--at least, that's what I've heard--I think that ancient Greek philosophy might be a good place to start. They've influenced so much of thought down through the millennia.

I decided to start with Tao Te Ching, The Analects, and The Art of War because as they have stood the test of time, I figured that there must be some good value and truth in them, and so far, I haven't been disappointed. I'm very glad to have started, in fact--as cursory and slow as my comprehension may be. :)

I found this very interesting list of 10 philosophy books for beginners, and I'm hoping to give it a try when I can. I notice that it doesn't include Marcus Aurelius even though a lot of people seem to mention him when it comes to introductions to philosophy. I was wondering, do you have an opinion on this? What books might you personally recommend?

Redigerat: apr 12, 2021, 5:43 pm

I hope these thoughts are helpful:
1- I've read in many places this suggestion: it is almost always better to read a great author directly than to try to get the message from someone else's commentary, because great authors are almost always great writers, they usually write precisely what they mean, and they seldom make mistakes or deceit in interpretation.
2- I like Peter Kreeft, but he is dry. His Handbook of Apologetics is also dry, but a great reference. Scott Hahn is much friendlier, and his conversion story, Home Sweet Rome, is outstanding, especially to help us think about evangelization.
3- My Way of Life is a small, older (1952) book by two priests that summarizes much of St Thomas' Summa in a quite readable and enjoyable manner.
4- Thanks for your comments and the list of philos books- I need to give that some more thought.
5-Proposed consolidate of Inklings and Lewis groups is into a third group called (??_). I can't find my note, will comment later, I'm afraid these two will get lost.
The 3rd group is Council of Elrond.

apr 12, 2021, 6:40 pm

>9 eschator83: because great authors are almost always great writers, they usually write precisely what they mean, and they seldom make mistakes or deceit in interpretation.

That's a good point and nicely put! And thank you for your recommendations, too; I must go and look them up.

Seeing as none of these three groups (Inklings, Friends of Jack, Council of Elrond) are very active, might it make more sense to consolidate them into Inklings rather than into Council of Elrond? While Council of Elrond has a little more activity and a few members more, its name suggests that the purpose for the group is rather more specific than broad. Or at the very least, the page should be edited to reflect this merge and to show that the group now welcomes discussions about the other Inklings as well. Other than that, I wouldn't personally mind a merge of the groups.

apr 13, 2021, 7:33 pm

Danger??xx I got a big red flag warning of dangerous website when I clicked on your list of 10 philos references. What is going on?

apr 13, 2021, 10:46 pm

My Norton just gave the red danger flag again, but a moderator checked and did not get any warning.

Redigerat: apr 14, 2021, 1:36 pm

>11 eschator83: >12 eschator83: Goodness! I'm so sorry if the link has caused you any trouble; I myself never received any such warning on my browser.

The same article is also published on, which should probably be safe, I think, here:

maj 2, 2021, 9:00 am

I've recently finished The Art of War, and while I actually quite enjoyed it... brain goes blank for topics of discussion... Yeah, anyway, like I said, I'm a slow learner, but I did enjoy the three books, even if I had a bit of a confused start with The Analects. One thing they did seem to share in common, though, was a kind of passivity, like, inaction was the preferred philosophy until driven to act finally. The title >3 wester: mentioned, Trying Not to Try, seems to describe the common vibe I got reading these three. Hmm, interesting. I can see myself re-reading these books. I wanna pick up some Plato next month, maybe, if I can find the time.

maj 2, 2021, 5:33 pm

I write in the hope to be encouraging- I am pretty sure you know that Plato was a student of Socrates, with great admiration for the Socratic method of teaching through questions, primarily in a dialogue conversation. Most books have chapters with titles that identify only the person(s) Socrates was teaching, but not the specific subject(s). Some subjects will be more interesting and relevant for you than others, so it would be helpful if you can find a book of the dialogues which readily identifies the topics. I wish you enjoyment- and would be more specific but I'm at camp for a few days and don't have those books here.

maj 2, 2021, 6:07 pm

I had no problem with, and mostly agreed with Dr Sedler's suggestions. It may be useful that the early Greek philosophers were generally concerned with all forms of knowledge, especially with emphasis on metaphysics, language, education, astronomy, morals/ethics, and religion. Their early schools focused mostly on Epicurus (hedonism), ??(nihilism), Stoicism (Dr Sedler should have listed the Meditations of the young emperor Marcus Aurelius). Another large school was Sophism, but generally degraded as cheap theory for money.
I have about a half-dozen college level books of intro to Philos (or Philos and Religion) which I thought were all interesting (due in part to their disagreements and discrepancies) because they all help explain how the concept of philosophy has dramatically changed to ignore much of current education (science, math, history, liberal arts) and religion. If you have a college in your town its bookstore is almost certainly open to the public with used book prices (still high) and often there is a separate independent store in town with better discounts.

maj 2, 2021, 8:03 pm

>15 eschator83: Why, thank you so much for coming back and for your advice!

I didn't know about the dialogues being divided by student vs topics, but I definitely agree with you that divisions by topic would be handier for grasping the discussion faster. I will look for a copy with topics, in that case, I think.

>16 eschator83: Thank you also for taking the time to read the article and especially for your recommendations to add to my list of philosophy books. Based on how often Marcus Aurelius' Meditations is mentioned, now and before even, I think I probably will pick that title up as well. Epicurus could be interesting, too, I think; I must go and look up his major works. :)

mar 3, 3:42 pm

I minored in Asian Studies and Philosophy in undergrad, and am quite familiar with these three works. I would love to have a place to discuss them! I think that there are a few things that make this journey a little easier. The first is having some understanding of the Warring States period. This can honestly be like the wikipedia page, just to set the scene. The second thing is picking good translations. I personally am partial to D.C. Lau for both Analects and Dao De Jing, and John Minford for The Art of War.