Mozi

The Works of Mozi are a collection of sayings by the philosopher Mozi (Mo Tzu, c.470-c.391 BCE) which are concerned with the importance of defining comprehensible moral standards for any social or political endeavor. Mozi argues that moral standards are necessary for the successful functioning of government and for the proper and orderly regulation of society. The absolute moral standard for Mozi is the Will of Heaven, which he describes as a source of universal love and limitless generosity. The Will of Heaven is the absolute standard for all moral conduct, and is a source of righteousness for all human beings.

According to Mozi, Heaven (tian) loves all individuals equally and impartially. Heaven is a perfect and all-inclusive unity, in which all individuals are loved and respected equally. Heaven does not discriminate between those who are wealthy and those who are poor, or between those who have political power and those who do not have political power.1 The Will of Heaven is that all individuals should love each other equally and impartially. To be righteous is to be guided by the Will of Heaven and is to be kind and generous to all individuals.

Mozi argues that Heaven rewards individuals who act righteously, and that it punishes individuals who act unrighteously. If an individual loves and helps others, then he or she will be loved and helped by others. If an individual hates or hurts others, then he or she will be hated or hurt by others. If all individuals try to love and help each other, then they will also try to avoid hurting or injuring each other.

Mozi argues that if everyone were to love and respect each other, then there would be nothing to cause social disorder. If everyone were to treat each other with the same love and respect which they would want to be shown to themselves, then there would be nothing to cause conflict between ruler and subject, between father and son, and between older brother and younger brother. If everyone were to love each other equally and impartially, then there would be nothing to cause conflict between villages or states and there would be no aggression by villages or states against each other.

According to Mozi, social disorder is caused by disobedience to the Will of Heaven. If all individuals act righteously, then they will obey the Will of Heaven, and society will be orderly. The Will of Heaven (tian zhi) is that all individuals should love and help each other, and that no individual should hate or injure another.

Mozi explains that in a just and well-ordered society, virtuous individuals are honored, but malicious individuals are not honored. In a just and well-ordered society, righteous conduct is rewarded, but unrighteous conduct is not rewarded. In a well-ordered society, individuals who are capable of performing their duties are promoted to positions of authority, but individuals who are not capable of performing their duties are not promoted to positions of authority. In a just and well-ordered society, fair opportunity for promotion to positions of public authority is available to all individuals, and all individuals are justly rewarded for their contributions to society.

Mozi argues that righteousness as a moral standard may be transmitted from positions of greater public authority to positions of lesser public authority. Thus, righteousness may be transmitted from Heaven to the emperor, from the emperor to the high duke, from the high duke to the feudal lords, from the feudal lords to the ministers of government, from the ministers of government to the scholars, and from the scholars to the rest of society. According to Mozi, each individual at each level of the social hierarchy should identify with the moral standard which is promoted by individuals who have a higher level of public authority. 'Identification with the superior' in the social hierarchy thus enables the moral standards of each individual to be unified with the standards of those individuals who have a higher level of public authority, and enables all moral standards to conform to the standard of righteousness which is affirmed by the Will of Heaven.

Mozi also says that to accept righteousness as a moral standard is to obey the Will of Heaven, and that to accept force (or power) as a moral standard is to disobey the Will of Heaven.2 Thus, the moral authority of those individuals who occupy higher positions in the social hierarchy is not determined simply by their political or military power, but is determined by the extent to which they act righteously.

If political power were considered to be the absolute moral standard, then those individuals with the greatest political power would always be the most morally right, and those individuals with the least political power would always be the most morally wrong. Mozi contends that if this proposition were accepted, then individuals who occupy positions of political power would be able to take unfair advantage of individuals who do not occupy positions of political power.

Mozi condemns unjustified aggression by individuals, villages, or states against each other. He argues that if feudal lords were to follow the Will of Heaven, then they would not engage in endless and unnecessary military conflict, but would instead learn how to coexist peacefully, and would treat each other with dignity and respect. He also argues that unnecessary military conflict between villages or states is wasteful of their resources. According to Mozi, if warfare does not improve the condition of those who are poor, stimulate an increase in population, promote security and avoid danger, or restore order to society, then it is unjustified. Thus, he condemns offensive warfare, and he teaches the importance of defensive military strategy.

Mozi argues for simplicity in the conduct of funerals and in the practice of mourning for the dead, contradicting the teachings of Kongfuzi (Confucius, 551-479 BCE), who advocated more elaborate funerals and more extended periods of mourning. Mozi contends that the practise of elaborate rituals and prolonged mourning for the dead is not appropriate if it exhausts the emotional or financial resources of a family or community.

Mozi also disagrees with Kongfuzi's teaching that music is an important and necessary form of human expression. Mozi condemns the playing of music as a useless and wasteful occupation. According to Mozi, the levying of taxes in order to promote the development of music as a public form of art is an unnecessary diversion of financial resources from the more important concerns of providing food, clothing, and shelter for all members of society.

Mozi contends that Kongfuzi is fatalistic, and that he regards wealth or poverty, reward or punishment, success or failure as predetermined and as not alterable by human action. According to Mozi, this fatalism asserts that individuals are rewarded because they are destined to be rewarded, and not because they have acted righteously. This fatalism also asserts that individuals are punished because they are destined to be punished, and not because they have acted unrighteously. Mozi emphatically rejects fatalism, arguing that it is an attempt to deny the importance of acting righteously and that it is an attempt to evade moral responsibility.

Mozi argues that the three tests of any theory are: 1) its basis, 2) its verifiability, and 3) its applicability.3 In order to determine the validity of any doctrine or theory, we must be able to evaluate the assumptions on which it is based, the conditions under which it can be verified, and the situations to which it can be applied. For Mozi, the basis of any doctrine or theory can be tested by comparing it with the basis of the actions of the sage-kings of antiquity. The verifiability of any theory can be tested by comparing it with sensory experience, insofar as this experience is generally available to most human beings. The applicability of any theory can be tested by adopting the theory as a principle of government and then observing whether it has a beneficial effect on society.

Mozi describes four criteria of whether the application of a doctrine or theory is beneficial to society: 1) whether it tends to improve the economic condition of the poor, 2) whether it tends to increase the population, 3) whether it tends to promote public security and prevent public danger, and 4) whether it tends to reduce disorder in society and restore order to society. Thus, Moziís approach to evaluating the validity of any doctrine or theory may be based on an investigation of the practical and social effects of that doctrine or theory.


FOOTNOTES

1Motse, The Ethical and Political Works of Motse, translated by Yi-Pao Mei (London: Arthur Probsthain, 1929), p. 44.
2Ibid., p. 139.
3Ibid., p. 183.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Hundersmarck, Lawrence F. "Mozi (Mo Tzu)," in Great Thinkers of the Eastern World. Edited by Ian P. McGreal. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995.

Mei, Y.P. "Mo Tzu," in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Paul Edwards. New York: Crowell, Collier and MacMillan, 1967.

Motze. The Ethical and Political Works of Motse. Translated by Yi-Pao Mei. London: Arthur Probsthain, 1929.

Mozi. Mozi: Basic Writings. Translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

Copyright© Alex Scott 2004

home page