Confucius never provides a single unified definition of what he means by goodness (仁/rén) – the supreme value that he believed everyone should work towards – in the Analects. Instead, he explores its many different facets throughout the text, either with simple statements or in response to questions from his followers and contemporaries. Here are nine quotes on goodness from Confucius that appear in Book 1 to Book 5 of the Analects.
Quotes on goodness
“Smooth talk and an affected manner are seldom signs of goodness.”
“If someone has no goodness, what can they have to do with ritual? If someone has no goodness, what can they have to do with music?”
“It’s beautiful to live in a neighborhood that’s filled with goodness. How can someone be wise if they choose to live in a place that lacks goodness?”
“A person who lacks goodness cannot endure adversity or enjoy happiness for long. A person who possesses goodness finds contentment in it; a wise person profits from it.”
“Only a person who possesses goodness can love people and can hate people.”
“Dedicating yourself to the pursuit of goodness leaves no room for evil.”
“If a leader abandons goodness, how can they live up to that name? A leader never abandons goodness, even for as long as it takes to eat a single meal; in moments of haste and confusion they still stay true to it.”
“I’ve never seen anyone who truly loves goodness and truly detests evil. Anyone who truly loves goodness would place nothing above it; anyone who truly detests evil would practice goodness in such a way that they would allow no evil to enter them. Is there anyone with the ability to devote all their strength to goodness for a single day? I’ve never seen anyone whose strength is insufficient. There may be people who don’t have even the small amount of strength it takes, but I’ve never seen them.”
“People’s flaws reveal the type of person they are. By observing someone’s flaws, you’ll understand the true extent of their goodness.”
I took this image in the ancient water town of Wuzhen, which is located just a couple of hours from Shanghai by High Speed Train. You can read more about Wuzhen here.