|Mohism or Moism
The basis of Mohism is universal love, which is
similar to the belief of Western Christianity.
It also has strong utilitarian spirit. Although
it has long been forgotten in Chinese history,
Mohism and Confucianism were the two major philosophies,
despite having opposing ideas.
|Mohism at a Glance:
The doctrines of Mohism are to be found
in the work Mo-tzu, named after the founder
of the Moist tradition Mo Tse (c. 470-390
BCE). Although attributed to Mo Tse, the
Mo-tzu was probably composed over a number
of generations by Mo Tse's disciples. The
Mo-tzu originally consisted of 71 chapters,
but 16 of these have been lost.
In contrast to the Confucians, who taught
that devotion was particularly due to one's
family, Moism prescribed equal love for
| Opposition to offensive
Mo Tse opposed all forms of aggressive action,
particularly in the form of large states
attacking smaller ones. He did, however,
accept that it was legitimate to use force
to defend those who are being attacked.
|Opposition to music.
Mo Tse regarded music as a source of extravagance,
associating it with dance, flamboyance and
a waste of public resources, which could
be used to feed, shelter and protect people.
Opposition to elaborate funerals.
Funerals were excessively expensive and
the time of mourning excessively lengthy.
Mo Tse believed that heaven is a personal
force, which knows of the misdeeds that
people perform and punishes people for them.
Such a belief serves to encourage people
to conduct themselves morally.
Unlike Confucius, Mo-tzu did not accept
the tradition that emperors derive their
mandate from heaven; instead the position
of the emperor should be based solely on
merit. While the emperor should be obeyed,
people have the right to criticize the emperor
if his actions are not in accord with the
will of heaven.
Mohism: Long Version
Mohism was an influential philosophical, social,
and religious movement that flourished during
the Warring States era (479–221 BCE) in ancient
China. Mohism originates in the teachings of Mo
Di, or “Mozi” (“Master Mo,” fl. ca. 430 BCE),
from whom it takes its name. Mozi and his followers
initiated philosophical argumentation and debate
in China. They were the first in the tradition
to engage, like Socrates in ancient Greece, in
an explicit, reflective search for objective moral
standards and to give step-by-step, tightly reasoned
arguments for their views, though their reasoning
is sometimes simplistic or rests on doubtful assumptions.
They formulated China's first explicit ethical
and political theories and advanced the world's
earliest form of consequentialism, a remarkably
sophisticated version based on a plurality of
intrinsic goods taken as constitutive of human
welfare. The Mohists applied a pragmatic, non-representational
theory of language and knowledge and developed
a rudimentary theory of analogical argumentation.
They played a key role in articulating and shaping
many of the central concepts, assumptions, and
issues of classical Chinese philosophical discourse.
A later branch of the school (Mohist Canons) formulated
a sophisticated semantic theory, epistemology,
utilitarian ethics, theory of analogical reasoning,
and mereological ontology and undertook inquiries
in such diverse fields as geometry, mechanics,
optics, and economics. They addressed technical
problems raised by their semantics and utilitarian
ethics and produced a collection of terse, rigorous
arguments that develop Mohist doctrines, defend
them against criticisms, and rebut opponents'
Central elements of Mohist thought include advocacy
of a unified ethical and political order grounded
in a utilitarian ethic emphasizing impartial concern
for all; active opposition to military aggression
and injury to others; devotion to utility and
frugality and condemnation of waste and luxury;
support for a centralized, authoritarian state
led by a virtuous, benevolent sovereign and managed
by a hierarchical, merit-based bureaucracy; and
reverence for and obedience to Heaven (Tian, literally
the sky) and the ghosts worshiped in traditional
Mohist ethics and epistemology are characterized
by a concern with finding objective standards
that will guide judgment and action reliably and
impartially so as to produce beneficial, morally
right consequences. The Mohists assume that people
are naturally motivated to do what they believe
is right, and thus with proper moral education
will generally tend to conform to the correct
ethical norms. They believe strongly in the power
of discussion and persuasion to solve ethical
problems and motivate action, and they are confident
that moral and political questions have objective
answers that can be discovered and defended by
From his utilitarian arguments, the attacks against
war, and the tone of his writing, we can know
that Mo Tzu represented the working class, or
even the slaves at that time. Even though Confucianism
advocated the equality of all class, it tended
towards the upper level (aristocracy) in a sense.
with all Chinese names written in English, there
are many different spellings.
Mozi and the Mohists
|Mohism springs from the teachings of Mo
Di, or Mozi (“Master Mo”) about whom little
is known, not even what state he was from.
The Shi Ji, a Han dynasty record, tells
us only that he was an official of the state
of Song (Sung) and that he lived either
at the same time as or after Confucius (d.
479 BCE), with whom he is often paired by
Qin (221–206 BCE) and Han dynasty (206 BCE–219
CE) texts as the two great moral teachers
of the Warring States era. Most likely,
he flourished during the middle to late
decades of the 5th century BCE, roughly
contemporaneous with Socrates in the West.
‘Mo’ is an unusual surname and the common
Chinese word for “ink.” Hence scholars have
speculated that this was not Mozi's original
family name, but an epithet given him because
he was once a slave or convict, whose faces
were often branded or tattooed with dark
ink. "Mo" is also Cantonese for
"Mao", and given the "Tsu"
spelling for "Zi" or "Zhi",
you may wish to consider he was originally
from the Yue Dynasty of Southeast China?
A strong argument can be made that it is
Mozi, not Confucius, who deserves the title
of China's first philosopher. Before the
rise of the Mohist school, Ru or so-called
“Confucian” thought seems to have consisted
mostly of wise aphorisms offering moral
coaching aimed at developing virtuous performers
of social roles as described in traditional
li (norms of ritual propriety).
|Mozi and his followers were
the first in the Chinese tradition to point out
that conformity to traditional mores in itself
does not ensure that actions are morally right.
This critical insight motivated a self-conscious
search for objective moral standards, by which
the Mohists hoped to unify the moral judgments
of everyone in society, thus eliminating social
disorder and ensuring that morality prevailed.
The normative standard through which they proposed
to achieve these aims was the “benefit” (lì) of
“all under Heaven”: Actions, practices, and policies
that promote the overall welfare of society were
to be considered morally right, those that interfere
with it morally wrong.
This utilitarian standard was justified by appeal
to the intention of Heaven (Tian), a god-like
entity that the Mohists argued is committed impartially
to the benefit of all. Heaven's intention provides
a reliable epistemic criterion for moral judgments,
they held, because Heaven is the wisest and noblest
agent in the cosmos. This basic utilitarian and
religious framework motivated a set of ten core
ethical and political doctrines, which the Mohists
sought to persuade the rulers of their day to
put into practice. This article will discuss the
motivation for the Mohist philosophical and political
project, the central epistemic and logical notions
that structure Mohist thought, and the details
of the Mohists' ethical and political doctrines,
including their strengths and weaknesses.
Primary sources for the thoughts of Mozi and his
followers is a corpus of anonymously authored
texts collected into a book called the Mozi. Other,
less direct sources include anecdotes and comments
about the Mohists preserved in early texts such
as the Lushi Chunqiu, Hanfeizi, Zhuangzi, and
Huainanzi and criticisms of them by two of their
major opponents, the Confucians Mencius (ca. 372–289
BCE) and Xunzi (fl. 289–238 BCE).
The Mozi is a diverse compilation of polemical
essays, short dialogues, anecdotes about Mozi,
and compact philosophical discussions, the different
parts of the book ranging in date from the 5th
to the 3rd century BCE. For a detailed discussion
of the organization, nature, and authorship of
the Mozi, see the following supplement:
Texts and Authorship
The Mohist texts provide only the barest handful
of clues about Mozi's life. One passage depicts
King Hui of Chu (488–432 BCE) refusing to grant
him an audience because of his low social status.
Several anecdotes in the Mozi and other early
texts depict him as a master craftsman and military
engineer. The Huainanzi, a Han dynasty text, claims
that Mozi was an apostate Ru (Confucian), but
the Mozi itself provides no particular reason
to believe this.
A more likely conjecture, supported by the frequency
of references to the crafts in Mohist texts, is
that he was originally an artisan of some kind,
probably a carpenter. Indeed, the many examples
alluding to crafts, mechanics, trade, work, and
economic hardship, the apparent “critical outsider”
stance of the earliest Mohist texts, and the nearly
total absence of references to the li (courtly
ritual, ceremony, etiquette) so central to Confucian
thought all tend to suggest that Mohism emerged
from a rising class of craftsmen, merchants, and
soldiers that grew in size and political influence
during the Warring States era, a time of rapid
social and political change.
Influence of Social Origins on Mohist
As their movement flourished in the 4th and 3rd
centuries BCE, the Mohists branched into a number
of groups, each led by a juzi, or grand master.
Two early sources, the Hanfeizi (Book 50, ca.
233 BCE or later) and the Zhuangzi (Book 33, perhaps
2nd century BCE), mention a total of six groups
of Mohists, who apparently quarreled among themselves
over the details of Mohist doctrine. Another early
text, the Lushi Chunqiu (ca. 239 BCE), mentions
at least three other Mohist juzi. Evidence from
the Mozi and Lushi Chunqiu indicates that these
Mohist groups were disciplined organizations devoted
to moral and practical education, political advocacy,
government service, and in some cases military
Origins of Mohism
Mozi (Mo Tzu: circa. 490-403 BC) was China's first
true philosopher. Mozi pioneered the argumentative
essay style and constructed the first normative
and political theories. He formulated a pragmatic
theory of language that gave classical Chinese
philosophy its distinctive character. Speculations
about Mozi's origins highlight the social mobility
of the era. The best explanation of the rise of
Mohism links it to the growth in influence of
crafts and guilds in China. Mohism became influential
when technical intelligence began to challenge
traditional priestcraft in ancient China. The
"Warring States" demand for scholars
perhaps drew him from the lower ranks of craftsmen.
Some stories picture him as a military fortifications
expert. His criticisms show that he was also familiar
with the Confucian priesthood.
|The Confucian defender, Mencius, (371-289
BC) complained that the "words of Mozi
and Yang Zhu fill the social world."
Mozi advocated utilitarianism (using general
welfare as a criterion of the correct dao
guiding discourse) and equal concern for
everyone. The Mohist movement eventually
spawned a school of philosophy of language
(called Later Mohists) which in turn influenced
the mature form of both Daoism (Zhuangzi
ca 360 BC) and Confucianism (Xunzi 298-238
The core Mohist text has a deliberate argumentative
style. It uses a balanced symmetry of expression
and repetition that aids memorization and enhances
effect. Symmetry and repetition are natural stylistic
aids for Classical Chinese, which is an extremely
analytic language (one that relies on word order
rather than part-of-speech inflections). Three
rival accounts of most of the important sections
survive in the Mozi.
Standards and Utility
The "craft theory" of Mohism helps us
explain the distinctive character of disciplined
philosophical thought in China. As the Mohists
analyse moral debates, they turn on which standards
we should use to guide our execution of moral
instructions. Mozi's orientation was that the
standards should be measurement-like, e.g., like
a carpenter's plumb line or square. Measurement-like
standards lend themselves to reliable application.
Experts do better than novices, but everyone can
get good results. He tries to extend this reliability-based
approach to questions of how to fix the reference
of moral terms. Mozi does not think of moral philosophy
as a search for the ultimate moral principle.
It is the searches for a constant standard of
moral interpretation and guidance.
Mozi attacks commonsense traditionalism (Confucianism)
as a prelude to his argument for the utility standard.
The attack shows that traditionalism is unreliable
or inconstant. Mozi tells a story of a tribe that
kills and eats their first born sons. We cannot,
he observes, accept that this tradition is yi
moral or ren benevolent This illustrates, he argues,
the error of treating tradition as a standard
for the application of such terms. We need some
extra-traditional standard to identify which tradition
is right. Which should we make the constant social
guide (dao)? For it to give constant guidance,
we also need measurement-like standards for applying
its terms of moral approval.
Mozi then proposed utility as the appropriate
measurement standard for these joint purposes.
We use it in selecting among moral traditions,
neither directly to choose particular actions
nor to formulate rules. The body of moral discourse
to promote and encourage is the one that leads
to social behaviour that maximizes general utility.
How does he justify the moral status of utility
itself? He argues that it is the natural preference
(tian nature: sky = zhi urge).
The appeal to "Tian" thus becomes an
important component of Mozi's argument. In ancient
China, tian was the traditional source of political
authority ("the mandate of heaven").
Early Confucianism had "naturalized"
tian from what many assume was an archaic deity
to something more like "the course of nature."
Its main characteristic (besides its moral authority)
was that it's movement was changconstant.
Mozi exploited both the connotations of tian's
authority and its constancy. Traditions are variable-they
differ in different places and times. If we don't
like its traditions, we can flee from a family,
a society, even a kingdom. We cannot similarly
escape the constancies of nature. Natural constancies
thus become plausible candidates to arbitrate
between rival traditions. To say a dao was constant
functioned a little like saying it was objectively
The constant "natural" urge he identified
was a comparatively measurable one-we imagine
ourselves "weighing" benefits against
harms. Thus, he proposed using the preference
for benefit as a reliable, natural standard for
choosing and interpreting traditional practices.
We count as 'moral' and 'benevolent' those traditional
discourses that promote utility. The natural urge
to utility, he says, is like a compass or a square.
It does not depend on a cultivated intuition or
Society's moral reform takes place when we reform
the social dao guiding discourse. People educated
in this discourse internalise its and the resulting
disposition is called their devirtuosity. (The
compound dao-de is the standard translation of
'ethics'.) Our devirtuosity produces a course
of action in actual situations. Whether the course
produced by discourse like "When X do Y"
is successful or not depends on what we identify
as "X" and "not-X" in the
situation. For social coordination, we train people
to make these distinctions in similar ways. The
key to reforming guiding discourse is to reforming
how we make distinctions, e.g. the distinction
between 'moral' and 'immoral'.
Mozi understands the training process in several
(1) We emphasize or make a different set of distinctions
the dominant ones--hence we promote different
words as disposition guides. For example, he says
the ruler should use the word jian universal and
not the word biepartial. If he speaks and thinks
that way, he will be a more benevolent ruler.
Society should make the benefit-promoting words
the constant words in our social discourse.
(2) We reform how we make the distinctions associated
with terms that remain the same. For example,
we will assign different things to shi right and
(3) We can change the order of terms in the guiding
discourse--use it to give different advice.
Notice that Mozi's posture as a moral reformer
puts him in an argumentative bind that is related
to one faced by Utilitarianism in the West. He
admits he is challenging existing judgments and
intuitions. What is the status of the principle
he uses in proposing his alternative? How can
he make his alternative seem other than immoral
to someone from within that tradition? How can
a moral reformer get over the impasse posed by
conflicting moral intuitions?
| One possibility emerges in another of
Mozi's philosophical stories. He uses this
story to criticize Confucian pro-family
and "partial" moral attitudes.
He depicts a conscript leaving his family
to make war. It argues that if he were concerned
about his family, he would want those to
whom he entrusts them to adopt an attitude
of universal concern. He would, Mozi argues,
not seek out a person with "partial"
moral attitudes. His family-centred, partial
moral attitude is "inconstant"
in the sense that it leads him to prefer
that others have universal rather than partial
attitudes. He would achieve his "partial"
goals only if the public morality were altruistic.
Confucian partiality is "inconstant"
in that it recommends a public dao guiding
discourse that is inconsistent with it.
It can not consistently recommend itself
as the collective social dao.
Mozi's analysis shows Chinese thought has a notion
of morality as independent from social conventions
and history. However, it neither ties morality
to the familiar Western concept of "reason"
nor to principles or maxims that function within
a belief-desire psychology. His focus is on the
contrasting terms, benefit/harm, not on the sentence
"do what maximizes benefit." The concept
is a standard against which we measure social
discourse as a whole. The standard is not a principle
of reason; it is a natural preference distinction.
The objects of evaluation are not actions or rules,
they are bodies of discourse and widespread courses
The psychological and conceptual structure of
Mozi's moral analysis treats human nature as social
and malleable. Human malleability derives from
our tendency to learn, to mimic, to seek support
and approval from those we respect-our social
superiors. It derives also from the effect of
language on "inner programming."
Mozi promotes ren humanity as the appropriate
utilitarian disposition-the virtue of benevolence.
He links it to his choice of universal over partial
"love." Mozi acknowledges that instilling
universal moral concern requires social reinforcement
- official promotion and encouragement. Mozi's
social theory of shang-tong agreeing with the
superior describes the system that brings this
about. Here Mozi gives a familiar justification
of a system of authority.
Why, Mozi asks, do we choose ordered society over
anarchy-the original state of nature. His description
of the latter is of a state of inefficiency and
waste. One important difference from the Western
parallel is that Mozi sees humans as naturally
moral creatures who disagree on their moral purposes.
Prior to society, he says, humans had different
yi morality. They end up in conflicts fuelled
by moral judgments. They cannot agree on what
is shi (right) and fei (wrong). It is clear, Mozi
says, that the bad situation arises from the absence
of a zhang elder. So [we] select a worthy man
and name him tian-zi = natural master. He then
selects others of worth and creates the governing
hierarchy. The hierarchy organizes us to harmonizes
our yi morality., our use of shi this:right and
feint-this:wrong. We report "up" what
we view as shi this: right and fei not-this: wrong;
if the superior endorses it "shi" then
we all call it shi. If he defines it "fei"
then the subserviants will also, even if I originally
designated shi. The judgment that something is
right is equivalent to choosing it. Society gains
through coordination of behaviour and the efficiency
of a "constant" dao guiding discourse.
While we harmonize our shi-fei judgments with
those the ruler, he does not have arbitrary discretion
in his assignments of shi-fei (right-wrong). He
must "conform upward" too and for the
ruler the higher authority is tian and the natural
standard of utility. Since all humans have access
to that natural measurement standard. Ultimately
we "conform upward" only when we correctly
use the utility standard in judgment. Still, agreement
is itself a utilitarian good, so we report our
judgments up, and join in the general acceptance
of the judgment that comes down.
This difficulty in making the political system
coherent illustrates an implicit tension between
the reforming utility standard that is accessible
to everyone and Mozi's continued need for a traditional
social authority. The tension becomes explicit
in Mozi's account of three fa measurement standards
for yan language. He lists first the model of
past sage kings. Second, he observes the importance
of standards to which ordinary people have access
"through their eyes and ears." Clear,
measurement-like standards can be applied by "even
the unskillful" with good results. He lists
the pragmatic appeal to usefulness third. While
it anchors his reform spirit, he clearly recognizes
the importance of historical and traditional patterns
in determining correct usage.
Mozi applies his standards in a famous set of
arguments concerning 'spirits' and 'fate'. He
appeals to what the sage kings and old literature
say, what people in general say, using their "eyes
and ears" and, most importantly, what effects
on behaviour will result from saying "spirits
exist" vs. " spirits do not exist"
or "there is fate" vs. "there is
no fate." Mozi acknowledges that there may
be no spirits. Still, he argues, the standards
of language all weigh in favor of saying the exist.
He characterizes his conclusion as knowing the
dao way of 'existence-nonexistence'. Knowing how
to deploy this distinction is knowing we can change
the content of discourse via making the 'exist-not
exist' distinction in a particular way.
Mohism died out when the emerging imperial dynastic
system promoted a Confucian orthodoxy. Mozi's
long-term influence is controversial. Confucian
histories treat Mohism as a brief, inconsequential
interlude of "Western Style thought."
However, his influence arguably shaped Confucian
orthodoxy as much as Confucius did. Mozi forced
later classical Confucians thinkers to defend
their normative theory philosophically and in
doing so, they adopted his terms of analysis and
many of his key ethical attitudes. Paradoxically,
the vehicle for the absorption of Mohist ideas
was his chief detractor, Mencius, who effectively
abandoned traditionalism and constructed a Confucian
version of benevolence-based naturalism that was
Daoism, similarly, grew out of a relativistic
analysis of the Confucian-Mohist debate. Arguably,
we owe to Mozi the fact that Chinese philosophy
exists. Without him, Confucianism might never
have risen above "wise man" sayings
and Daoism might have languished as nothing more
than a "Yellow Emperor" cult.
|The Ten Mohist Doctrines
As their movement developed, the Mohists came
to present themselves as offering a collection
of ten key doctrines, divided into five pairs.
The ten doctrines correspond to the titles of
the ten triads, the ten sets of three essays that
form the core of the Mozi. Although the essays
in each triad differ in detail, the gist of each
doctrine may be briefly summarized as follows.
• “Elevating the Worthy”
and “Conforming Upward.”
The purpose of government is to achieve a stable
social, economic, and political order (zhi, pronounced
“jr”) by promulgating a unified conception of
morality (yi). This task of moral education is
to be carried out by encouraging everyone to “conform
upward” to the good example set by social and
political superiors and by rewarding those who
do so and punishing those who do not. Government
is to be structured as a centralized, bureaucratic
state led by a virtuous monarch and managed by
a hierarchy of appointed officials. Appointments
are to be made on the basis of competence and
moral merit, without regard for candidates' social
status or origins.
Care” and “Rejecting Aggression.”
To achieve social order and exemplify the key
virtue of ren (humanity, goodwill), people must
inclusively care for each other, having as much
concern for others' lives, families, and communities
as for their own, and in their relations with
others seek to benefit them. Military aggression
is wrong for the same reasons that theft, robbery,
and murder are: it harms others in pursuit of
selfish benefit, while ultimately failing to benefit
Heaven, the spirits, or society as a whole.
• “Thrift in Utilization” and
“Thrift in Funerals.”
To benefit society and care for the welfare of
the people, wasteful luxury and useless expenditures
must be eliminated. Seeking always to bring wealth
to the people and order to society, the ren (humane)
person avoids wasting resources on extravagant
funerals and prolonged mourning (which were the
custom in ancient China).
“Heaven's Intention” and “Elucidating Ghosts.”
Heaven is the noblest, wisest moral agent, so
its intention is a reliable, objective standard
of what is morally right (yi) and must be respected.
Heaven rewards those who obey its intention and
punishes those who defy it, hence people should
strive to be humane and do what is right. Social
and moral order (zhi) can be advanced by encouraging
belief in ghosts and spirits who reward the good
and punish the wicked.
“Rejecting Music” and “Rejecting Fatalism.”
The humane (ren) person opposes the extravagant
musical entertainment and other luxuries enjoyed
by rulers and high officials, because these waste
resources that could otherwise be used for feeding
and clothing the common people. Fatalism is not
ren, because by teaching that our lot in life
is predestined and human effort is useless, it
interferes with the pursuit of economic wealth,
a large population, and social order (three primary
goods that the humane person desires for society).
Fatalism fails to meet a series of justificatory
criteria and so must be rejected.
• Bon Culture
• Mohism - This Page
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