Mo Tzu

People should practice jian'ai ("impartial solicitude"), showing equal concern for the basic physical needs of all people.Jian'ai is ordained by Heaven (Tian).Heaven and other spiritual forces enforce jian'ai by punishing those who disregard it.Heaven invests its authority in the ruler, to whom all owe submission.

Mo Tzu or Mozi ( 490-403 BC) was China's first true philosopher who lived in the Age of Warring States, the Ages of Spring and Autumn. Mozi pioneered the argumentative essay style and constructed the first normative and political theories. He formulated a pragmatic theory of language that gave classical Chinese philosophy its distinctive character. Speculations about Mozi's origins highlight the social mobility of the era. The best explanation of the rise of Mohism links it to the growth in influence of crafts and guilds in China. Mohism became influential when technical intelligence began to challenge traditional priestcraft in ancient China. The "Warring States" demand for scholars perhaps drew him from the lower ranks of craftsmen. Some stories picture him as a military fortifications expert. His criticisms show that he was also familiar with the Confucian priesthood.

The Confucian defender, Mencius, (371-289 BC) complained that the "words of Mo Tzu and Yang Zhu fill the social world." Mo Tzu advocated utilitarianism (using general welfare as a criterion of the correct daoguiding discourse) and equal concern for everyone. The Mohist movement eventually spawned a school of philosophy of language (called Later Mohists) which in turn influenced the mature form of both Daoism (Zhuangzi ca 360 BC) and Confucianism (Xunzi 298-238 BC).

Mo Tzu is a curious figure among the early giants of Chinese thought. Unlike most of the other names he is associated with (Confucius, Mencius, Chuang Tzu, etc.), Mo Tzu, born Mo Ti, seems to have been of low birth, possibly the son of a slave. He was a thoroughgoing eccentric, as famous for his dress and manners as his thought. But nothing is really known about the life of Mo Tzu himself. His origins have been the subject of considerable speculation and debate by Chinese scholars.

One chapter of the Mo Tzu depicts Mo as a military strategist and engineer. Based upon such reports, and upon the content of his thought, scholars have plausibly inferred that Mo may have been descended from displaced military officers, who had lost their position in society and become “wandering knights” seeking a land where they could play a useful role. Scholars consider it likely that Mo began as a student in one of the Confucian schools of his day. In any case, though he was possibly a native of Confucius’ home state of Lu, and was certainly familiar with Confucius’ teachings, Mozi clearly did not identify himself with the traditional nobility, whom Confucius had considered the natural leaders of society. He shares the Confucians’ esteem for the legendary sage-kings, and, like Confucius, attributes his own principles to them.

But, perhaps because of his social background, he rejected Confucius’ assumption that the ills of the age could be reversed by restoring the social virtues that Confucius believed the nobility ideally to possess. It is important that Mo was active soon after Confucius, and before the other thinkers of classical China: his teachings were to a significant extent a reaction against several of Confucius’ basic positions, and later Confucians like Mencius refined those positions in response to Mo Tzu’ scriticisms.

Mo Tzu’s basic Teaching

“Humane men are concerned about providing benefits to the world and eliminating its calamities. . . . When we come to ask about the causes of the calamities (war, poverty, etc.) that people suffer, from what do these calamities arise? Do they arise from people loving others and benefiting others? Certainly not. We should say that they arise from people hating and injuring others. If we should classify one by one all those who hate and injure others, will we find that they are partial or universal in their love? Certainly, we’ll find them partial in their love. Therefore, partial love is the cause of all the human calamities in the world. Partial love is wrong.”

Mo-tzu’s vision of the state was a totalitarian one, with the governed obeying the government, and the government subject to T’ien. To ensure social harmony, Mo-tzu believed it was necessary for there to be a uniformity of thought, enforced by thought-control if necessary. Their convictions also meant that Mohists condemned offensive warfare. Unlike Confucianists who only counselled those who first sought their help, Mohists assisted any state in need of aid.

Mo-tzu himself was said to have once walked ten days, tearing off his garments to dress his sore feet, on a peace mission to dissuade a ruler from declaring war on a rival state. Because of their assistance to besieged states, Mohists gained a reputation for their skill in siege operations. Such dangerous duties required the existence of a highly disciplined and close-knit community. Mo-tzu himself lived frugally.

Mohists relied on dialectics to persuade. They appealed neither to authority (as Confucians did) nor to the esoteric, which was the practice of religious Taoism. Mohist methodology for evaluating policies was the use of the ‘Threefold Test’, that is the analysis of any proposition on its bases, its verifiability and its applicability; and the ‘Fourfold Standard’, which assesses the claims of any proposition on the grounds of whether it redistributes wealth, increases population, promotes security, and regulates disorder.

Devotees and elders managed the Mohist School, named after Mo-tzu who died around 390 B.C.E. Although at one time it was the rival of Confucianism, Mohism petered out in the 3rd century B.C.E.