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- "School of Mo") or Moism is a Chinese philosophy founded by Mozi. It evolved at about the same time as Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism (Hundred Schools of Thought). It disappeared during the Qin dynasty. Mozi's philosophy was described in the book Mozi, compiled by his students from lecture notes.
In Mohism, morality is defined not by tradition, but rather by a constant moral guide that parallels utilitarianism. Tradition is inconsistent, and human beings need an extra-traditional guide to identify which traditions are acceptable. The moral guide must then promote and encourage social behaviors that maximise general utility. He also believed in the 2nd law and was in conflict with the ancients.
Mohism promotes a philosophy of universal love, i.e. an equal affection for all individuals. This universal love is what makes man good. This advocacy of universal love was a target of attack by other 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. He also had many conflicts with Confucian ideas.
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. 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.
In addition to creating a school of philosophy, the Mohists formed a highly structured political organization that tried to realize the ideas they preached. This political structure consisted of a network of local units in all the major kingdoms of China at the time, made up of elements from both the scholarly and working classes. Each unit was led by a juzi (literally, "chisel"—an image from craftmaking). Within the unit, a frugal and ascetic lifestyle was enforced. Each juzi would appoint his own successor. However, there was no central authority beyond the writings of Mozi. Mohists developed the sciences of fortification and statecraft, and wrote treatises on government, ranging in topic from efficient agricultural production to the laws of inheritance. They were often hired by the many warring kingdoms as advisors to the state. In this way they were similar to the other wandering philosophers and knights-errants of the period. They were distinguished from others, however, in that they hired out their services not only for gain, but also in order to realize their own ethical ideals.
Mohists believed in the heavens as a divine force (Tian), which knew the immoral acts of man and punished them, encouraging moral righteousness. Their belief in spirits was at best vague, but they were wary of some of the more atheistic thinkers of the time, such as Han Fei Zi. They polemicized against elaborate funeral ceremonies and other wasteful rituals, and called for austerity in life and in governance. Mohists also saw music and dance as forms of extravagance, which wasted resources that could be used to feed, house and protect the people.
One of the schools of Mohism that has received some attention is the Logicians school, which was interested in resolving logical puzzles. The main philosopher of this school was a late Mohist, Gongsun Long. Not much survives from the writings of this school, since problems of logic were deemed trivial by most subsequent Chinese philosophers. Historians such as Joseph Needham have seen this group as developing a precursor philosophy of science that was never fully developed, but others believe that recognizing the Logicians as proto-scientists reveals too much of a modern bias.
- Graham, A.C., Disputers of the TAO: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China (Open Court 1993). ISBN 0-8126-9087-7
- Mohism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry
- Mohist Canons, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry
- The Ethical and Political Works of Motse (Mozi)
- Full text of the Mozi
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