Tag Archives: wisdom

Goodness and wisdom

樊遲問「仁」。子曰:「愛人。」問「知」。子曰:「知人。」樊遲未達。子曰:「舉直錯諸枉,能使枉者直。」樊遲退,見子夏曰:「鄉也,吾見於夫子而問『知』。子曰:『舉直錯諸枉,能使枉者直。』何謂也?」子夏曰:「富哉言乎!舜有天下,選於眾,舉皋陶,不仁者遠矣;湯有天下,選於眾,舉伊尹,不仁者遠矣。」
Fan Chi asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Love all people.” He then asked about wisdom. Confucius said: “Know all people.” Fan Chi didn’t understand. Confucius said: “Raise the straight 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: ‘Raise the straight and place them above the crooked, so that they may 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 Gaoyao and those without goodness disappeared. When Tang ruled the world and was choosing from among the masses, he selected Yi Yin and those without goodness disappeared.”

This passage features a reprise of Book 2, Chapter XIX: if the ethical are put in positions of power then the unethical surely will follow their example. Continue reading Goodness and wisdom

Water and mountains

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子曰:「知者樂水,仁者樂山。知者動,仁者靜。知者樂,仁者壽。」
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.”

At first sight, Confucius seems to be comparing “the wise” and “the good” in this passage, but like a traditional Chinese shanshui (mountain water) painting he is actually using these comparisons to highlight the multiple and often contradictory facets of our personalities. Continue reading Water and mountains

Confucius on wisdom

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樊遲問知。子曰:「務民之義,敬鬼神而遠之,可謂知矣。」問仁。曰:「仁者先難而後獲,可謂仁矣。」
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.”

In this context wisdom is an action or a mode of conduct rather than an attribute that has been built up as a result of long years of study and experience. It consists of working for the common good by making sure that the people behave kindly and respectfully towards each other and observe the appropriate rituals that bind them together.

Goodness means having the courage and resolve to take the steps that are necessary to achieve this goal no matter what the personal cost may be without any guarantee of being rewarded for it. Selflessness is the hallmark of wise leadership.