Analects 8:2

Confucius said

Respectfulness without li becomes petty.

Prudence without li becomes timid.

Intrepidity without li becomes rash.

Uprightness without li becomes intolerance. …

Respectfulness, without the rules of propriety, becomes laborious bustle; carefulness, without the rules of propriety, becomes timidity; boldness, without the rules of propriety, becomes insubordination; straightforwardness, without the rules of propriety, becomes rudeness. When those who are in high stations perform well all their duties to their relations, the people are aroused to virtue. When old friends are not neglected by them, the people are preserved from meanness. L*

Without due self-restraint, courtesy becomes oppressive, prudence degenerates into timidity, valour into violence, and candour into rudeness. G

Earnestness without judgment becomes pedantry; caution without judgment becomes timidity; courage without judgment leads to crime; uprightness without judgment makes men tyrannical. K

Courtesy without propriety is wasted energy. Caution without propriety is timidity. Boldness without propriety is recklessness. Straightforwardness without propriety is rudeness. M


Li is self-restraint, as well as the inner sense of moral proportion and harmony that prevents any quality from being carried to excess.

It must be adhered to in order to produce yi and jen.

Even qualities that are generally labeled as good can be taken outside of the proper bounds and result in kindred drawbacks arising.

And the attractiveness of these qualities might mislead people into thinking they should be used indiscriminately.

Thus, such qualities must be managed and used with discretion, and kept within their due bound of li at all times and in all situations.

li gives value to these qualities, sets them at work in their proper times and places, turns them to the advantage of the person who is possessed of them, and makes him the master of them.

Study and pursuit of knowledge without li becomes speculative over-generalization or pedantry, warrior-ness without li becomes brute savagery, mercy and/or pity without li becomes weakness, benevolence and generosity without tli become foolish and self-neglectful, concern for self-preservation without li becomes cowardice, economy without li becomes stingy, self-integrity without li becomes un-mannered and disrespectful, justice without li becomes pettiness, silence without tli becomes deceit or inexpressiveness, shrewdness without li becomes cunning, respectfulness without li becomes obsequiousness, firmness and persistence without li becomes misguided obstinacy, deliberation without li becomes tardiness, patience without li becomes carelessness, friendship without li becomes partisan bias, ambition without li becomes vanity and selfishness, truthfulness without li becomes untactfulness, appetite without tli becomes insatiety, independence without tli becomes unsocial

There are some who are great speakers, but do not know when to refrain from talking. There are some who are brave, courageous, and bold, but are rash and lack caution, discipline, and control. There are some who are prudent and cautious, but timid. There are some who are dignified, but unpleasant in social interaction. There are some who are pleasant, friendly, and approachable, but undignified and weak. There are some who are respectful, but groveling or too tense. There are some who are kind, but insensible with it. There are some who are courteous, but obsequious. There are some who are honorable, but lack discretion. There are some who are intellectual, but excessively speculative. There are some who are honest and trusting, but deceived. There are some who are persistent and firm, but have misdirected obstinacy. There are some who are compassionate, but inflexible. There are some who are authoritative, but overbearing. There are some who are verbally economical, but deceitful or indiscreet. There are some who are patient and make deliberations, but are excessively slow and procrastinating, and/or careless. There are some who are prompt, but impatient. There are some who revere others, but are biased. There are some who are ambitious, but vain. There are some who are forthright, but lack respectfulness or tact. There are some who are quick, but lack reverent caution. There are some who are obedient and flexible, but lack boldness. There are some who can go straight at things, but lack finesse.