Analects of Confucius: passages on rightness

Rightness (義/yì) 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”.

Here are all the passages in the Analects of Confucius on rightness, plus links to related articles.

Analects Book 1: Passages on rightness
Chapter 13

Youzi said: “If your commitments conform to what is right, you will be able to keep your word. If your manners conform to ritual, you will be able to avoid shame and disgrace. Only if you associate with reliable people will you be successful.”

Analects Book 1: Links
Book 1, Chapter 13

Analects Book 2: Passages on rightness
Chapter 24

Confucius said: “Sacrificing to spirits that don’t belong to your ancestors is presumptuous. Doing nothing when rightness demands action is cowardice.”

Analects Book 2: Links
Book 2, Chapter 24

Analects Book 4: Passages on rightness
Chapter 10

Confucius said: “In dealing with the world, a leader has no prejudice or bias: they go with what is right.”

Chapter 16
Confucius said: “A leader is concerned about what is right; a petty person is concerned about what is in their own interest.”

Analects Book 4: Links
Book 4, Chapter 10
Book 4, Chapter 16

Analects Book 5: Passages on rightness
Chapter 16

Confucius said of Zichan: “He had four essential qualities of a leader: in his personal conduct he was gracious; in serving his superiors he was respectful; in caring for the common people he was generous; in employing them for public service he was just.”

Analects Book 5: Links
Book 5, Chapter 16

Analects Book 6: Passages on rightness
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.”

Analects Book 6: Links
Book 6, Chapter 22

Analects Book 7: Passages on rightness
Chapter 3
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 15
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 these things. But wealth and honors obtained by improper means are like passing clouds to me.”

Analects Book 7: Links
Book 7, Chapter 3
Book 7, Chapter 15

Analects Book 12: Passages on rightness
Chapter 10

Zizhang asked about the phrase “accumulate virtue, resolve confusion”. Confucius said: “Place loyalty and trustworthiness above everything and follow the path of rightness 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’s confusion.”
It may not be just because she is wealthy,
It may also be out of a need for variety.

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.”

Analects Book 12: Links
Book 12, Chapter 10
Book 12, Chapter 20

Analects Book 13: Passages on rightness
Chapter 4

Fan Chi asked to learn about cultivating grain. Confucius said: “You’d be better off asking an old farmer.” Fan Chi asked to learn about raising vegetables. Confucius said: “You’d be better off asking an old gardener.” After Fan Chi had left, Confucius said: “What a petty person! When a ruler loves ritual, the people don’t dare to be disrespectful. When a ruler loves rightness, the people don’t dare to be disobedient. When a ruler loves trustworthiness, the people don’t dare to be deceitful. If such a ruler existed, people would flock to them from everywhere with their children strapped to their backs. What need would there be to learn about farming?”

Analects Book 13: Links
Book 13, Chapter 4

Analects Book 14: Passages on rightness
Chapter 12

Zilu asked how to define a “complete person”. Confucius said: “Take someone as wise as Zang Wuzhong, as free from desire as Gongchuo, as brave as Zhuangzi of Bian, and as cultured as Ran Qiu, as well as being accomplished in ritual and music, and they may be considered a complete person.” Then he added: “But must a complete person 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 their daily life may also be considered a complete person.”

Chapter 13
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.”

Analects Book 14: Links
Book 14, Chapter 12
Book 14, Chapter 13

Analects Book 15: Passages on rightness
Chapter 17

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 18
Confucius said: “A leader takes rightness as their essence, puts it into practice through ritual, manifests it through humility, and brings it to fruition through trustworthiness. This is how a leader behaves.”

Analects Book 15: Links
Book 15, Chapter 17
Book 15, Chapter 18

Analects Book 16: Passages on rightness
Chapter 10

Confucius said: “A leader focuses their thoughts in nine ways: when looking they focus on seeing clearly; when listening they focus on hearing properly; in their facial expression, they focus on appearing friendly; in their demeanor, they focus on being respectful; in their speech, they focus on sincerity; when at their duties, they focus on being respectful; when they have doubts, they focus on asking questions; when angry, they focus on the negative consequences; when faced with an opportunity for profit, they focus on rightness.”

Chapter 11
Confucius said: “‘Seeing good and pursuing it as if they were unable to reach it; seeing evil and recoiling from it as if they were scalded by boiling water’ — I have seen such people and I have heard such words said of them. ‘Living in seclusion to pursue their aspirations; doing what is right to attain the way’ — I have heard such words, but I have never seen such people.”

Analects Book 16: Links
Book 16, Chapter 10
Book 16, Chapter 11

Analects Book 17: Passages on rightness
Chapter 23

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.”

Analects Book 16: Links
Book 17, Chapter 23



I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.