Analects of Confucius Book 6: Confucius on wisdom and goodness

Confucius on wisdom and goodness

Do wisdom (仁/rén) and goodness (知/zhī) go hand in hand? Although Confucius doesn’t give an explicit answer to this question in Book 6 of the Analects, he does show that there is a very close link between them.

When the follower Fan Chi asks Confucius about these two subjects in 6.22, Confucius tells him that wisdom means doing “what is right for the common people” and that goodness requires being “first in line to confront difficulties and last in line to collect rewards.”

While Confucius doesn’t necessarily prove that there is a causality between wisdom and goodness, he shows a very strong correlation between the two. A person who acts in his own self-interest is highly unlikely to contribute to the common good. He certainly won’t understand that best way to achieve his own objectives is to help others achieve theirs, as Confucius recommends in 6.30.

In his cryptic comments in 6.23, Confucius goes on to point out that wisdom and goodness complement each other like mountains and water. It’s only by harnessing the dynamic power of this duality, that we can achieve complete fulfillment. “The wise love water, the good love mountains. The wise are active, the good are tranquil. The wise are joyful, the good enjoy long life.”

Confucius shows this duality in response to the follower Zai Yu’s snarky question in 6.26. When Zai Yu asks if a good person would jump into a well if they were told someone is at the bottom of it, he replies that a leader “may be enticed down the wrong path but not into a trap; they can be deceived, but not made a fool of. ”

Goodness isn’t blind altruism, in other words. Wisdom is required to ensure that it is put to proper use. 

I took this image at the Shanghai Confucius Temple. You can read more about it here.

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