Analects of Confucius: passages on goodness

Goodness (仁/rén), also translated as “humanity”, “virtue”, “benevolence”, “kind-heartedness”, and “humaneness”, is the supreme Confucian virtue. Numerous references to it can be found in the Analects.

Here are all the passages in the text in which goodness is discussed, plus links to related articles. 

Related Reading

Analects of Confucius Book 1: Confucius on goodness
Analects of Confucius Book 4: the benefits of goodness
Analects Books 1 – 5: nine quotes on goodness from Confucius
Analects of Confucius Book 6: Confucius on wisdom and goodness
Analects Book 6 – 10: nine sayings about goodness from Confucius

Analects Book 1: Passages on Goodness

Chapter 2
Youzi said: “A person who practices filial and fraternal devotion is unlikely to question the authority of their superiors. Such a person will never provoke disorder. A leader focuses on the root; once this takes hold the way appears. Filial and fraternal devotion is the root of goodness.”

Chapter 3
Confucius said: “Smooth talk and an affected manner are seldom signs of goodness.”

Chapter 6
Confucius said: “A young man should be devoted to his parents at home and respectful to his elders outside it. He should be cautious and truthful, love everyone, but only develop close relationships with good people. If he still has energy to spare after all this, he should study the classics.”

Analects Book 1: Links

Book 1, Chapter 2
Book 1, Chapter 3
Book 1, Chapter 6

Analects Book 3: Passages on Goodness

Chapter 3
Confucius said: “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?”

Analects Book 3: Links

Book 3, Chapter 3

Analects Book 4: Passages on Goodness

Chapter 1
Confucius said: “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?”

Chapter 2
Confucius said: “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.”

Chapter 3
Confucius said: “Only a person who possesses goodness can love people and can hate people.”

Chapter 4
Confucius said: “Dedicating yourself to the pursuit of goodness leaves no room for evil.”

Chapter 5
Confucius said: “Riches and rank are what people desire; but if they can only obtain them through improper ways, they should not pursue them. Poverty and obscurity are what people detest; but if they can only escape from them through improper ways, they should accept them. 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.”

Chapter 6
Confucius said: “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.”

Chapter 7
Confucius said: “People’s flaws reveal the type of person they are. By observing someone’s flaws, you’ll understand the true extent of their goodness.”

Analects Book 4: Links

Book 4, Chapter 1
Book 4, Chapter 2
Book 4, Chapter 3
Book 4, Chapter 4
Book 4, Chapter 5
Book 4, Chapter 6
Book 4, Chapter 7

Analects Book 5: Passages on Goodness

Chapter 5
Someone said: “Ran Yong is good but not eloquent.” Confucius said: “What use is eloquence? A smooth tongue creates many enemies. I don’t know whether Ran Yong is good; but he definitely has no need for eloquence.”

Chapter 8
Meng Wubo asked “Is Zilu a good person?” Confucius said: “I don’t know.” When he asked once again, Confucius said: “In a middle-sized country, he could be entrusted with military recruitment. But whether he’s a good person, I don’t know.” “And what about Ran Qiu?” Confucius said: “Ran Qiu? He could be the mayor of a small city or the manager of a large estate. But whether he’s a good person, I don’t know.” “And what about Gongxi Chi?” Confucius said: “Gongxi Chi? Standing resplendent with his sash, he could entertain distinguished guests. But whether he’s a good person, I don’t know.”

Chapter 19
Zizhang asked: “Ziwen was appointed chief minister three times, but he never showed the least sign of elation. He was dismissed three times, but he never showed the least sign of disappointment. On each occasion, he briefed his successor on the status of the affairs of his office. What do you think of him?” Confucius said: “He was loyal.” Zizhang asked: “Was he a good person?” Confucius said: “I’m not sure; how can he be said to be a good person?”

“When Cuizi assassinated the ruler of the state of Qi, Chen Wenzi abandoned his large estate of ten chariots and left Qi. Having settled in another state, he said: ‘They are no better than Cuizi,’ and left. Having settled in yet another state, he said once again: ‘They are no better than Cuizi,’ and left once again. What do you think of him?” Confucius said: “He was pure.” Zizhang said: “Was he a good person?” “I’m not sure; how can he be said to be a good person?”

Analects Book 5: Links

Book 5, Chapter 5
Book 5, Chapter 8
Book 5, Chapter 19

Analects Book 6: Passages on Goodness

Chapter 7
Confucius said: “Ah! Yan Hui could focus his mind solely on goodness for three months, whereas others can manage only a day or a month.”

Chapter 22
Fan Chi asked about wisdom. Confucius said: “Do what is right for the common people; respect the spirits and gods but keep them at a distance. This is wisdom.” Fan Chi asked about goodness. Confucius said: “A person who possesses goodness is first in line to confront difficulties and last in line to collect rewards. This is goodness.”

Chapter 23
Confucius said: “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.”

Chapter 26
Zai Yu asked: “If a good person was told that someone lies at the bottom of a well, should they jump in after them?” Confucius said: “Why should they? A leader may be enticed down the wrong path but not into a trap; they can be deceived, but not made a fool of.”

Chapter 30
Zigong said: “What about someone who acts generously towards the people and benefits the masses? Could that be described as goodness?” Confucius said: “Why stop at calling it goodness? It could be defined as perfection. Even Yao and Shun wouldn’t be able to match it! Good people help others get on their feet while establishing their own career; they help others to achieve their goals while achieving their own objectives. By standing in other people’s shoes, it can be said that they’re on the right track to goodness.” 

Analects Book 6: Links

Book 6, Chapter 7
Book 6, Chapter 22
Book 6, Chapter 23
Book 6, Chapter 26
Book 6, Chapter 30

Analects Book 7: Passages on Goodness

Chapter 6
Confucius said: “Set your heart on the way; act in accordance with virtue; hold fast to goodness; enjoy the arts.”

Chapter 14
Ran Qiu said: “Does the Master support the ruler of Wei?” Zigong said: “Well, I’m going to ask him.” Zigong went in and asked Confucius: “What sort of people were Boyi and Shuqi?” “They were virtuous men of old.” “Did they complain?” “They sought goodness and attained goodness. Why should they have complained?” Zigong left and said to Ran Qiu: “The Master does not support the ruler of Wei.”

Chapter 29
Confucius said: “Is goodness really so far away? No sooner do I desire goodness than it’s at hand.”

Chapter 33
Confucius said: “How could I possibly dare to claim that I’m a man of great wisdom and goodness? All that can be said of me is that I never grow weary of learning and never get tired of teaching others.” Gongxi Chi said: “This is exactly what we students are unable to grasp.”

Analects Book 7: Links

Book 7, Chapter 6
Book 7, Chapter 14
Book 7, Chapter 29
Book 7, Chapter 33

Analects Book 8: Passages on Goodness

Chapter 2
Confucius said: “Reverence unregulated by ritual descends into indifference; cautiousness unregulated by ritual descends into timidity; boldness unregulated by ritual descends into disorder; frankness unregulated by ritual descends into hurtfulness. If a leader is devoted to their family, the people are inclined towards goodness; if a leader doesn’t forget about their old friends, the people will not shirk their obligations to others.”

Chapter 7
Zengzi said: “A scholar-official must be strong and resolute because his burden is heavy and his road is long. He takes goodness as his burden: is it not heavy? His journey ends only with death: is it not long?”

Chapter 10
Confucius said: “If people with a courageous streak find themselves trapped in poverty, chaos will ensue. If people without a trace of goodness decide their sufferings are too great, chaos will ensue.”

Analects Book 8: Links

Book 8, Chapter 2
Book 8, Chapter 7
Book 8, Chapter 10

Analects Book 9: Passages on Goodness

Chapter 1
Confucius disapproved of profit, but he approved of fate and goodness.

Chapter 29
Confucius said: “The wise are never perplexed; the good are never anxious; the brave are never afraid.”

Analects Book 9: Links

Book 9, Chapter 1
Book 9, Chapter 29

Analects Book 12: Passages on Goodness

Chapter 1
顏淵問仁。子曰:「克己復禮,為仁。一日克己復禮,天下歸仁焉。為仁由己,而由仁乎哉?」 顏淵曰:「請問其目?」子曰:「非禮勿視,非禮勿聽,非禮勿言,非禮勿動。」顏淵曰:「回雖不敏,請事斯語矣!」
Yan Hui asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Exercising self-discipline and returning to ritual constitute goodness. If you manage to exercise self-restraint and return to ritual for just one single day, goodness will prevail throughout the world. You can only achieve goodness through your own efforts. How can it come from anybody else?” Yan Hui said: “May I ask what specific steps I should follow?” Confucius said: “Don’t look at anything that goes against ritual; don’t listen to anything that goes against ritual; don’t say anything that goes against ritual; don’t do anything that goes against ritual.” Yan Hui said: “Although I may not be quick to understand it, with your blessing I will strive to live up to your guidance.”

Chapter 2
Ran Yong asked about goodness. Confucius said: “When you’re away from home, act towards everyone as if you’re meeting an important guest. Manage people as if you’re conducting a great sacrifice. Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to yourself. Allow no resentment to enter your public affairs; allow no resentment to enter your family affairs.” Ran Yong said: “Although I may not be quick to understand it, allow me to live up to your guidance.”

Chapter 3
Sima Niu asked about goodness. Confucius said: “A person who practices goodness is cautious in speech.” Sima Niu said: “Cautious in speech? Is that what you call goodness?” Confucius said: “When something is difficult to do, how is it possible not to be cautious in speaking about it?”

Chapter 20
Zizhang asked: “When is it possible to say that someone is accomplished?” Confucius said: “It depends on what you mean by being accomplished.” Zizhang replied: “To be recognized in public and private life.” Confucius said: “That is celebrity, not accomplishment. An accomplished person is straightforward by nature and loves what is right. They listen to what others have to say, observe their moods and expressions, and are respectful to others. Such a person is sure to be accomplished in their public and private life. Someone seeking celebrity puts on an ostentatious display of goodness while behaving in the opposite way free of any self-doubt. They will definitely be recognized in their public and private life.”

Chapter 22
Fan Chi asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Love others.” He then asked about wisdom. Confucius said: “Know others.” Fan Chi didn’t understand. Confucius said: “Promote the upright and place them above the crooked, so that they can straighten the crooked.” Fan Chi left. When he met Zixia he asked: “A short while ago when I saw Confucius I asked him about wisdom. He said: ‘Promote the upright and place them above the crooked, so that they can straighten the crooked.’ What does this mean?” Zixia said: “These are rich words indeed! When Shun ruled the world and was choosing from among the masses, he selected Gao Yao and those without goodness went away. When Tang ruled the world and was choosing from among the masses, he selected Yi Yin and those without goodness went away.”

Chapter 24
Zengzi said: “A leader attracts friends through their cultural refinement, and looks to their friends for support in nurturing their goodness.”

Analects Book 12: Links

Book 12, Chapter 1
Book 12, Chapter 2
Book 12, Chapter 3
Book 12, Chapter 20
Book 12, Chapter 22
Book 12, Chapter 24

Analects Book 13: Passages on Goodness

Chapter 12
Confucius said: “Even with a true king, it would still take one generation for goodness to prevail.”

Chapter 19
Fan Chi asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Be considerate in your private life, diligent in your public affairs, and loyal in your relationships with others. Even when you’re among the Yi and Di tribes, don’t deviate from these principles.”

Chapter 27
Confucius said: “Firmness, determination, simplicity, modesty: these bring us closer to goodness.”

Analects Book 13: Links

Book 13, Chapter 12
Book 13, Chapter 19
Book 13, Chapter 27

Analects Book 14: Passages on Goodness

Chapter 1
Yuan Xian asked about shamefulness. Confucius said: “Caring only about your official salary no matter whether good or bad government prevails in the state. That is shamefulness.” “If you overcome contentiousness, arrogance, bitterness, and greed can you be said to have achieved true goodness?” Confucius said: “You can be said to have achieved something difficult; but I don’t know whether it’s true goodness.”

Chapter 4
Confucius said: “The virtuous have a lot to teach others; but people who have a lot to teach others aren’t necessarily virtuous. The good are always brave; but the brave aren’t necessarily good.”

Chapter 6
Confucius said: “Although a leader may not always achieve goodness, a petty person never achieves it.”

Chapter 16
Zilu said: “When Duke Huan had Prince Jiu put to death, Shao Hu took his own life but Guan Zhong chose to keep his. Should we say that Guan Zhong was a man without goodness?” Confucius said: “Duke Huan was able to bring the rulers of all the states together nine times without having to resort to military force because of the power of Guan Zhong. Such was his goodness! Such was his goodness!”

Chapter 17
Zigong said: “Guan Zhong wasn’t a good person, was he? After Duke Huan had Prince Jiu put to death, he not only chose to live but also served as the duke’s chief minister.” Confucius said: “By serving as Duke Huan’s chief minister, Guan Zhong imposed his authority over all the states and brought order to the world; the people still reap the benefits of his actions until this day. Without Guan Zhong, we would still be wearing our hair loose and folding our robes on the wrong side. Or would you prefer it if he had drowned himself in a ditch like some wretched husband or wife in their petty fidelity and died with nobody knowing about it?”

Chapter 28
Confucius said: “A leader adheres to three principles that I haven’t been able to live up to: the good are never anxious; the wise are never perplexed; the brave are never afraid.” Zigong said: “Master, you’ve just described yourself.”

Analects Book 14: Links

Book 14, Chapter 1
Book 14, Chapter 4
Book 14, Chapter 6
Book 14, Chapter 16
Book 14, Chapter 17
Book 14, Chapter 28

Analects Book 15: Passages on Goodness

Chapter IX
Confucius said: “Men of purpose and men of goodness do not seek to live on at the expense of goodness; there are times when they will sacrifice their lives in order to make their goodness complete.”

Chapter X
Zigong asked how to practice goodness. Confucius said: “A craftsman who wishes to do outstanding work must first sharpen his tools. No matter which state you settle in, offer your services to the wisest ministers and make friends with others who cultivate goodness.”

Chapter XXXIII
子曰:「知及之,仁不能守之,雖得之,必失之。知及之,仁能守之,不莊以 之,則民不敬。知及之,仁能守之,莊以 之,動之不以禮,未善也。」
Confucius said: “Power acquired through knowledge that cannot be maintained through goodness will inevitably be lost. Power acquired through knowledge and maintained through goodness will not be respected by the people if it is not exerted with dignity. Power acquired through knowledge, maintained through goodness, and exerted with dignity is still not perfect if it is not implemented in accordance with the rites.”

Chapter XXXV
Confucius said: “Goodness is even more vital to the common people than water and fire. I have seen people step through water and fire and die; I have yet to see anyone step through goodness and die.”

Chapter XXXVI
Confucius said: “In the pursuit of goodness do not defer even to your teacher.”

Analects Book 15: Links

Book 15, Chapter IX
Book 15, Chapter X
Book 15, Chapter XXXIII
Book 15, Chapter XXXV
Book 15, Chapter XXXVI

Analects Book 17: Passages on Goodness

Chapter I
Yang Huo wanted to see Confucius, but Confucius would not see him. Yang Huo sent him a suckling pig. Confucius chose a time when Yang Huo was not at home to call on him and give his thanks, but ran into him on the way. Yang Huo said to Confucius: “Come! I have something to say to you.” He continued: “Can a person be called good if they keep their talents hidden while their country has gone astray? I don’t think so. Can a person be called wise if they are eager to take part in public affairs, but constantly miss the opportunity to do so? I don’t think so. The days and months fly by; time is not on our side.” Confucius said: “All right, I shall take office.”

Chapter VI
Zizhang asked Confucius about goodness. Confucius said: “Whoever is capable of putting five qualities into practice throughout the world is good.” “And what are those?” “Respectfulness, tolerance, trustworthiness, enthusiasm, and generosity. If you are respectful, you will not be insulted by others; if you are tolerant, you will win people’s hearts; if you are trustworthy, people will entrust you with responsibility; if you are enthusiastic, you will be successful; if you are generous, you will be capable of managing other people.”

Chapter VIII
Confucius said: “Zilu, have you heard of the six virtues and their six attendant vices?” “No, I haven’t.” “Sit down, and I will tell you. Loving goodness without loving learning leads to ignorance. Loving knowledge without loving learning leads to foolishness. Loving trustworthiness without loving learning leads to criminality. Loving frankness without loving learning leads to offensiveness. Loving valor without loving learning leads to chaos. Loving steadfastness without loving learning leads to recklessness.”

Chapter XVII
Confucius said: “Smooth talk and an affected manner are seldom signs of goodness.”

Chapter XXI
Zai Yu asked: “Three years of mourning for your parents: this is a long time. If a leader doesn’t practice the rites for three years, the rites are sure to decay; if he doesn’t practice music for three years, music is sure to collapse. As the grain from last year’s crop is used up, grain from this year’s crop ripens, and the flint for lighting the fires is changed with each season. One year of mourning is surely enough.” Confucius said: “Would you be comfortable eating your fine food and wearing your fine clothes then?” “Absolutely.” “In that case, go ahead! When a leader is in mourning fine food is tasteless to him, music offers him no pleasure, and the comforts of home give him no peace, so he prefers to do without these pleasures. But if you think you will be able to enjoy them, go ahead.” Zai Yu left. Confucius said: “Zai Yu has no goodness! During the first three years after a child is born, he doesn’t leave the arms of his parents. Three years of mourning is a custom that is followed throughout the world. Didn’t Zai Yu receive three years of love from his parents?”

Analects Book 17: Links

Book 17, Chapter I
Book 17, Chapter VI
Book 17, Chapter VIII
Book 17, Chapter XVII
Book 17, Chapter XXI

Analects Book 18: Passages on Goodness

Chapter I
The Lord of Wei fled from Zhouxin, the Lord of Ji became his slave, and Bi Gan was executed for remonstrating with him. Confucius said: “The Yin Dynasty had three good men.”

Analects Book 18: Links

Book 18, Chapter I

Analects Book 19: Passages on Goodness

Chapter VI
Zixia said: “Expand your learning and stick firmly to your purpose; question everything and reflect deeply: this is how you find goodness.”

Chapter XV
Ziyou said: “My friend Zizhang is a man of great ability, but he has not yet achieved goodness.”

Chapter XVI
Zengzi said: “Zizhang is so full of himself that it is difficult to cultivate goodness by his side.”

Analects Book 19: Links

Book 19, Chapter VI
Book 19, Chapter XV
Book 19, Chapter XVI

Analects Book 20: Passages on Goodness

Chapter I
Yao said: Oh, Shun! The Heavenly succession was bestowed upon you; hold faithfully to the middle way; if the people within the Four Seas fall into suffering and penury, the honors bestowed on you by Heaven’s gift will be taken away from you forever.

Shun passed the same message to Yu.

Tang said, “I, the humble Lu, dare to sacrifice a black bull and dare to make this declaration before my great Lord. I dare not pardon those who are guilty. Your servants cannot hide anything from you. You have already judged them in your heart. If I am guilty, please do not punish the people of the myriad states because of me; but if the people of the myriad states are guilty, let the responsibility lie with me alone.”

“The House of Zhou is greatly blessed. Good men are its riches.” “Although I have my own kinsmen, I prefer to rely on good men. If the common people do wrong, let their faults fall on my head alone. If I set the standards for weights and measures, carefully examine the laws and regulations, and restore the offices that have been abolished, the authority of the government will reach everywhere. If I restore the states that have been destroyed, revive the broken dynastic lines, and bring back to office great men who were sent into exile, I will win the hearts of the people throughout the world. I will give priority to the people; food; mourning; and sacrifice. If I am tolerant I will win the masses. If I am trustworthy, the people will entrust me with responsibility. If I am enthusiastic, I will achieve success. If I am fair and just, I will bring happiness to the people.”

Chapter II
Zizhang asked Confucius: “What qualities must you have in order to be fit to take part in government?” Confucius said: “If you cultivate the five virtues and cast out the four vices you are fit to govern.”

Zizhang asked: “What are the five virtues?” Confucius said: “A leader is generous without having to spend anything; he inspires people to work hard without complaining; he is ambitious without being greedy; he is confident without being arrogant; he is imposing without being frightening.”

Zizhang said: “How can you be ‘generous without having to spend anything’?” Confucius said: “If you let the people take advantage of what is beneficial for them, aren’t you being generous without having to spend anything? If you assign the people to work on tasks that are reasonable, who will complain? If your ambition is to be good and you accomplish it, how can you be greedy? If a leader treats everyone equally no matter whether they are many or few or humble or great, he is confident without being arrogant. If a leader wears his robe and cap correctly, his gaze is straight, and he carries himself with a dignified air that inspires the people’s awe, he is imposing but not frightening.”

Zizhang said: “What are the four vices?” Confucius said: “If you execute people without attempting to reform them you are being cruel; if you carry out an inspection of a public works project without giving a prior warning you are being tyrannical; if you expect the immediate completion of a project after being slow to approve it, you are acting like a thief; if you are tight-fisted in paying people what is rightfully theirs, you are being bureaucratic.”

Analects Book 20: Links

Book 20, Chapter I
Book 20, Chapter II


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