Universal Love
Mozi superimposed on a poster of a Mao Zedong with peasants
Icon for Mohism
We know very few positive facts about Mozi (ca. 480-392? BCE), but there do exist a number of unsubstantiated anecdotes about him. He probably flourished shortly after the death of Confucius, and shortly before the birth of Mencius. As rumor has it, he studied under the Confucian School when he was young, but soon turned away from this teaching and launched a severe attack on Confucianism. He was particularly intent on spreading his teaching of universal love and mutual benefits, and he spent a major part of his life forestalling offensive warfare. He was allegedly an expert in constructing defensive apparatus, and trained his students to use them ably. He probably had hundreds of followers in his lifetime; many among them carried out his anti-war ideology and assisted in defensive warfare. He and his followers practiced an austere lifestyle; they wore coarse clothes, eschewed personal possessions, and traveled extensively to help others. Mohism attracted a large following for some hundreds of years. Mohists formed a rigid organization, with authoritative “Grand Masters” acting like military commanders. For some time, Mohism and Confucianism were seen as the two dominant schools in China. (ICP, 108)
The globe as a heart pumping love throughout the universe
Universal Love
The hallmark thesis of Mozi is his teaching of “universal love,” as a direct challenge to the Confucian teaching of love with distinctions. Mozi did not merely advocate that we demonstrate universal concern for all people; he promoted the ideal of treating everyone else just as we would treat ourselves. “Universal love” means loving everyone, family members and strangers alike, equally. (ICP, 110)
It is the business of the benevolent man to try to promote what is beneficial to the world and to eliminate what is harmful. Now at the present time, what brings the greatest harm to the world? Great states attacking small ones, great families overthrowing small ones, the strong oppressing the weak, the many harrying the few, the cunning deceiving the stupid, the eminent lording it over the humble — these are harmful to the world. So too are rulers who are not generous, ministers who are not loyal, fathers who are without kindness, and sons who are unfilial, as well as those mean men who, with weapons, knives, poison, fire, and water, seek to injure and undo each other. (ICP, 110-1 [Mozi 16: Universal Love, Part 3]; cf. SCT, 69-70)
Do we have an ethical obligation to
"promote what is beneficial to the world and eliminate what is harmful"?
Scale with "benefit" outweighing "harm"
If so, how should we go about it?
Confucius illustrating the relationship between "ritual" and "humaneness"
"Love thy neighbor as thyself" with Chinese characters for "universal love" (jian'ai)
When we inquire into the cause of these various harms [i.e. great states attacking small ones, great families overthrowing small ones, the strong oppressing the weak, the many harrying the few, the cunning deceiving the stupid, the eminent lording it over the humble], what do we find has produced them? Do they come about from loving others and trying to benefit them? Surely not! They come rather from hating others and trying to injure them. And when we set out to classify and describe those who hate and injure others, shall we say that their actions are motivated by universality or partiality? Surely we must answer, by partiality, and it is this partiality in their dealings with one another that gives rise to all the great harms in the world. Therefore we know that partiality is wrong. ...
The Golden Rule
Partiality should be replaced by universality. But how can partiality be replaced by universality? If men were to regard the states of others as they regard their own, then who would raise up his state to attack the state of another? It would be like attacking his own. If men were to regard the cities of others as they regard their own, then who would raise up his city to attack the city of another? It would be like attacking his own. If men were to regard the families of others as they regard their own, then who would raise up his family to overthrow that of another? It would be like overthrowing his own. Now when states and cities do not attack and make war on each other and families and individuals do not overthrow or injure one another — is this a harm or a benefit to the world? Surely it is a benefit. (SCT, 70 [Mozi 16: Universal Love, Part 3])
Icon for Mohism
Definitions for three major ethical theories: Consequentialism, Deontology, and Virtue Ethics
Consequentialism vs. Deontology & Virtue Ethics
Confucians are concerned with people’s morality, while Mozi was only concerned with their survival; Confucians want to teach people to act in accordance with righteousness, while Mozi wants to teach them to act in keeping with general benefits. This is what separates Mohism from Confucianism.
Psychological vs. Ethical Egoism
Mozi’s starting assumption is that all humans are naturally egoistic. We may say that he is a psychological egoist; he believes that all men are self-interested by nature. However, he is not an ethical egoist, since he does not believe that just because we are naturally self-interested, we ought to be self-interested. Mozi himself is an ethical altruist. But how could he get other self-interested people to agree with his position? From the assumption of psychological egoism, he tried to promote the idea that the highest self-interest for everyone comes from everyone’s benefiting others. In other words, what he promotes is a paradoxical assertion that the best way to promote our self-interest is to not promote our self-interest, but to promote others’ interests. (ICP, 115)
Ethical Altruism: people coming together to hold up the world
Now what does Heaven desire and what does it hate? Heaven desires rightness and hates what is not right. Thus if I lead the people of the world to devote themselves to rightness, then I am doing what Heaven desires. If I do what Heaven desires, then Heaven will do what I desire. Now what do I desire and what do I hate? I desire good fortune and prosperity and hate misfortune and calamity. If I do not do what Heaven desires and instead do what Heaven does not desire, then I will be leading the people of the world to devote themselves to what will bring misfortune and calamity.
The Will of Heaven (tianzhi): Emperor with "all under heaven" (the world)
How do I know that Heaven desires rightness and hates what is not right? In the world, where there is rightness there is life; where there is no rightness there is death. Where there is rightness there is wealth; where there is no rightness there is poverty. Where there is rightness there is order; where there is no rightness there is disorder. Now Heaven desires life and hates death, desires wealth and hates poverty, desires order and hates disorder. So I know that Heaven desires rightness and hates what is not right. ( SCT, 73 [Mozi 26: The Will of Heaven, Part 1]; cf. ICP, 117)
The Communist Party (with Marx, Mao, etc. having a party)
The intent of Heaven does not desire that large states attack small ones, that large families overthrow small ones, that the strong oppress the weak, the cunning deceive the stupid, or the eminent lord it over the humble. This is what Heaven does not desire. But this is not all. It desires that among men those who have strength will work for others, those who understand the Way will teach others, and those who possess wealth will share it with others. It also desires that those above will diligently attend to matters of government, and those below will diligently carry out their tasks. If those above diligently attend to matters of government, then the state will be well ordered. If those below diligently carry out their tasks, then there will be enough wealth and goods. ( SCT, 74 [Mozi 27: The Will of Heaven, Part 2])
Icon for Mohism
Heavenly light with Chinese ghosts/spirits
Philosophy of Religion
Heaven, Ghosts and Spirits, Fate

Mozi seemed to be the most religious among ancient philosophers, but his religious spirit was again prompted by his pragmatism. He argued for the existence of ghosts and spirits and advocated reverence for the Will of Heaven, not because he was superstitious, but because he thought that these beliefs would help promote universal benefit. By the same token, he argued against the existence of fate and the belief that our life is determined by pre-existing destiny, not because he was rational, but because he thought that such beliefs would be detrimental to social welfare.
"Truth Test": meter going from false to true
Mozi listed three criteria for testing whether a theory is acceptable: (1) the origin of the hypothesis; (2) the validity of the hypothesis; (3) the pragmatic results of applying  the theory. He says:
We must set up a standard of judgment. ... Therefore a theory must be judged by three tests. What are these three tests of a theory? Its origin, its validity, and its applicability. How do we judge its origin? We judge it by comparing the theory with the deeds of the sage kings of antiquity. How do we judge its validity? We judge it by comparing the theory with the evidence of the eyes and ears of the people. And how do we judge its applicability? We judge it by observing whether, when the theory is put into practice in the administration, it brings benefit to the state and the people. This is what is meant by the three tests of a theory. [Mozi 35: Against Fatalism, Part 1]
... [M]ost interestingly, Mozi advocated that we judge whether a theory is acceptable by checking to see how pragmatic it would be for us to believe in the theory — how much utility is generated by its acceptance, or its rejection. What is implicit in this view seems to be what we nowadays call a pragmatic theory of truth, which is the theory that a belief is true when it is useful to the believer — the believer’s acting upon it would yield satisfactory practical results. Under Mozi’s pragmatic theory of truth, many philosophical debates would be settled, not on the soundness of the argument or the completeness of the theory, but on each theory’s applicability and its practical consequences. ... In his arguments, he often appealed to the benefits of believing in the existence of Heaven and Heaven’s will. If the rulers believed that there were Heaven and that Heaven’s will were to “promote what is beneficial to the world,” then they would not bring harm to the people; if the people truly believed that there were Heaven and “Heaven desires righteousness and hates unrighteousness,” then they would not do anything bad. Mozi thus concludes: isn’t this a beneficial doctrine?
Scale with "benefit" outweighing "harm"
In the same fashion, Mozi tried to convince others that ghosts and spirits supervise our conduct, assigning rewards and punishments accordingly. He says, “If we could only make all the people in the world believe that the ghosts and spirits have the power to reward the worthy and punish the wicked, then how could there be any disorder in the world?” As Vorenkamp explains, for Mozi “the ‘belief’ in Heaven and ghosts is more important than their actual ontological status.” In other words, what Mozi wanted to establish in his philosophy was not the existence of ghosts and spirits, but the utility of the belief in the existence of ghosts and spirits. Graham thinks that in the Mohist philosophy of religion, “there is little evidence of a spiritual dimension deeper than a guilty fear of ghosts.” Hence, “the Mohists are in a sense less religious than some they would denounce as skeptics.” (ICP, 124-6)
Mozi with a shovel Debate symbolized by word baloons
Mozi vs. Confucius
 What Confucius aimed to establish was a civilized society regulated by rituals, rites, and music. What Mozi tried to restore, in contrast, was a much more modest form of a meterialistically self-sufficient society. Schwartz points out that in Mozi’s times, “there is a much greater sense of urgency — one must almost say desperation — concerning the task of meeting the elemental needs of the people for food, shelter, clothing, security, and peace. Nothing less than a total and sustained concentration of all the energies of the society [is] required to attain this goal.” Perhaps it is rather because of this sense of urgency that Mozi launched his attack  on the social practices of elaborate funerals, the production and enjoyment of music or dance, along with his criticism of the manufacture of luxurious goods. He asks: “What is the purpose of making clothing? to keep out the cold in winder and the heat in summer. ... What is merely decorative and does not contribute to these ends should be avoided.” If basic things such as food and clothing should be kept at the minimal level, then other things not crucial to survival must all be even more worthless.
Ancient Chinese Orchestra
Mozi thought that music may be entertaining, but it does not serve any pragmatic function in people’s lives. He says:
There are three things that people worry about: that when they are hungry the will have no food, when they are cold they will have no clothing, and when they are weary they will have no rest. These are the three great worries of the people. Now let us try sounding the great bells, striking the rolling drums, strumming the zithers, blowing the pipes, and waving the shield and axes in the war dance. Does this do anything to provide food and clothing for the people? I hardly think so.
Triple Coffin for elaborate Confucian funeral
... Mozi further criticized the Confucian insistence on propriety with respect to funerals. The Confucian teaching on funerals is that they represent the civility of human beings, which elevates us from mere beasts. A proper funeral procedure and the fixed duration of the mourning period enable us to express our sentiments toward the deceased in a socially acceptable manner. But Mozi thought that all these rituals and rules are a waste of social resources such as labor and money. He says:
[W]e see that in elaborate funerals much wealth is buried, while lengthy mourning prevents people from going about their activities for long periods of time. If the wealth and goods that have already been produced are to be bundled up and buried in the ground, and the means of future production are to be prohibited for long periods of time, and one still hopes in this way to enrich the state, then it is like prohibiting planting and still hoping for a harvest. One could never acquire wealth that way.
... Herlee Creel says, “[Mozi] conceived of a world at peace, in which a large and orderly population was adequately clothed and fed, as enjoying the best possible state of affairs.” But is this state “the best possible state of affairs”? From our contemporary perspective, even after reviewing all the miserable human conditions in history, many still would not embrace such a modest aim. (ICP, 122-4)
Icon for Mohism