Analects 5:23

Confucius said

Should Wei-sheng Kao really be called “upright”? If someone begged some household item of him [and he did not have it], he would beg it of a neighbor and then give it to the person.

Who says of Wei-shang Kao that he is upright? One begged some vinegar of him, and he begged it of a neighbor and gave it to the man. L

Who will say that Wei-sheng Kao was an upright man? When asked by somebody for some vinegar, he went and begged it of a neighbour, and gave this to the man who had asked him. G

Who says that the man is an honest man? When somebody begged him for some household necessary, he went and begged of his neighbours for it and gave it as his own. K


Wei-sheng Kao was reputed to be a model of highly principled righteous behavior.

However, considering the example mentioned above, it seems as if he often merely stuck to certain one-sided principles, rather than doing what was yi based on the context of a situation.

It certainly was not his duty to do his utmost in order to fulfill someone’s request for a household item. And even if his intentions were noble in doing so, his one-sided standards and consequent false sense of responsibility ultimately beclouded him from the whole of yi , and from using discretion to know and act according to this yi .

People who live according to one-sided standards generally are content with fulfilling them, and are not properly aware that these standards have limitations that make them prone to frequently miss the mark and transgress the bounds of proper conduct.

jen is a “root” whereby many solid personal attributes are secure in place and regulated so that they are all in proper proportions.

A list of principles and standards is prone to being narrow and one-sided.

Rather than merely considering or adhering to a list of rigid one-sided principles that do not account for the distinctions of reality and circumstances, we should instead use timeliness, adaptableness, and discretion, and make decisions based on reality and what is most important and fundamental.

During the uprising of Po Kung, Prince Tzu Lu was confined as captive.

Po Kung gave him the option of either becoming Lord, or being executed.

Since Po Kung was evil and had even killed Prince Tzu Lu’s own parents, Prince Tzu Lu considered the offer a serious insult—and therefore, he rejected it, and was consequently executed.

His decision in this context was difficult, but was not yi .

Doesn’t his own life have value—both to himself and to the world? And wouldn’t he and others have been better off if he was Lord?

Yuan Ching Mu set off on a journey, but was overcome by hunger on the way.

As he lay starving on he ground, Hu-Fu Ch’iu saw him and fed him rice.

After eating some, Yuan Ching Mu opened his eyes and murmured, “Who are you?”

The other replied, “I am a native of Hu-Fu, and my name is Ch’iu.”

“Oh misery!” cried Yuan Ching Mu. “Are not you the robber Ch’iu? What are you feeding me for? I am an honest man and cannot eat your food.”

And so saying, he clutched the ground with both hands, and began retching and coughing in order to bring it up again—but not succeeding at doing so, he fell to the floor and died.

His decision in this context was difficult, but was not yi, .

After being unjustly sentenced to death by the Athenian government, Socrates had an opportunity to secretly flee the city and save his life. However, he refused to do so due to his various principles, and instead chose to carry out his own execution.

His decision in this context was difficult, but was not yi, .

In the grander scheme of matters, isn’t choosing to die this way less consistent with personal purity and social dutifulness than choosing to flee?

Wei-sheng Kao was reputed to be the paragon of uprightness and truthfulness.

In this particular instance, he is operating the believed that in order to be upright, it is necessarily for him to do his utmost to fulfill the man’s vinegar request.

In reality, his action—despite having well-meaning intentions and perhaps seeming upright—is actually based on his certain standards of “uprightness” that are prone to be one-sided and fulfilled for the sake of meeting the standards, rather than being based on reality and what is yi [right].

In rigidly following his standard of uprightness, Wei-sheng Kao is beclouded from true uprightness, and from true exemplary conduct that takes all matters into account. Prejudiced and obsessed with his standards, beclouding by certain criteria of uprightness that are one-sided and prone to be false, and operating under a somewhat misguided model of right conduct, his model really does not account for what right conduct is in its entirety. He compels himself to feel responsible for what is not in his responsibility, and goes extremely far to fulfill this false sense of responsibility. And thus, his noble intentions are misguided, and do not lead to what is optimal.

If everyone in the world employs such a method and acts according to the Wei-sheng Kao standard of uprightness, and if everyone thereby assigns certain responsibility to themselves that really does not belong under the jurisdiction of their real andyiself-responsibility, then this would in many ways be a major detriment to tao—for such a method certainly is not in harmony with the human heart, and should such a method be uses, then how can their be order within the individual or within society?

But when everyone fulfills their self-responsibility and the dutifulness to others that is in the proper bounds, then this method is conducive to establishing harmony, order, and efficiency.

tao is comprehensive, and when someone operates out of one-sided standards, he thereby will do some damage to that very tao.

When people adhere to and promote a false sense of dutifulness as Wei-sheng Kao does, they do damage to the genuine dutifulness they ought to act according to, for their own sakes and for the sakes of others.

A person should not go so far as to take it upon himself to feel responsible for everyone in all matters, in order to consider himself and have others consider him as someone who has civic honor, engages in moral conduct, and is a true public benefactor.

Taking others’ responsibilities upon ourselves—this surely is not tao.

For people to truly be just to themselves and to the world, each individual should take it upon himself to do what is in his responsibility—no more and no less—and to leave to others what is under their responsibility—no more and no less.