Filial Piety and Ancestor Worship in Analects 

The Analects of Confucius contain central ideas of the importance of moral cultivation, a process which can be achieved by pursuing comprehensive ethical virtue (ren).  What becomes apparent throughout frequent mention in the Analects is that one of the most essential elements in this process is filial piety. In this essay, I will be affirming that the ideas of ancestor worship and filial piety in the Analects are interconnected concepts, both essential to moral cultivation. I will initiate the essay by explicating the idea of filial piety in the contexts of the Analects before doing the same for the idea of ancestor worship. I will then depict the relationship between ancestor worship and filial piety in the Analects, before briefly concluding.

A citation that gives weight to the central idea of filial piety in the Analects is, “The gentleman devotes his efforts to the roots, for once the roots are established, the Way will grow therefrom. Being good as a son and obedient as a young man is, perhaps, the root of a man’s character”. This citation is summarizing of the essential nature of obedience and respect for one’s family at a young age in the process of moral cultivation. Filial piety becomes essential through a consideration of Confucius’s emphasis on constant cultivation being required throughout life. The constant cultivation of virtue is in the name of achieving humaneness (ren) which is represented as an elevated moral character that very few possess. Filial piety and the manifestation of the aforementioned citation become important to this process of cultivation through forming the roots of a process that would stretch across one’s lifetime. Filial piety and its ability to form roots in the process of cultivation is reflected through the citation, “A young man should be a good son at home and an obedient young man abroad, (…) if he has any energy to spare from such action, let him devote it to making himself cultivated.”. The attribute of performing filial duties (being a good son at home and obedient as a young man) before focusing on self-cultivation suggests that as a young man, it is of a much higher importance to focus on filial piety as it becomes forming of the roots of the cultivative process that will be focused on later in life.

The idea of filial piety in the Analects is closely tied to that of ancestor worship. The excerpt of, “One who does not alter his late father’s dao for three years may be called filial.” reflects the connection between filial piety and worshipping one’s ancestors. What is depicted in the citation is a process of ancestor worship through the ritual mourning of the loss of one’s father. As the obedience towards an ancestor’s dao is required even after their death in order to maintain filial piety. This connection between properly mourning the loss of one’s father (a process of ancestor worship) and having obedience and respect for one’s family become heavily intertwined concepts as obedience is required in the process of worship. This intertwined relationship is further supported by the citation, “Conduct the funeral of your parents with meticulous care and let not sacrifices to your remote ancestors be forgotten, and the virtue of the common people will incline towards fullness”. This citation depicts the importance of one consistently worshipping their ancestors. Additionally, the citation suggests a connection between filial piety and ancestor worship through a shared formation of roots. The citation suggests that for the “virtue of the common people” to incline towards fullness, the proper respect (meticulous care) must be paid to your family, with sacrifices being contributed after their death. In the Analects it is suggested that the respect formed in a parent-child relationship serves as the roots for all future relationships, and thus must contain respect in order to maintain respect in future relationships. This idea backs the notion of the virtue of the common people inclining towards fullness. If everyone is to fulfil their filial duties (in this instance, funeral procedures and sacrifices) then everyone will have formed the proper roots for future self-cultivation, and future respectful relationships (if they all are to achieve ren).

Analects depicts self-cultivation as a very long process which few achieve overall humaneness from. The idea of filial piety being essential to the formation of cultivative roots is reflected by the prevalence to which Confucius attributed young men fulfilling filial duties with, in comparison to them directly focusing their energy on self-cultivation. The idea of ancestor worship develops through the Analects as a correct following of rituals in regards to treatment of a family member after their death. Furthermore, ancestor worship becomes linked with filial piety through a continuance of respect and obedience for deceased family members. Finally, the attributes of ancestor worship and filial piety in the Analects are interconnected and are both essential to moral cultivation through their formation of self-cultivative roots.


Hinton, David. The Analects: Confucius. Washington. D.C.: Counterpoint, 1998, I.2

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.