A dark place

子曰:「我未見好仁者,惡不仁者。好仁者,無以尚之;惡不仁者,其為仁矣,不使不仁者加乎其身。有能一日用其力於仁矣乎?我未見力不足者。蓋有之矣,我未之見也。」
Confucius said: “I have never seen a person who truly loves goodness and truly detests evil. A person who truly loves goodness would place nothing above it; a person who truly detests evil would practice goodness in such a way that he would allow no evil to enter him. Is there anyone with the ability to devote all his strength to goodness for a single day? I have never seen anyone whose strength is not sufficient. There may be people who do not have even the small amount of strength it takes, but I have never seen them.”

Confucius was usually an optimist about people’s ability to cultivate their capacity for goodness if they received the right guidance and teaching. Yet here he seems to be in an uncharacteristically dark place, arguing that even if people know what goodness is they don’t have the will to act on it even “for a single day”.

There is no indication in the Analects of what triggered this line of thinking. All we do know is that Confucius doesn’t pursue it anywhere else in his teachings. Was it just an anomaly caused by a random incident? Or was he was afraid of delving deeper into its implications for the true nature of the human condition?

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