Yi indicates conduct that achieves a high standard of appropriateness, and is contrasted with petty selfishness. Since there is no presumption of a single “right answer,” I prefer some variation on the word “appropriate,” or words such as “honorable” and “integrity,” as opposed to “rightness.”
A. S. Cua, who does translate yi as “rightness,” nevertheless makes my point:
“Yi focuses principally on what is right or fitting. The equation of yi with its homophone meaning ‘appropriateness’ [宜] is explicit in Zhongyong, Section 20, and generally accepted by Confucianists, e.g., Xunzi, Li Gou, and Zhu Xi. However, what is right or fitting depends on reasoned judgment. As Xunzi puts it: ‘The person concerned with yi follows reason.’ Thus, yi may be construed as reasoned judgment concerning the right thing to do in particular exigencies. Recall Li Gou’s plausible statement that what is yi is ‘decisive judgment’ that is appropriate to the situation at hand.”
Nicholas Gier maintains, “‘Right’ rather than the traditional ‘righteousness’ is a much better translation of yi, as long as we realize that this would always mean what is right for us or right for our condition” (emphasis added). And, Huang Chun-chieh submits, “In China, yi has never been a universal rule of conduct eternally fixed in the cognitive heavens, but instead has always been a matter of flexible judgment rendered to make ourselves fit for ever-changing situations.” All this seems to favor translating yi with words like “appropriateness,” which suggest that there may be more than one good solution to the problem of what to do in any given situation.