Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Major Philosophers

  • Little is known about the founder of Mohism, Mo Di–not even the part of China he came from.
  • We know that he lived either at the same time as Confucius or shortly after. He and Confucius are regarded as the two great thinkers of the Warring States era.
  • 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.

Major Concepts

Rejection of Tradition/Universal Standards

  • A central concern in Mohist thought is to secure zhi , or moral, social, and political order, an intrinsic good that the Mohists assume everyone in society will value. According to Mohist political theory, this aim is achieved by unifying society’s moral standards, so that people will agree in their value judgments, thus eliminating any potential reasons for conflict. The unified moral standards cannot be chosen arbitrarily, however, for if people see that the standards do not genuinely promote social and moral order, they will defy them.
  • The text concludes that “among these three, parents, teachers, and rulers, none is acceptable as a model for order.”
  • Mozi and his followers were the first in the Chinese tradition to point out that conformity to traditional mores (li) 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.
  • 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.

Impartial Caring–The Standard

  • Mohism promotes a philosophy of impartial caring – a person should care equally for all other individuals, regardless of their actual relationship to him or her.

  • This philosophy was in opposition to Confucianism, which held that one should care for others depending on the relationship between the two.
  • 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.

Meritocracy in Government

  • Mo Tzu rejected the prevailing belief in his time that placed people in governmental positions based on their status as relatives of those in power. Mozi taught that as long as a person was capable for the task, he should be engaged and promoted regardless of blood relations.
  •  A ruler should be in close proximity to talented people, treasuring talents and seeking their counsel frequently. Without discovering and understanding talents within the country, the country will be destroyed. History unfortunately saw many people who were murdered, not because of their frailities but rather because of their strengths. A good bow is difficult to pull, but it shoots high. A good horse is difficult to ride but it can carry weight and travels far. Talented people are difficult to manage, but they can bring respect to their rulers.
  • In a perfect governmental structure – where the ruler loves all people benevolently, and officials are selected according to meritocracy – the people should have unity in belief and in speech.
  • Should the ruler be unrighteous, seven disasters would result for that nation. These seven disasters are:
    • (1) Neglect of the country’s defense, yet there is much lavished on the palace.
    • (2) When pressured by foreigners, neighbouring countries are not willing to help.
    • (3) The people are engaged in unconstructive work while useless fools are rewarded.
    • (4) Law and regulations became too heavy such that there is repressive fear and people only look after their own good.
    • (5) The ruler lives in a mistaken illusion of his own ability and his country’s strength.
    • (6) Trusted people are not loyal while loyal people are not trusted.
    • (7) Lack of food and starvation.
  • Mo Tzu believed that the best measure of a nation’s success were a large population and sufficient resources to care for them.

Criticism of War

  • Mo Di claims that there is an analogy between the actions of a military aggressor and those of people who steal or rob others or who murder. And since (as even the audience agrees) stealing, robbing and murdering are morally wrong, and since actions that cause greater harm to others are, to that extent, greater wrongs, military aggression is a great wrong indeed. 

Rejection of Fatalism

  • Fatalism, the belief that all outcomes are predestined or fated to occur, is an irresponsible belief espoused by those who refuse to acknowledge that their own sinfulness has caused the hardships of their lives.
  • Prosperity or poverty are directly correlated with either virtue or sinfulness, respectively; not fate.
  • Mozi calls fatalism a heresy which needs to be destroyed.
  • 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.