民不畏死;奈何以死懼之?若使民常畏死,而為奇者吾得執,而殺之,孰敢?

1. The people do not fear death; to what purpose is it to (try to) frighten them with death? If the people were always in awe of death, and I could always seize those who do wrong, and put them to death, who would dare to do wrong?

常有司殺者殺。夫代司殺者殺,是謂代大匠斲。夫代大匠斲者,希有不傷其手矣!

2. There is always One who presides over the infliction of death. He who would inflict death in the room of him who so presides over it may be described as hewing wood instead of a great carpenter. Seldom is it that he who undertakes the hewing, instead of the great carpenter, does not cut his own hands!

Legge's Comments

制惑, 'Restraining Delusion.' The chapter sets forth the inefficiency of capital punishment, and warns rulers against the infliction of it. Who is it that superintends the infliction of death? The answer of Heshang Gong is very clear:—'It is Heaven, which, dwelling on high and ruling all beneath, takes note fo the transgressions of men.' There is a slight variation in the readings of the second sentence of par. 2 in the texts of Heshang Gong and Wang Bi, and the reading adopted by Jiao Hong differs a little from them both; but the meaning is the same in them all.

This chapter and the next are rightly joined on to the preceding by Wu Cheng.