Mozi vs. the Confucians

From Wikipedia on the bête noire of the Confucians, Mozi:

…Though Mozi did not believe that history necessarily progresses, as did Han Fei Zi, he shared the latter’s critique of fate (?, mìng). Mozi believed that people were capable of changing their circumstances and directing their own lives. They could do this by applying their senses to observing the world, judging objects and events by their causes, their function, and their historical basis. (“Against Fate, Part 3”) This was the “three-prong method” Mozi recommended for testing the truth or falsehood of statements. His students later expanded on this to form the School of Names.

Mozi tended to evaluate actions based on whether they provide benefit (?, lì) to the people, which he measured in terms of an enlarged population (states were sparsely populated in his day), a prosperous economy, and social order. Similar to the Western utilitarians, Mozi thought that actions should be measured by the way they contribute to the “greatest good of the greatest number.” With this criterion Mozi denounced things as diverse as offensive warfare, expensive funerals, and even music and dance which he saw as serving no useful purpose. Mozi did not reject to music in principle — “It’s not that I don’t like the sound of the drum” (“Against Music”) — but because of the heavy tax burden such activities placed on commoners and also due to the fact that officials tended to indulge in them at the expense of their duties.

Mozi tried to replace what he considered to be the long-entrenched Chinese over-attachment to family and clan structures with the concept of “impartial caring” or “universal love” (??, ji?n ài). In this, he argued directly against Confucians who had argued that it was natural and correct for people to care about different people in different degrees. Mozi, by contrast, argued people in principle should care for all people equally, a notion that philosophers in other schools found absurd, as they interpreted this notion as implying no special amount of care or duty towards one’s parents and family….

What we know about Mozi is colored by the fact that the losers do not get to write history. But, I think it is easy to see the distant affinity to the radical utilitarianisms of today. Confucians, despite their lack of perceived direct practicality because of their focus on rituals and cultivation of personal virtue while some starved or there was injustice abroad, served as the philosophical cement which bound together the Chinese state for nearly 2,000 years. Note by the way that Mozi’s school of thought was ancestral to the School of Names, logicians (though I caution too direct an analogy to logic in the Western tradition).

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