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Mozi: up from Confucius

Mo-zi or Master Mo (470-391 BCE) was a scholar who had been schooled in Confucianism in his early years. He developed an alternative philosophy that flourished during China's Warring States period. His philosophy declined in the 200s BCE with the Qin Dynasty taking power and having the books of scholars, including Confucian books, burned or buried. And Mozi's philosophy vanished when Confucianism became the dominant school of thought following the rise of the Han Dynasty began a few decades later.

Mozi has been described as closer to the common people than Confucius had been. During his lifetime he attracted a large following made up mostly of technicians and craftspeople organized into an order that studied both his philosophical and technical writings. Trade and a money economy were expanding, and Mozi wanted material benefits extended to common people, especially food, clothing and housing. He found fault with aristocrats spending enormous sums on their weddings and funerals.

Like Confucius, Mozi was a man of his time. He supported monarchical rule. Support for democracy in his time was considered criminal. He got the past wrong, seeing evil as having originated in individualism in pre-civilized society, an individualism in which everyone had his or her own standard of what was right or wrong. He believed that heaven had overridden individualism by creating civilization and by giving power to the most worthy of persons, the emperor. Not unlike Confucius he saw the emperor as duty bound to unify the standards of morality according to heaven. Mozi believed that rulers might deviate from the wishes of heaven but that it was the duty of people to adhere to heaven's standards by exercising reason.

But Mozi wasn't into hierarchy the way that Confucius was. Mozi believed that all were equal before the Lord of the Heavens. He spoke of the value of the labor of common folks, and he advocated promoting people to positions of power solely on the strength of their abilities and virtues. In place of Confucianism's dutiful love for the father of a family, Mozi supported a wider devotion: he urged people to follow heaven and reciprocate or duplicate heaven's love with their own love for all. He claimed that members of the aristocracy should love commoners and that commoners should love members of the aristocracy. Unlike the haughty Confucianists, who would lecture for only those who treated them with what they thought was proper respect, Mozi and his followers would lecture anyone willing to listen.

Mozi believed in people observing the world and judging events and testing truth or falsehood of statements. He believed in rationality and empiricism. He observed that one can learn by questioning, by reflecting on successes and failures rather than the conformity to ritual. He viewed Confucianism as too fatalistic and putting too much emphasis on elaborate celebrations and funerals, which he thought were detrimental to the livelihood and productivity of common people.

Mozi supported asceticism and self-restraint. He recommended balance, renouncing material and spiritual extravagance. He spoke of lords who already had much but who sought what little some other lord might have. He denounced their greed and their sending armies against weaker states, devastating crops, slaughtering cattle, burning towns and temples, killing civilians and dragging people away to be made slaves. He said that killing people in great numbers should not make one a hero.

He tried mediating between rulers at war with each other. It was military aggression that he opposed, and rather than utopian pacifism he created an army of well-trained, highly disciplined warriors that he offered to local rulers to defend themselves against aggression.

A more detailed view of Mozi is expressed by the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy under the title Mohism. Also, a Google search on Mohism produces access to much on Mozi and his philosophy.

Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.