China and East Asia

Mohism

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Mozi, 470-391 BCE, was one of the many wandering scholars of the Warring States period. His teachings covered logic, mathematics, science and moral philosophy, but Mohism has left far less of a mark on Chinese intellectual history than Daoism, Confucianism and Legalism.

Mozi emphasized the notion of jianai, “impartial care.” Human beings, he taught, are not deficient in love of others, but they distribute it unevenly, loving themselves more than their neighbors and their neighbors more than strangers. This was a conclusion strongly rejected by the Confucians who argued that human beings have no universal moral obligations but only obligations to particular others — one’s parent, spouse, sibling, friend and emperor. It was rejected by the Legalists too who regarded moral precepts of any kind with suspicion.  In contrast to other Chinese philosophies, the Mohists cared little for ritual and tradition and emphasized instead utilitarian principles — individual actions, and state policy, should aim to achieving human happiness.

With this moral philosophy went a theory of how the state should be organized.  Mohist scholars, in the cases where they had a chance to implement their policies, organized the state into small separate units governed by a leader who took responsibility for the behavior of the people under him. These small units formed a network which together made up the state. The Mohist state cared about its subjects but it also controlled them. Indeed, care and control were the same thing.  What was good for the state was also, Mozi taught, good for the individual.  Mozi argued against fatalism and predestination and insisted that we all are responsible for our actions. He demanded that the political rulers be frugal and wise. He had little time for the arts, especially music, which he regarded as an unnecessary diversion from more important duties such as administering the state.