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
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
Confucius said: “In dealing with the world, a leader has no prejudice or bias: he takes the side of what is right.”

Chapter XVI
Confucius said: “A leader understands what is right; a petty person understands what is profitable.”

Book 5
Chapter XVI
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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