Mo Zi and "Universal Love"

1. Similarities and differences between Confucian teachings and those of Mo Zi.

The suffix of zi (tzu) in ancient China was a respectful way of addressing a sagely writer.  The Chinese writing for Confucius is Kong Fu Zi, with Kong being his last name, and Fu Zi (an extended form of Zi) an honorable way of addressing him.  Mo Zi was another great thinker in Chinese history.  The teachings of Mo Zi (c.470 BC-391 BC) both resembled and greatly differed from that of Confucius. Today, two aspects of Mo Zi continue to be quoted in a largely Confucian China: universal love, and peace (no war).  Mo Zi also strikes one as unabashedly materialistic, although his materialism was not "money as an end," but an emphasis on people's material well-being; policies that do not contribute to this end, such as rituals, music, extravagant entertainment (Mo Zi was for economical rule), were to be abandoned.  For this reason, Mo Zi was sometimes associated with pragmatism/utilitarianism.  Mo Zi, together with a number of others, constituted a strong counter-current to Confucianism, only to be partially absorbed into mainstream Confucian learning eventually.  For centuries, the teachings of Mo Zi were on the periphery while Confucian learning constituted mainstream Chinese learning. 

Confucius and Mo Zi resembled each other in some ways, such as in their adherence to the ideas of ren/jen (humaneness) and yi (righteousness), although their interpretations of the two concepts differed.  Both Confucius and Mozi also believed in an ethical heaven and a practical attitude toward life.  But beyond these similarities, differences abounded.  For Confucius, social strength and prosperity lay in the observance of ancient rituals and the practice of humaneness.  For Mozi, they would be the result of capable administrators bent on practical administration, universal love and peace.  This difference may originate from their different attitudes toward human nature.  While Confucius thought humans had an ethical nature, for Mozi he was far less sure about that.

2. Different definitions of leadership:

Different definitions of leadership: for Confucius, it was being moral and following the tradition; for Mo Zi, it was dedication to his job, which primarily was to fill the treasury, leading to grace from heaven and the state would become strong and prosperous (66-67).  His focus is not on ruler/minister relationship, on ministers obeying rulers, but on rulers wisely employ capable ministers.  The right policies for rulers was to use these worthy ministers properly, through exalting their names and giving them generous pay.  Try to reconcile Mo Zi's views on the ruler here with Fung's interpretation of Mo Zi that rulers needed to be autocratic.

3. Different definitions of human nature.

Mo Zi's view of human nature: (72-73) the way he talked about human beings knowing everything, but just not correcting their mistakes, seems to support the argument that he does not believe in an ethical human nature.  The reason why he brings people to do what heaven desires is to avoid calamity.  Heaven, here, is moral.  Even the Son of Heaven (the emperor, who often called himself son of heaven) could not decide what was right and wrong, and heaven alone could do it. 

For Mo Zi, heaven exists, and has its will (75), which was often ethical.  The rule of its operation was not necessarily humaneness, but heaven favored a strong state.  His heaven  was less moralistic or ethical than that of Confucius.  Here, try to link Mo Zi's different arguments on universal love, humaneness, and righteousness as individual endeavors, with his de-emphasis on the humaneness of heaven, and  ethical human nature, to reconstruct a more coherent picture of Mo Zi.

5. Enlightened self-interest versus focus on self-cultivation. 

To Mozi, peace was central to the basic government policies of a state, and peace could be achieved through every one's following enlightened self-interest: treating other states as one did one's own.  Thus the way to resolve warfare was to love others  as one would love one's own state (70-72) To him, universal love leads to mutual benefit, just as a filial son would love and honor others' parents so that the latter's sons would honor and love his parents.  Here, Mozi does not think people are altruistic, but think people do so out of enlightened self-interest. The late professor Benjamin Schwartz gives an interesting explanation of how to reconcile Mo Zi's view that universal love is the solution to social problems, and that of the evil nature of humans. Because Mozi did not believe in innate ethical nature, hence self-cultivation would not do much good in achieving the ideal sociopolitical order. Mo Zi exhorted people to direct their efforts outward, and to do good instead of being good. Schwartz concludes that "Mo-Tzu here seems to share the pathos of both the modern radical and the modern technocrat." Schwartz also believes that Mozi emphasized universal love because he did not believe each individual would carry out love to his neighbor and family and then extend it to the state. Therefore universal love had to come first. (but then he did not explain this leap; nor did he quote the enlightened self interest as the basis of universal love, e.g. Mozi, de Bary, p.72) Love as such was not so much an emotion as an abiding moral disposition, with the enforcer of universal love being the ruler because rulers had charismatic power. (Schwartz, The World of Thought in Ancient China (Harvard, 1985), 146-147, 149-150)

Mozi's belief in universal love as a result of enlightened self interest contrasted with Confucius's goal of social stability and harmony achieved through social hierarchy, and proper self-cultivation on the part of each individual. 

6. The paradox of Mozi's criticism of Confucian affront of social hierarchy.

The greatest paradox perhaps comes in the form of Mozi's criticism of Confucius (75-76): charging the latter with no proper recognition of social hierarchy, with mourning of wife/son the same length as father/mother; and with the belief in fate and thus trusting little to human initiatives.  If anything, Confucius is most remembered for the social hierarchy it created, and the emphasis on human agency (e.g. human individual initiative in social prosperity).  Such criticism, however, directs us to the fact that a system of thought is very complex.  Despite that Confucians emphasized social hierarchy, certain aspects of Confucian teachings perhaps did not quite achieve that goal; and despite Mozi's teachings emphasized less ritual and hierarchy, obviously it was not against hierarchy!