Mohism, a Chinese Philosophy Developed by the Followers of Mozi

Mohism or Moism was a Chinese philosophy developed by the followers of Mozi (also referred to as Mo Tzu, Latinized as Micius), 470 BCE–c.391 BC. It evolved at about the same time as Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism and was one of the four main philosophic schools during the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period (from 770 BCE to 221 BCE). During that time, Mohism was seen as a major rival to Confucianism. The Qin dynasty, which united China in 221 BCE, adopted Legalism as the official government philosophy and suppressed all other philosophic schools. The Han dynasty that followed adopted Confucianism as the official state philosophy, as did most other successive dynasties, and Mohism all but disappeared as a separate school of thought.Mohism is best known for the concept of “impartial care” or “universal love”. Mozi’s philosophy was described in the book Mozi, compiled by his students from his lecture notes. 

Discipline and Motivations
A ruler may have strategies in war, but courage is the fundamental value. A funeral may have many rituals but mourning is the fundamental value. Scholars may have knowledge, but applying the knowledge or practicality is the fundamental value. If the fundamentals are not strong, good works cannot be done. Mozi taught that a good man must discipline himself: he should avoid listening to malicious gossip, avoid cursing, avoid murderous thoughts. Mozi taught that the poor should display purity, the rich should show benevolence, to the living show love, to the dead show mourning. The foundation of all human motives should be immeasurable love. Mohists believed that all people share a common humanity and because of that inherent condition, we are selfish and only serve our self-interest. This is why Mohists conflicted with the Confucians and ignored Confucius and his argument for the supremacy of ritual and tradition in human life. Mohists believed in the equality of all people and the pursuit of good works motivated by the right reasons. Confucians believe that if you simply act like a good person, you are; even if you do not have a righteous motivation for those actions. However, Mohists believed that if you acted like a righteous person, such morality was meaningless in the eyes of heaven unless you also truly believed in what you were doing. Mozi believed that good works, if not motivated from the heart, cannot be maintained. He taught that “everyone is equal before heaven”, and that people should seek to imitate heaven by engaging in the practice of impartial and collective love. His epistemology can be regarded as a form of empiricism; he believed that our cognition ought to be based on our perceptions – our sensory experiences, such as sight and hearing – instead of imagination or internal logic, elements founded on our capacity for abstraction.

Knowledge as Action
During the period of Mozi, he felt that the norm of handing out important government responsibilities to one’s relatives regardless of capabilities was the root of poverty in society. Mozi taught that as long as a person was capable for the task, he should be engaged and promoted regardless of blood relations. If an officer were incapable, even if he were a close relative of the ruler, he ought to be downgraded even if it meant poverty. Mozi also emphasized on the power of influence, using the analogy of dyes. 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. Law and order was an important aspect of Mozi’s theology. He compared the carpenter who used standard tools to do his work with the ruler who might not have any standards to rule by. The carpenter is always better off depending on his standard tools rather than his emotions. In comparison, it is even more that a ruler uses standards to rule by. These standards cannot originate from man since no man is perfect. The only standards that a ruler uses has to originate from Heaven, since only Heaven is perfect. That law of Heaven is love. 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. His original purpose in this teaching was to unite people and avoiding sectarianism. However, in a situation of corruption and tyranny, this teaching became a tool for oppression. 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 lavish on the palace.
(2) When pressurized by foreigners, neighbouring countries are not willing to help.
(3) The people are engaged in unconstructive work while useless bums 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.
Ministers are not able to carry out their work. Punishment fails to bring fear and reward fails to bring happiness. A country facing these seven disasters will be destroyed easily by the enemy. Unlike Keynesianism’s standards of national wealth which is usually rationalized in terms of first-world development, industrialization, capital and assets appreciation, trade surplus or deficit; the measure of a country’s wealth in Mohism is a matter of sufficient provision and a large population. Thriftiness is believed to be key to this end. With contentment with that which suffices, men will be free from excessive labour, long-term war and poverty from income gap disparity. This will enable birth rate to increase. Mozi also encourages early marriage.

Morality and Impartiality
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. The expression of this indisciminate caring is what makes man a righteous being in Mohist thought. This advocacy of impartiality was a target of attack by the other Chinese philosophical schools, most notably the Confucians who believed that while love should be unconditional, it should not be indiscriminate. For example, children should hold a greater love for their parents than for random strangers. Mozi is known for his insistence that all people are equally deserving of receiving material benefit and being protected from physical harm. In Mohism, morality is defined not by tradition and ritual, but rather by a constant moral guide that parallels utilitarianism. Tradition is inconsistent from culture to culture, and human beings need an extra-traditional guide to identify which traditions are morally acceptable. The moral guide must then promote and encourage social behaviours that maximize the general utility of all the people in that society.

Mozi posited that the existence of society as an organized organism reduces the wastes and inefficiencies found in the natural state. Conflicts are born from the absence of moral uniformity found in man in his natural state, i.e. the absence of the definition of what is right (是 shì) and what is wrong (非 fēi). We must therefore choose leaders who will surround themselves with righteous followers, who will then create the hierarchy that harmonizes Shi/Fei. In that sense, the government becomes an authoritative and automated tool. Assuming that the leaders in the social hierarchy are perfectly conformed to the ruler, who is perfectly submissive to Heaven, conformity in speech and behaviour is expected of all people. There is no freedom of speech in this model. However, the potentially repressive element is countered by compulsory communication between the subjects and their leaders. Subjects are required to report all things good or bad to their rulers. Mohism is opposed to any form of aggression, especially war between states. It is, however, permissible for a state to use force in legitimate defense. Mohist ideology has inspired some modern pacifists.

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