Sunday, January 20, 2008


MO TZU -- A Marxist Perspective
Third in a series on Chinese philosophy
by Thomas Riggins

Introductory note. As China continues to develop into a superpower a knowlege of its form of Marxism becomes imperative for Western progressives. The progressive movement cannot allow itself to be misdirected in an anti-Chinese direction by reactionary forces in the West. In order to understand Chinese Marxism fully it is important to be familiar with traditional Chinese philosophy, many elements of which reappear in Marxist guise in today’s China. I have therefore constructed a series of dialogues based on the actual words of the most important Chinese thinkers. Each dialogue will present the core beliefs of the philosopher discussed plus relevant Marxist commentary where warranted. Readers are welcome to add their own comments and observations.

“Good morning Fred Are you ready to begin our discussion of Mo Tzu?”

“I certainly am, but he is rather new to me. I mean, everyone has heard of Confucius and Lao Tzu.” [previous posts]

“It's true. Mo Tzu is not as well known as the other two. Mo Tzu, or Mo Ti, lived around 479 to 381 B.C.--somewhere in that range. We really don’t know too much about him. We have a 53 chapter book called the Mo Tzu which is made up of his writings and those of some of his followers. He lived at the end of the feudal period of the Chou Dynasty a little after the time of Confucius and was in the ‘warrior class.’ Mo thought up a philosophy contrary to the Confucians and which he hoped would solve all the practical problems of humanity. He was the leader of a band of warriors--such bands were quite common in those days--but he would only go into action to try and prevent war or to protect the underdog who was being unjustly attacked. This was not common for those days or any days including our own (with the possible exception of the type of military aid given by the Cubans).”

“Well, Karl, I have my copy of Chan [W.T. Chan, A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy] which starts with Chapter 15 on ‘Universal Love’. It begins with a question ‘But what are the benefits and harm of the world?’ To which Mo Tzu responds “Take the present cases of mutual attacks among states, mutual usurpation among families, and mutual injuries among individuals, or the the lack of kindness and loyalty between ruler and minister, of parental affection and filial piety between father and son, and of harmony and peace among brothers.’”

“OK Fred, that pretty much sums up the ‘harm of the world’ and it is as true of our times as it was in Ancient China even if Mo only makes male references due to his patriarchal culture. We will have add ‘mothers and daughters’ as well as ‘sisters’ to the mix.”

“Mo Tzu next explains why the world is in such sad shape, that is, where did all these problems come from. Mo says “They arise out of want of mutual love. At present feudal lords know only to love their own states and not those of others. Therefore they do not hesitate to mobilize their states to attack others. Heads of families know only to love their own families and not those of others. Therefore they do not hesitate to mobilize their families to usurp others. And individuals know only to love their own persons and not those of others. Therefore they do not hesitate to mobilize their own persons to injure others.’”

“So, ‘want of mutual love’ is the source of our woes!”

“Exactly, he says ‘Because of want of mutual love, all the calamities, usurpations, hatred, and animosity in the world have arisen. Therefore the man of humanity condemns it.’”

“And with what is he going to replace it?”

“'It should be replaced by the way of universal love and mutual benefit.’”

“Which is?”

"'It is to regard other people’s countries as one’s own. Regard other people’s families as one’s own. Regard other people’s person as one’s own. Consequently, when feudal lords love one another, they will not fight in the fields.... Because of universal love, all the calamities, usurpations, hatred, and animosity in the world may be prevented from arising. Therefore the man of humanity praises it.’”

“You know, many great philosophers and some, but not all, religious leaders have said more or less the same thing.
I think all the great humanist thinkers, West or East, would be in general agreement. But they will differ with Mo about the practicality of his proposal and if there should be some distinctions within his concept of ‘universal’. This will be the ‘battle line’. Mo will want absolute universality which he thinks is the only way peace and harmony will come about.”

“That is right, Karl, and Mo takes up the challenge as I will now read. Here is the objection: ‘But now gentlemen of the world would say: Yes, it will be good if love becomes universal. Nevertheless, it is something distant and difficult to practice.’ To which Mo responds, ‘This is simply because gentlemen of the world fail to recognize its benefit and understand its reason.’”

“I remember Chan’s comment on this passage. That Mo used ‘benefits’ or ‘results’ as the motivation for his doctrines. This is similar to our philosophy of pragmatism. C.S. Peirce had something called the ‘pragmatic maxim’ his own Prime Directive as it were: ‘Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.’ Granted that this is a theory of meaning but we can see its relation to Mo. Mo is saying, the ‘Mohist Maxim’: ‘Consider what benefits we conceive our belief to have. Then, our conception of the benefits is the whole of our conception of the rightness of our belief.’ This is the theory of truth of Mohism.”

“I have the Chan comment right here Karl. He doesn’t make the point you do but does contrast the ‘Mohist Maxim’ of yours with Confucianism. The Confucian thinks the ‘inferior’ man is after ‘benefits’. The Confucian is interested in ‘righteousness.’ “

“Does he give references?”

“He cites the Analects 4:11, 16; 15:17; 17:23”

“Let me see.” Karl took Chan’s book and looked through it. “The last two are not in here,” he said. He then pulled down a copy of the complete work and looked at it.

“Well, none of these references are quite on the mark. Confucius is really condemning material goodies and profit. I think the ‘Mohist Maxim’ goes way beyond this limited conception of ‘benefits.’ World peace would be a Mohist ‘benefit’ and that is not the same as ‘profit’. World peace would even be a motivation to action for a Confucianist who could interpret it as ‘righteousness’ to benefit humanity (jen).”

“I will continue with the Mo quote. In this passage he explains how universal love even though difficult can be brought about. ‘Formerly Duke Wen [ruled 636 to 628 B.C.] of Chin liked his officers to wear coarse clothing. Therefore all his ministers wore [simple] sheepskin garments, carried their swords in [unadorned] leather girdles, and put on hats of plain cloth. Thus attired, they appeared before the ruler inside and walked around the court outside. What was the reason for this? It was because the ruler liked it and therefore the ministers could do it. Formerly, King Ling of Ch’u [ruled 530 to 527 B.C.] wanted people to have slender waists. Therefore all his ministers limited themselves to one meal a day. They exhaled before they tied their belts.... What was the reason for this? It was because the ruler liked it and therefore the ministers could do it.”

“This looks like ‘revolution from above’!”

“Wait! There is more. ‘Therefore Master Mo said: Now to eat little, to wear coarse clothing and to sacrifice one’s life for fame are things all people in the world consider difficult. But if the ruler likes them, the multitude can do them.... What difficulty is there in this (universal love)? Only the ruler does not make it his governmental measure and officers do not make it their conduct.’”

“This is definitely ‘revolution from above’! The Ruler only has to desire that a policy be carried out and voila! He also mixes up the ‘ministers’ with the ‘multitude’. It's one thing to order the ministers to implement a policy, it's really quite another to think that the people will just obey and carry out the directions because ‘the ruler liked it.’

“Chan has a comment about this too Karl. He says “Universal love is promoted by Moism because of its beneficial results. There is no conviction that it is dictated by the inherently good nature of man or by the inherent goodness of the act. Although Confucianism teaches love with distinctions, it also teaches love for all, but it does so on the grounds of moral necessity and of the innate goodness of man.’”

“Well that’s interesting. There seems some confusion in what Chan says, however. I can agree that the Mohist Maxim is at work here and not a belief in the innate goodness of humans but I must demur concerning Chan’s comment about the ‘inherent goodness of the act.’ That comment makes no sense to a Mohist because the ‘inherent goodness’ of an act just is the ‘benefits’ that result from it. The real question revolves around the nature of man, which is the basis for the Confucian critique. We are not ready to discuss this yet because we have not looked at the philosophy of Mencius.”

“Mo thinks that there are historical examples of the practice of his philosophy. To the objection that his theory is impracticable and that universal love and mutual benefit cannot be put into action he replies, “Ancient sage kings did practice them. How do we know this to be the case? In ancient times, when Yu [first ruler of the Hsia Dynasty, he ruled c. 2183-2175 BC] was ruling the empire, he dug the West and the Yu-tou rivers in the west to release the water from the Ch’u-sun-huang River [he did similar works in the east, north and south] order to benefit the peoples of Ching, Ch’u, Kan, and Yueh and the barbarians of the south. This is the story of Yu’s accomplishments. This shows that my doctrine of universal love has been practiced.’”


“Chan finds another contrast with the Confucians here. ‘While Confucianists cited historical examples for inspiration and as models, Mo Tzu cited them to show that his teachings had been demonstrated. The difference between the idealistic and practical approach is clear.’”

“For whatever reason it seems like a common practice to refer to tradition for authority even if your ideas are new. This is not a uniquely Chinese practice.”

“Here is another of Mo’s arguments: ‘In ancient times, when King Wen [first ruler of the Chou Dynasty who ruled c. 1751-1739 BC] ruled the Western Land, he shone like the sun and the moon all over the four quarters as well as the Western Land. He did not permit a big state to oppress a small state, ot the multitude to oppress the widow or widower, or the ruthless and powerful to rob people’s grains or live stocks. Heaven recognized his deeds and visited him with blessings. Consequently, the old and childless were well adjusted and enjoyed their full life span, the lonely and brotherless had opportunity to fulfill their work among mankind, and the orphaned had the support to grow up....It shows that my doctrine of universal love has been practiced.’”

“I need to make two comments here. ‘Heaven recognized his deeds, etc...’ seems too anthropomorphic for Chinese thought at least on the ‘sage’ level....”

“Wait up, Karl, the next section is all about ‘The Will of Heaven.”

“OK, then. My second comment is that it seems that universal love is just the construction of a welfare state. There is obviously more to it than that or the Confucians would not be so upset with Mo but we still have to wait until we get to Mencius before we can clear this up.”

“OK Karl, before turning to ‘The Will of Heaven”, Chapter 26 of the Mo Tzu, I’ll let Mo have the last word on ‘Universal Love’: ‘If rulers of the world today really want the empire to be wealthy and hate to have it poor, want it to be orderly and hate to have it chaotic, they should practice universal love and mutual benefit. This is the way of the sage-kings and the principle of governing the empire, and it should not be neglected.’”

“Even today Mo’s words are worth listening to. The ‘rulers of the world today’ have no concern for these ideas. Instead, with their aggressive military plans, their failure to help the poor and starving throughout the world, their do nothing environmental and AIDS policies, they seem to be just like the rulers of Mo’s day, only out to aggrandize their own selfish interests (Cuba excepted since its history of extension of medical aid and moral support to oppressed people everywhere is well known).

“Here is what Mo has to say about ‘righteousness’ and ‘heaven’. ‘Now what does heaven want and what does heaven dislike? Heaven wants righteousness and dislikes unrighteousness. Therefore, in leading the people of the world to engage in practicing righteousness, I should be doing what heaven wants.’”

“We must, Fred, keep in mind that i, ‘righteousness’, for Mo means his doctrine of Universal Love. This is not the same meaning that Confucius gave to the term. As Fung points out [Fung Yu-lan, A Short History of Chinese Philosophy], the term for Confucius was a ‘categorical imperative’ although this is not the correct term. Confucius just meant there are unalterable moral duties which must be done out of duty regardless of consequences. Of course, other considerations, as long as they are moral, can override what may seem to be, at first glance, a particular duty. Notice also Mo’s appeal to ‘heaven’. This is similar to claims made by Western religious leaders, usually when reason is not on their side.”

“He continues: ‘I say: With righteousness the world lives and without righteousness the world dies, with it the world becomes orderly and without it the world becomes chaotic. Now, Heaven wants to have the world live and dislikes to have it die, wants to have it rich and dislikes to have it poor, wants to have it orderly and dislikes to have it chaotic. Therefore I know Heaven wants righteousness and dislikes unrighteousness.’”

“This expresses Mo’s view all right, but is not a very good argument despite the ‘therefore.’ How do you know Heaven wants righteousness? Because righteousness makes the world live and Heaven wants the world to live, ergo. This is R=L, H=L | H=R. Something like Nazis like their mothers, so do communists, therefore communists like Nazis. So, besides being a poor argument, even were it a good argument it just pushes the problem back a step--i.e., how do you know Heaven wants the world to live (as opposed to being indifferent). Because Heaven likes righteousness? And Heaven likes righteousness because it wants the world to live? He is running around in a circle here. His argument for Universal Love will have to stand on its own merits which right now means an appeal to the benefits it will bring the world. Despite Mo’s plans there is no ‘divine’ or ‘heavenly’ sanction for the Mohist Maxim.”

“And Chan makes the following observation: ‘Even the will of Heaven and righteousness are explained in terms of practical results.’”

“Yes, but I think it important to look at the logic involved as well.”

“Now he says, ‘Moreover, righteousness is the standard. It is not to be given by the subordinate to the superior but be given from the superior to the subordinate. Therefore the common people should attend to their work with all their might, and should not forthwith set up the standard themselves.’”

“I am afraid we are about to discover the feudal limitations to Mo’s views.”

“Well Karl, he says, ‘Gentlemen of the world of course clearly understand that the emperor gives the standard to the three ministers, the several feudal lords, the minor officials, and the common people, but the common people of the world do not clearly understand that Heaven gives the standard to the emperor. Therefore the ancient sage-kings of the Three Dynasties [Hsia, Shang, and Chou]. Yu, T’ang, and Wu, desiring to make it clear to the common people that Heaven gives the standard to the emperor, all fed oxen and sheep with grass and dogs and pigs with grain, and cleanly prepared pastry and wine to sacrifice to the Lord on High and spiritual beings and pray to Heaven for blessing. But I have not heard of Heaven praying to the emperor for blessing. I therefore know that Heaven gives the standard to the emperor. Thus the emperor is the most honorable in the world and the richest in the world. Therefore those who desire honor and wealth cannot but obey the will of Heaven.’”

“I don’t know about feeding grain to dogs, but this sounds like an accurate view of the feudal mentality at this time in China and even right up until a hundred or so years ago. At this time the Greeks already were experimenting with democracy and letting the common people [hoi polloi] have their say. The Chinese are thinking more along the lines of the Persians. I think this shows the advantages of the city state or polis over larger territorial entities. Meanwhile notice all this ‘Heaven’ and ‘spiritual beings’ talk. Unlike Confucius, Mo is trying to give an aura of popular religion, quite foreign to the sentiments of most educated Chinese, to his philosophy. This is a real violation of the Prime Directive [only use Reason] we discussed.”

“The Mo Tzu goes on: ‘Well, how did Yu, T’ang, Wen, and Wu obtain rewards? Mo Tzu said: On the highest level they honored Heaven, on the middle level they served spiritual beings, and on the lower level they loved the people. Therefore the will of Heaven proclaimed, “They love universally those whom I love. They benefit universally those whom I benefit. Such love of people is really universal and such benefit to people is really substantial.” Therefore Heaven caused them to have the honor of being Sons of Heaven and possess the wealth of the whole empire.’”

“More religious coloring.”

“Even more coming up because now we see what happens to bad rulers! ‘Well how did Cheih [last of the Hsia dynasty], Chou, Yu [R. 781-771 BC], and Li [R. 878-842 BC] incur punishment? Mo Tzu said: On the highest level they blasphemed against Heaven, on the middle level they blasphemed against spiritual beings, and on the lower level they injured the people. Therefore the will of Heaven proclaimed, “They set themselves apart from those whom I love and hated them. They injure all those whom I benefit. Such hatred of people is really universal and such injury to people is really substantial.” Therefore Heaven caused them not to live out their life-span or to survive their generation.’”

“And what conclusions can be drawn from all this?”

“It's as Mo says--the ruler must follow righteousness i.e., practice universal love. Not doing so means that one has to rule by means of violence against the people! This leads to your undoing. Therefore following Mo’s philosophy ‘is beneficial to Heaven on the highest level, beneficial to spiritual beings on the middle level, and beneficial to man on the lower level. Being beneficial to these three means being beneficial to all. Therefore the whole world gives them a good name and calls them sage-kings.’ As for those bad rulers that go against Heaven, spiritual beings,and the people, ‘Not being beneficial to these three means not being beneficial to all. Therefore the whole world gives them a bad name and calls them wicked kings.’”

“I can’t think of any other Chinese philosopher who made such a pitch to religion. Mo was obviously trying to spread his ideas to the common people not the educated elite!”

“Chan would agree with you Karl. His comment on all this is as follows: ‘In teaching obedience to the will of Heaven, Mo Tzu was the most religious of ancient Chinese philosophers’”

“Unless he was a hypocrite.”

“A hypocrite? Why would you say that?”

“Listen to what Fung says about this. ‘Mo Tzu’s proof of the existence of spirits is done primarily in order that he may introduce a religious sanction for his doctrine of all-embracing love, rather than because of any real interest in supernatural matters.’ He then quotes a passage not found in Chan’s book. This is from Chapter 31 of the Mo Tzu: ‘If now all the people of the world could be made to believe that the spirits can reward the good and punish the bad, would the world then be in chaos?’ On the basis of this Fung concludes that Mo’s ‘doctrine of the Will of God and the existence of spirits is only to induce people to believe that they will be rewarded if they practice all-embracing love, and punished if they do not. Such a belief among the people was something useful; hence Mo Tzu wanted it.’”

“That is highly speculative. Fung can’t know what Mo really thought. Are we not bound to respect the text, everything else being equal?”

“Oh, I think so. The Prime Directive and the text are all we have to go on. But it would not be, if Fung is right anyway, the only instance of a philosopher, or religious leader, telling one thing to hoi polloi while having another doctrine--the ‘real’ doctrine--for his followers.”

“The next selection in Chan is from Chapter 35 and he calls it ‘Attack on Fatalism. Pt. 1’. “

“This is the Chinese word ming which we translate as fate. “

“Yes, and Mo Tzu used it to describe people both he and we would call ‘fatalists.’ Why do anything since Fate has already determined every thing that will happen?”

“Those people are like those who think that since God is all powerful everything that happens happens according to His will. Some Marxists are like that too. Since ‘socialism’ is inevitable all we have to do is sit back and wait for it to happen. Another word we could use is ‘determinism.’ Everything is determined by the laws of nature and the previous state of the universe so we really can’t do anything except what has been predestined or predetermined. That, Fred, pretty much catches what Mo means by ming.”

“Well Mo does not approve of them. He says, ‘With this doctrine they tried to persuade the kings, dukes, and great officials above and to prevent the common people from doing their work. Therefore the fatalists are not men of humanity. Their doctrine must be clearly examined.’”

“I remember this. Mo puts forth a scientific procedure for looking at knowledge claims. Very advanced for his time.”

“That it is. He says that in order to examine a doctrine or knowledge claim some ‘standard’ must be adopted. Actually, he will have three standards. ‘For any doctrine some standard must be adopted. To expound a doctrine without a standard is like determining the directions of sunrise and sunset on a revolving potter’s wheel. In this way the distinction of right and wrong and benefit and harm cannot be clearly known. Therefore for any doctrine there must be the three standards. What are the three standards? Mo Tzu said: [1] There must be a basis or foundation. [2] There must be an examination. [3] And there must be practical application. [1] Where to find the basis? Find it in the [will of Heaven and the spirits] the experiences of the ancient sage-kings above. [2] How is it to be examined? It is to be examined by inquiring into the actual experience of the eyes and ears of the people below. [3] How to apply it? Put it into law and governmental measures and see if they bring about benefits to the state and the people. These are called the three standards.’”

“This is a very good passage Fred. It could be updated to apply to the Chinese government today .”

“How so?”

“Well, [1] would be replaced by the experiences of the international communist and worker’s movements as well as what happens when you join the World Bank and the IMF. [2] This means that there should be more democratic procedures by which the masses of the Chinese people can get their opinions taken into consideration. I’m not saying the Party has to back off, but that it should be more inclusive and democratic. [3] This can stand as it is!”

“Chan agrees with this procedure. I think he calls it ‘pragmatic’. You can see the Mohist Maxim at work in [3] and his religious views in [1]. I can see why the Chinese government of today would have to change that. Chan actually says this is a ‘surprisingly scientific procedure: basis, examination, and application.’”

“Does he say anything else about fatalism, Fred?”

“He ends the discussion by reiterating the dangers of the idea and that human action is not all that important. He really opposes the que sera,sera attitude. ‘If the doctrine of the fatalist is put into practice, the ruler above would not attend to government, and the people below would not attend to their work.’ He is also upset because he says the religious duties won’t be carried out either. Why bother if you are a fatalist? ‘Therefore on the higher level fatalism is not beneficial to heaven, on the middle level it is not beneficial to spiritual beings, and on the lower level it is not beneficial to men. The unreasoning adherence to this doctrine is the source of evil ideas and the way of the wicked man. Therefore Mo Tzu said: If the gentlemen of the world today really want the world to be rich and dislike it to be poor, and want the world to be orderly and dislike it to be chaotic, they must condemn the doctrine of fatalism. It is a great harm to the world.’”

“I can tell you that if you were a contemporary Mohist you would think the gentlemen of today in our new century do not really want the world to be rich rather than poor, nor do they dislike its being chaotic.”

“How so, Karl?”

“Because our so-called leaders don’t apply the Mohist Maxim to the problems confronting mankind today. Take the position of universal love for example. We have to think of all peoples and nations the same way--try to show love and understanding to everyone. This would mean in our own country that Blacks and Hispanics as well as Whites, Amerindians, and others would all be the same--really not in just theory. Yet our leaders are still playing games with affirmative action, equal access to jobs and education. This shows they prefer evil ideas to universal love. There would also have to be an end to all the nonsense about ‘illegal aliens’ and hunting poor people down on the borders and trying to deport them. That doesn’t show any kind of universal love. The leaders would have to provide medical care and medicines, and housing, and education, and decent food for everyone without worrying that this might conflict with the so-called ‘rights’ of certain people or corporations to make money at the expense of these services not being available to everyone on an ‘as needed’ basis. This is all demanded in the name of ‘universal love.’ The military would have to go too. We have to share all the world's goodies with all the people of the world--love demands nothing less. That means the Arabs and the Jews in the Middle East have to start loving each other--and it is up to the leaders to set the example for the people to follow. The land has to be shared and in fact, Jews, Muslims and Christians, as well as Buddhists have to get together on one religion for everyone.”

“Oh Boy!”

“What can I say. Anything that divides the people and causes hatred and violence contradicts universal love and must go. Different religions do just that. Remember the Mohist Maxim. ‘Consider what benefits we conceive our belief to have., etc.’ If the gentlemen of today really want a peaceful and caring world they have to get together and start practicing universal love. But I think you would agree that they really only care about their own nations and groups and within their own groups and the rich and powerful only want to perpetuate their own selfish interests. Therefore a contemporary Mohist would be most upset with the gentlemen of today.”

“Did you say ‘Mohist’ or ‘Maoist’?”

“I know. But I said ‘Mohist.’ We will discuss Mao much later and see if your snide comment is justified.”

“Now there are six more points that Chan thinks are important for a good understanding of Mohism.”

“So lets get on with it. What is the first?”

“We discussed his ‘utilitarianism’ or ‘pragmatism’ before, but we should note these additional quotes. ‘Mo Tzu said: Any word or action that is beneficial to Heaven, spiritual beings, and the people is to be undertaken.... Any doctrine that can elevate conduct should be perpetuated....In issuing orders, promoting any undertaking, employing the people, or expending wealth, the sage-kings in their administration never do anything that is not useful. Therefore re- sources are not wasted and the people can be freed from being overworked, and many benefits will be promoted....’”

“Again, this shows the Chinese penchant of trying to justify the ideas of the present by an appeal to the way things were done in the past. This is not just a Chinese trait! I think this quote agrees with my views about contemporary Mohism expressed a little while ago. What is the second point?”

“The second point is his condemnation of war. Mo hated war even though he was in the professional mercenary class! He would only fight defensive wars. As far as war is concerned, He wrote: ‘The multitude are injured and oppressed and the people are scattered.... Does it mean to benefit the people? The benefit to the people from killing the people of Heaven is slight indeed! And calculate the cost! This is the root of destruction of life. It exhausts the people to an immeasurable degree. Thus... no benefit to the people can be attained.’”

“Mo may have been the most concerned for the welfare of the common people, at least in this respect, than any of the ancient philosophers--east or west! What is the third point?”

“This is his condemnation of music. He talks about music but you could extend his critique to art as such, all forms of art. Again he sounds like Mao. That’s why I asked you ‘Mo or Mao’?”

“Ok, Ok! What’s the passage?”

“’The reason why Mo Tzu condemns music is not because the sounds of the big bells, resounding drums, harps and pipes are not delightful.... But set against the past it is not in accord with the deeds of the sage-kings and checked with the present it is not in accord with the benefits of the people. Therefore Mo Tzu said: To engage in music is wrong.... To levy heavy taxes on the people in order to produce the sounds of big bells, resounding drums, harps, and pipes does not help the promotion of benefits and the removal of harms in the world.... Now kings, dukes, and great officials engage in music. To strike musical instruments they loot the people’s resources for food and clothing to such an extent.... Now kings, dukes, and great officials love music and listen to it, they certainly cannot go to court early and retire late in order to listen to litigations and administer the government. Therefore the country is in chaos and the state in danger.... Therefore Mo Tzu said: To engage in music is wrong.’”

“Well, Fred, the condemnation is not against music per se. I can see no objection to folk music or the music the peasants might be playing in the villages. He is attacking the exploitation of the people by the court in order to support the official music [and art] productions of the state. This even sounds a little Taoist. Under appropriate non-exploitative social arrangements, even Mo would approve of music as ‘delightful’. This is the Mohist Maxim again. If we could create a society where music was beneficial and not based on exploitation of the people, I can’t see why a modern Mohist would object. As far as your reference to Mao, this was the original intention of Mao however it may have turned out.”

“The fourth point is the condemnation of elaborate funerals. ‘Now the gentlemen of the world still doubt whether elaborate funerals and extended mourning are right or wrong, beneficial or harmful. Therefore Mo Tzu said: I have inquired into the matter.... So, much wealth is buried in elaborate funerals and long periods of work are suspended in extended mourning. Wealth that is already produced is carried to be buried and wealth yet to be produced is long delayed. To seek wealth in this way is like seeking a harvest by stopping farming....’”

“This is very much in tune with his condemnation of music. What’s the fifth point?”

“This is a point about who should be getting government positions. ‘How do we know elevating the worthy is the foundation of government? The answer is: When the honorable and the wise run the government, the ignorant and the humble remain orderly, but when the ignorant and the humble run the government, the honorable and the wise become rebellious. Therefore we know that elevating the worthy is the foundation of government.’”

“Very good, Fred. But who are the ‘honorable and wise’?”

“Who? I’ll tell you. They are the practitioners of universal love. That is, they should be. They should be true sages and philosophers. So Mo is saying just what Plato said. Philosophers should be the ones running the show! And of course the Confucians would be in agreement with Mo. Only instead of Mohist sages, Confucian sages would be in charge.”

“But who would be the true sages?”

“I’ll let you decide. We will have to cover some more Confucians before we can tell, especially Mencius as he attacks Mo’s views on universal love and we have to see whose arguments appear the better.”

“Well, Karl, here is our sixth and last point. Chan calls it ‘Agreement with the Superior.’ I’m not sure Mo looks too good in this section.”

“Lets get with it!”

“He says: ‘Now, the frequent arrival of hurricanes and torrents are the punishment from Heaven upon the people for their failure to agree with Heaven....’”

“Yes, that is very bad, very superstitious. Like blaming God for the Lisbon earthquake in Voltaire’s day. This is retrograde compared to Confucius and when we come to Hsun Tzu we will see how backward a view this is in terms of the later developments in Chinese philosophy. This really calls in question Fung’s apologetics concerning Mo’s belief in the supernatural.”

“Now we get an answer to the question ‘How do we know that the principle of agreement with the superior can be used to govern the empire?’ This principle is important to Mo who after all was the supremo of a band of warriors and who definitely thought in terms of military obedience to the ‘superior.’ We get this answer from a consideration of Mo’s theory of the beginning of government.”

“This should be interesting!”

“Mo thinks that originally people did not have rulers. Everybody had their own way of doing things and their own moral and ethical system. ‘All of them considered their own concepts of right as correct and other people’s concepts as wrong. And there was strife among the strong and quarrels among the weak. Thereupon Heaven wished to unify all concepts of right in the world. The worthy was therefore selected and made an emperor.’ The emperor then selected the ministers who then divided up the land and created the feudal lords all in the furtherance of better government since the emperor could not do everything by himself.”

“This sounds like the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ in so far as it appears that ‘Heaven’ somehow chose the emperor and while all other authority is delegated from him his rests on that original choice. The ‘Mandate of Heaven’ is due to the desire of ‘Heaven’--Mo’s anthropomorphic god concept-- to have only one universal standard of ‘right’ prevail. Just like the Christians and others following Augustine’s views that there is a universal standard ‘God’s Will’.

“Muslims and Jews too, Karl.”

“Everybody gets into the act. At least Mo appeals to his utilitarian principles of benefit so that the sages have to figure out Heaven’s will. He doesn’t maintain that ‘Heaven” or its representatives came down and told him what its will was.”

“Yes, but if the sage gets it wrong there is Zeus with his thunderbolt!”

“Finish the passage.”

“’The feudal lords, realizing their inadequate wisdom and ability to govern the lands within the four borders by themselves, selected the next best in virtue.... Therefore, in appointing the three ministers, the feudal lords, the great officers, the prime minister, the village elders, and the heads of households, the emperor of old did not select them because of their wealth, high position, or leisure, but employed them to assist in bringing political order and administering the government.... When order prevails in the empire, the emperor further unifies all concepts of right as one in the empire and makes it agree with [the will of] Heaven. Therefore the principle of agreement with the superior can be applied by the emperor to govern the empire, by the feudal lords to govern the state, and the heads of households to govern the family....’”

“I remember Chan’s saying that many thought this smacked of absolutism. It reminds me of the Fuhrerprinzip in a way, only its Heaven rather than a plebiscite that determines the ruler--but then vox populi, vox dei.”

“I thought you liked Mo’s views.”

“I like some of them. This Fuhrerprinzip is not one of them. But, I suppose that it derives from the ideal of a sage king who understands the will of Heaven. This could also reflect back negatively on Plato’s philosopher kings.”

“Listen, Karl, Chan plays down the absolutism. After all, that's a concern of modern times not ancient China with its emperor system. Although I can see how some people might think of Mao again--with the will of the Party rather than the will of Heaven. Or was Mao’s will the will of the Party rather than the other way around?”

“Well, I suppose the saving grace here is that it is not a subjective will which is at stake. Philosophy is called in to determine what is the best thing to do to promote the general good (by definition the will of Heaven) and this is to be objectively determined by the sage or philosopher king. So its really not absolutism in the sense of the personal will of the ruler. So Mo, Mao and Plato may be off the hook!”

“Well, that's it for the Mo Tzu selections in Chan. Whose next?”

“I think we should do another Taoist. The most famous after Lao Tzu.”

“And who might that be?”

“That would be Zhuangzi or in the transliteration of Chan, Chuang Tzu .”

“Fine. Let's do him next"


FSJL said...

The translation of the Mozi that I use translates the phrase that Chan renders as 'universal love' as 'impartial caring'. It makes Mo's point to be that the wise ruler cares for his subjects impartially, rather than in the Confucian manner of preferring family first.

3:40 PM, January 26, 2008

FSJL said...

By the bye, Tom. I tend to prefer 'Mohist' rather the 'Moist' for 'of or folloing Mozi' on the grounds that I don't want to confuse him with damp.