Analects of Confucius: on rightness

Rightness (義/) refers to having the moral disposition to do the right thing or act in the right way in any given situation. Alternative translations include “righteousness”, “propriety”, “morality”, “appropriateness”, and “what is right”. A large number of references to rightness can be found in the Analects.

Book 1, Chapter XIII
Book 2, Chapter XXIV
Book 4, Chapter X
Book 4, Chapter XVI
Book 5, Chapter XVI
Book 6, Chapter XXII
Book 7, Chapter III
Book 7, Chapter XV
Book 12, Chapter X
Book 12, Chapter XX
Book 13, Chapter IV
Book 14, Chapter XII
Book 14, Chapter XIII
Book 15, Chapter XVII
Book 15, Chapter XVIII
Book 16, Chapter X
Book 16, Chapter XI
Book 17, Chapter XXIII

Book 1
Chapter XIII
有子曰:「信近於義,言可復也。恭近於禮,遠恥辱也。因不失其親,亦可宗也。」
Youzi said: “Trustworthiness is close to rightness because it means that your word can be counted on. Reverence is close to the rites because it means that you avoid shame and disgrace. Never losing sight of these virtues is worthy of respect.”

Book 2
Chapter XXIV
子曰:「非其鬼而祭之,諂也。見義不為,無勇也。」Confucius said: “To sacrifice to spirits that don’t belong to your ancestors is presumptuous. To do nothing when rightness demands action is cowardice.”

Book 4
Chapter X
子曰:「君子之於天下也,無適也,無莫也,義之於比。」
Confucius said: “In dealing with the world, a leader has no prejudice or bias: he takes the side of what is right.”

Chapter XVI
子曰:「君子喻於義,小人喻於利。」
Confucius said: “A leader understands what is right; a petty person understands what is profitable.”

Book 5
Chapter XVI
子謂子產有君子之道四焉:其行己也恭,其事上也敬,其養民也惠,其使民也義。
Confucius said of Zichan: “He had four essential qualities of a leader: in his private conduct he was courteous; in serving his superiors he was respectful; in caring for the people he was generous; in employing the people for public service he was just.”

Book 6
Chapter XXII
樊遲問知。子曰:「務民之義,敬鬼神而遠之,可謂知矣。」問仁。曰:「仁者先難而後獲,可謂仁矣。」
Fan Chi asked about wisdom. Confucius said: “Work to ensure rightness among the people; respect the spirits and gods but keep them at a distance. This is wisdom.” Fan Chi asked about goodness. Confucius said: “A good man is first in line to confront difficulties and last in line to reap the rewards. This is goodness.”

Book 7
Chapter III
子曰:「德之不修,學之不講,聞義不能徒,不善不能改,是吾憂也。」
Confucius said: “Failure to nurture my virtue, failure to discuss what I have learned, failure to follow what I know to be right, and failure to correct my faults: these are the worries that plague me.”

Chapter XV
子曰:「飯疏食,飲水,曲肱而枕之,樂亦在其中矣。不義而富且貴,於我如浮雲。」
Confucius said: “Even if you have only coarse grain to eat, water to drink, and your bent elbow to use as a pillow, you can still find joy in them. Wealth and honors obtained by immoral means are like passing clouds to me.”

Book 12
Chapter X
子張問「崇德,辨惑。」子曰:「主忠信,徒義崇德也。愛之欲其生,惡之欲其死;既欲其生,又欲其死,是惑也!」誠不以富,亦祗以異。
Zizhang asked about the phrase “accumulate virtue, resolve confusion”. Confucius said: “Place loyalty and trust above everything and follow the path of righteousness to accumulate virtue. When you love someone, you want them to live; when you hate someone, you want them to die. But if you want someone to live and to die at the same time, that is confusion.” It may not be just because she is wealthy. It may also be out of a need for variety.

Chapter XX
子張問士:「何如斯可謂之達矣?」子曰:「何哉?爾所謂達者!」子張對曰:「在邦必聞,在家必聞。」子曰:「是聞也,非達也。夫達也者,質直而好義,察言而觀色,慮以下人;在邦必達,在家必達。夫聞也者:色取仁而行違,居之不疑;在邦必聞,在家必聞。」
Zizhang asked: “When is it possible to say that someone has achieved success?” Confucius said: “It depends on what you mean by achieving success.” Zizhang replied: “To be recognized in public and private life.” Confucius said: “That is celebrity, not success. A man who has achieved success is straightforward by nature and loves what is right. He listens to what others have to say, observes their moods and expressions, and is respectful to others. Such a man is sure to be successful in his public and private life. A man seeking celebrity puts on an ostentatious display of virtue while behaving in the opposite way free of any self-doubt. He will definitely achieve recognition in both his public and private life.”

Book 13
Chapter IV
樊遲請學稼,子曰:「吾不如老農。」請學為圃,曰:「吾不如老圃。」樊遲出,子曰:「小人哉,樊須也!上好禮,則民莫敢不敬;上好義,則民莫敢不服;上好信,則民莫敢不用情。夫如是,則四方之民,襁負其子而至矣;焉用稼!」
Fan Chi asked to learn about cultivating grain. Confucius said: “You’d be better off asking an old farmer.” Fan Chi asked to be taught about raising vegetables. Confucius said: “You’d be better off asking an old gardener.” After Fan Chi had left, Confucius said: “What a small-minded man! If a ruler loves the rites, the people would not dare to be disrespectful. If a ruler loves rightness, the people would not dare to be disobedient. If a ruler loves trustworthiness, the people would not dare to be deceitful. If such a ruler existed, people would flock to him from everywhere with their children strapped to their backs. What need would there be to know about farming?”

Book 14
Chapter XII
子路問「成人」。子曰:「若臧武仲之知,公綽之不欲,卞莊子之勇,冉求之藝,文之以禮樂,亦可以為成人矣!」曰:「今之成人者,何必然?見利思義,見危授命,久要不忘平生之言,亦可以為成人矣!」
Zilu asked how to define a “complete man”. Confucius said: “Take a man as wise as Zang Wuzhong, as abstemious as Gongchuo, as brave as Zhuangzi of Bian, and as proficient in the arts as Ran Qiu, as well as being accomplished in the rites and music, and he may be considered a complete man.” Then he added: “But must a complete man be exactly like this today? Someone who thinks of what is right at the sight of profit, who is ready to risk their life when faced with danger, and who can endure hardship without forgetting the teachings that have guided his daily life may also be considered a complete person.”

Chapter XIII
子問「公叔文子」於公明賈,曰:「信乎?夫子不言不笑不取乎?」公明賈對曰:「以告者過也!夫子時然後言,人不厭其言;樂然後笑,人不厭其笑;義然後取,人不厭其取。」子曰:「其然!豈其然乎?」
Confucius asked Gongming Jia about Gongshu Wenzi: “Is it true that your master never spoke, laughed, nor took anything?” Gongming Jia replied: “Whoever told you this exaggerated. My master spoke, but only at the right time, and so no one ever thought he spoke too much; he laughed, but only when he was happy, and so no one ever thought that he laughed too much; he took things, but only when it was right, and so no one ever thought that he took too much.” Confucius said: “How commendable! Assuming of course it is true.”

Book 15
Chapter XVII
子曰:「群居終日,言不及義,好行小慧,難矣哉!」
Confucius said: “I can’t stand people who can spend a whole day together indulging in idle chatter without ever reaching a deeper truth.”

Chapter XVIII
子曰:「君子義以為質,禮以行之,孫以出之,信以成之,君子哉!」
Confucius said: “A leader takes rightness as his essence, practices it in conformity with the rites, enacts it with humility, and faithfully brings it to fruition. This is how a leader behaves.”

Book 16
Chapter X
孔子曰:「君子有九思:視思明,聽思聰,色思溫,貌思恭,言思忠,事思敬,疑思問,忿思難,見得思義。」
Confucius said: “A leader focuses his thoughts in nine ways: when looking he focuses on seeing clearly; when listening he focuses on hearing properly; in his facial expression, he focuses on looking friendly; in his demeanor, he focuses on being respectful; in his speech, he focuses on sincerity; when at his duties, he focuses on being respectful; when he has doubts, he focuses on asking questions; when angry, he focuses on the negative consequences; when faced with an opportunity for profit, he focuses on rightness.”

Chapter XI
孔子曰:「見善如不及,見不善而探湯,吾見其人矣,吾聞其語矣!隱居以求其志,行義以達其道,吾聞其語矣,未見其人也!」
Confucius said: “‘Seeing good and pursuing it as if he was unable to reach it; seeing evil and recoiling from it as if he was scalded by boiling water’ – I have seen such people and I have heard such words said of them. ‘Living in seclusion to pursue his aspirations; doing what is right to attain the Way’ – I have heard such words, but I have never seen such people.”

Book 17
Chapter XXIII
子路曰:「君子尚勇乎?」子曰:「君子義以為上。君子有勇而無義為亂,小人有勇而無義為盜。」
Zilu said: “Does a leader prize courage?” Confucius said: “A leader prizes rightness above all else. A leader who is courageous but lacking in rightness could create chaos; a petty person who is courageous but lacking in rightness could become a bandit.”

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