Mohism or Moism (Chinese: 墨家; pinyin: Mòjiā; literally: "School
of Mo") was an ancient
Chinese philosophy of logic, rational thought
and science developed by the academic scholars who studied under the
ancient Chinese philosopher
Mozi (c. 470 BC – c. 391 BC) and
embodied in an eponymous book: the Mozi. It evolved at about the same
time as Confucianism,
Taoism and Legalism, and was one of the four
main philosophic schools from around 770–221 BC (during the Spring
and Autumn and Warring States periods). During that time,
seen as a major rival to Confucianism. The administrative thought of
Mohism was absorbed by Chinese Legalism and its books were later
merged into the Taoist canon, all but disappearing as an independent
school of thought.
1.1 Caring and impartiality
1.2 State consequentialism
1.4 Meritocratic government
1.5 Supernatural forces
1.6 Against fatalism
1.7 Against ostentation
2 The Logicians
4 Siege engineers
6 Modern perspectives
7 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
Mohism is best known for the concepts of "impartial care" (Chinese:
兼愛; pinyin: jiān ài; literally: "inclusive love/care"). This is
often translated and popularized as "Universal Love", which is
Mozi believed that the essential problem of human ethics
was an excess of partiality in compassion, not a deficit in compassion
as such. His aim was to re-evaluate behaviour, not emotions or
The Mohists formed a highly structured political organization that
tried to realize the ideas they preached, the writings of Mozi. Like
Confucians, they hired out their services not only for gain, but also
in order to realize their own ethical ideals. 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 craft making). Within the unit, a frugal and ascetic
lifestyle was enforced. Each juzi would appoint his own successor.
Mohists developed the sciences of fortification[clarification needed]
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 advisers to the
state. In this way, they were similar to the other wandering
philosophers and knights-errant of the period.
Caring and impartiality
Mohism promotes a philosophy of impartial caring; that is, a person
should care equally for all other individuals, regardless of their
actual relationship to him or her. The expression of this
indiscriminate caring is what makes man a righteous being in Mohist
thought. This advocacy of impartiality was a target of attack by the
other Chinese philosophical 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.
Mozi is known for his insistence that all people are equally deserving
of receiving material benefit and being protected from physical harm.
In Mohism, morality is defined not by tradition and ritual, but rather
by a constant moral guide that parallels utilitarianism. Tradition
varies from culture to culture, and human beings need an
extra-traditional guide to identify which traditions are morally
acceptable. The moral guide must then promote and encourage social
behaviours that maximize the general utility of all the people in that
Main article: Mohist consequentialism
It is the business of the benevolent man to seek to promote what is
beneficial to the world and to eliminate what is harmful, and to
provide a model for the world. What benefits he will carry out; what
does not benefit men he will leave alone.
Unlike hedonistic utilitarianism, which views pleasure as a moral
good, "the basic goods in Mohist consequentialist thinking are...
order, material wealth, and increase in population". During Mozi's
era, war and famines were common, and population growth was seen as a
moral necessity for a harmonious society. The "material wealth" of
Mohist consequentialism refers to basic needs like shelter and
clothing. Stanford sinologist David Shepherd Nivison, in The
Cambridge History of Ancient China, writes that the moral goods of
Mohism "are interrelated: more basic wealth, then more reproduction;
more people, then more production and wealth... if people have plenty,
they would be good, filial, kind, and so on unproblematically". In
contrast to Bentham's views, state consequentialism is not utilitarian
because it is not hedonistic. The importance of outcomes that are good
for the state outweigh the importance of individual pleasure and pain.
Mozi posited that, when society functions as an organized organism,
the wastes and inefficiencies found in the natural state (without
organization) are reduced. He believed that conflicts are born from
the absence of moral uniformity found in human cultures in the natural
state, i.e. the absence of the definition of what is right (是 shì)
and what is wrong (非 fēi). According to Mozi, 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.
Assuming that the leaders in the social hierarchy are perfectly
conformed to the ruler, who is perfectly submissive to Heaven,
conformity in speech and behaviour is expected of all people. There is
no freedom of speech[when defined as?] in this model. However, the
potentially repressive element is countered by compulsory
communication between the subjects and their leaders. Subjects are
required to report all things good or bad to their rulers.
opposed to any form of aggression, especially war between states. It
is, however, permissible for a state to use force in legitimate
Main article: Meritocracy
Mozi believed that the norm of handing out important government
responsibilities to one's relatives regardless of capabilities, as
opposed to those who were best equipped to handle these
responsibilities, restricted social mobility.
Mozi taught that as long
as a person was qualified for a task, he should keep his position,
regardless of blood relations. If an officer were incapable, even if
he were a close relative of the ruler, he ought to be demoted, even if
it meant poverty.
A ruler should be in close proximity to talented people, treasuring
talents and seeking their counsel frequently. Without discovering and
understanding talents within the country, the country will be
destroyed. History unfortunately saw many people who were murdered,
not because of their frailties, but rather because of their strengths.
A good bow is difficult to pull, but it shoots high. A good horse is
difficult to ride, but it can carry weight and travel far. Talented
people are difficult to manage, but they can bring respect to their
Law and order was an important aspect of Mozi's philosophy. He
compared the carpenter, who uses standard tools to do his work, with
the ruler, who might not have any standards by which to rule at all.
The carpenter is always better off when depending on his standard
tools, rather than on his emotions. Ironically, as his decisions
affect the fate of an entire nation, it is even more important that a
ruler maintains a set of standards, and yet he has none. These
standards cannot originate from man, since no man is perfect; the only
standards that a ruler uses have to originate from Heaven, since only
Heaven is perfect. That law of Heaven is Love.
In a perfect governmental structure where the ruler loves all people
benevolently, and officials are selected according to meritocracy, the
people should have unity in belief and in speech. His original purpose
in this teaching was to unite people and avoid sectarianism. However,
in a situation of corruption and tyranny, this teaching might be
misused as a tool for oppression.
Should the ruler be unrighteous, seven disasters would result for that
nation. These seven disasters are:
Neglect of the country's defense, yet there is much lavished on the
When pressured by foreigners, neighbouring countries are not willing
The people are engaged in unconstructive work while useless fools are
Law and regulations became too heavy such that there is repressive
fear and people only look after their own good.
The ruler lives in a mistaken illusion of his own ability and his
Trusted people are not loyal while loyal people are not trusted.
Lack of food. Ministers are not able to carry out their work.
Punishment fails to bring fear and reward fails to bring happiness.
A country facing these seven disasters will be destroyed easily by the
Rather than standards of national wealth which are rationalized in
terms of first-world development, industrialization, capital and
assets appreciation, trade surplus or deficit; the measure of a
country's wealth in
Mohism is a matter of sufficient provision and a
large population. Thriftiness is believed to be key to this end. With
contentment with that which suffices, men will be free from excessive
labour, long-term war and poverty from income gap disparity. This will
enable birth rate to increase.
Mozi also encourages early marriage.
Rulers of the period often ritually assigned punishments and rewards
to their subjects in spiritually important places to garner the
attention of these spirits and ensure that justice was done. The
respect of these spirits was deemed so important that prehistoric
Chinese ancestors had left their instructions on bamboo, plates and
stones to ensure the continual obedience of their future descendants
to the dictates of heaven. In Mozi's teachings, sacrifices of bulls
and rams were mentioned during appointed times during the spring and
autumn seasons. Spirits were described to be the preexisting primal
spirits of nature, or the souls of humans who had died.
The Mohists polemicized against elaborate funeral ceremonies and other
wasteful rituals, and called for austerity in life and in governance,
but did not deem spiritual sacrifices wasteful. Using historical
records, Mohists argued that the spirits of innocent men wrongfully
murdered had appeared before to enact their vengeance. Spirits had
also been recorded to have appeared to carry out other acts of
justice. Mohists believed in heaven as a divine force (天 Tian), the
celestial bureaucracy and spirits which knew about the immoral acts of
man and punished them, encouraging moral righteousness, and were wary
of some of the more atheistic thinkers of the time, such as Han Fei.
Due to the vague nature of the records, there is a possibility that
the Mohist scribes themselves may not have been clear about this
Mozi disagrees with the fatalistic mindset of people, accusing the
mindset of bringing about poverty and suffering. To argue against this
Mozi used three criteria (San Biao) to assess the
correctness of views. These were:
Assessing them based on history
Assessing them based on the experiences of common, average people
Assessing their usefulness by applying them in law or politics
In summary, fatalism, the belief that all outcomes are predestined or
fated to occur, is an irresponsible belief espoused by those who
refuse to acknowledge that their own sinfulness has caused the
hardships of their lives. Prosperity or poverty are directly
correlated with either virtue or sinfulness, respectively; not fate.
Mozi calls fatalism a heresy which needs to be destroyed.
By the time of Mozi, Chinese rulers and the wealthier citizens already
had the practice of extravagant burial rituals. Much wealth was buried
with the dead, and ritualistic mourning could be as extreme as walking
on a stick hunchback for three years in a posture of mourning. During
such lengthy funerals, people are not able to attend to agriculture or
care for their families, leading to poverty.
Mozi spoke against such
long and lavish funerals and also argued that this would even create
resentment among the living.
Mozi views aesthetics as nearly useless. Unlike Confucius, he holds a
distinctive repulsion to any development in ritual music and the fine
Mozi takes some whole chapters named "Against Music" (非樂) to
discuss this. Though he mentions that he does enjoy and recognize what
is pleasant, he sees them of no utilization in terms of governing, or
of the benefit of common people. Instead, since development of music
involves man's power, it reduces production of food; furthermore,
appreciation of music results in less time for administrative works.
This overdevelopment eventually results in shortage of food, as well
as anarchy. This is because manpower will be diverted from agriculture
and other fundamental works towards ostentations. Civilians will
eventually imitate the ruler's lusts, making the situation worse. Mozi
probably advocated this idea in response to the fact that during the
Warring States period, the Zhou king and the aristocrats spent
countless time in the development of delicate music while ordinary
peasants could hardly meet their subsistence needs. To Mozi, bare
necessities are sufficient; resources should be directed to benefit
One of the schools of
Mohism that has received some attention is the
Logicians school, which was interested in resolving logical puzzles.
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[who?] believe that recognizing the Logicians as
proto-scientists reveals too much of a modern bias.
The Mohist canon of the Mo Jing described various aspects of many
fields associated with physical science, and provided a small wealth
of information on mathematics as well. It provided an 'atomic'
definition of the geometric point, stating that a line is separated
into parts, and the part which has no remaining parts (i.e. cannot be
divided into smaller parts) and thus the extreme end of a line is a
point. Much like Euclid's first and third definitions and Plato's
'beginning of a line', the Mo Jing stated that "a point may stand at
the end (of a line) or at its beginning like a head-presentation in
childbirth. (As to its invisibility) there is nothing similar to
it." Similar to the atomists of Democritus, the Mo Jing stated that
a point is the smallest unit, and cannot be cut in half, since
'nothing' cannot be halved. It stated that two lines of equal
length will always finish at the same place, while providing
definitions for the comparison of lengths and for parallels, along
with principles of space and bounded space. It also described the
fact that planes without the quality of thickness cannot be piled up
since they cannot mutually touch. The book provided definitions for
circumference, diameter, and radius, along with the definition of
One consequence of Mohist understanding of mathematics and the
physical sciences, combined with their pacifist philosophy and skills
as artisans, was that they became the pre-eminent siege engineers
during the period prior to the Qin unification of China, capable of
both reducing defenses and holding cities. They believed in aiding the
defensive warfare of smaller Chinese states against the hostile
offensive warfare of larger domineering states.
The Mohist beliefs were outside the mainstream of Chinese thought and
culture, but they were tolerated and employed for their utility as
siege engineers. They were renowned in the smaller states (and the
enemies of the larger states) for the inventions of siege machinery to
scale or destroy walls. These included traction trebuchet catapults,
eight-foot-high ballistas, a wheeled siege ramp with grappling hooks
known as the Cloud Bridge (the protractable, folded ramp slinging
forward by means of a counterweight with rope and pulley), and wheeled
'hook-carts' used to latch large iron hooks onto the tops of walls to
pull them down.
This component of
Mohism is dramatized in the story of Gongshu,
recorded in the Mohist canon.
Mozi travels 10 days and nights when he
hears that Gongshu Pan has built machines for the king of Chu to use
in an invasion of the smaller state of Song. Upon arriving in Chu,
Mozi makes a wall out of his belt and sticks to represent machines,
and shows Gongshu Pan that he can defend Song against any offensive
strategy Chu might use.
Mozi then announces that three hundred of his
disciples are already on the walls of Song, ready to defend against
Chu. The king cancels the invasion.
With the unification of China under the Qin, China was no longer
divided into various states constantly fighting each other: where
previously the Mohists proved to be an asset when putting a city under
siege, or defending a city against an external threat, without wars,
and in particular siege wars, there was no more need for their skills.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy suggests, in addition to the
decline of siege warfare, "... the major factor is probably that as a
social and philosophical movement,
Mohism gradually collapsed into
irrelevance. By the middle of the former Han dynasty, the more
appealing aspects of Mohist thought were all shared with rival
Their core ethical doctrines had largely been absorbed into
Confucianism, though in a modified and unsystematic form. Key features
of their political philosophy were probably shared with most other
political thinkers, and their trademark opposition to warfare had been
rendered effectively redundant by unification. The philosophy of
language, epistemology, metaphysics, and science of the later Mohist
Canons were recorded in difficult, dense texts that would have been
nearly unintelligible to most readers (and that in any case quickly
became corrupt). What remained as distinctively Mohist was a package
of harsh, unappealing economic and cultural views, such as their
obsession with parsimony and their rejection of music and ritual.
Compared with the classical learning and rituals of the Confucians,
the speculative metaphysics of Yin-Yang thinkers, and the romantic
nature mysticism and literary sophistication of the Daoists, Mohism
offered little to attract adherents, especially politically powerful
Jin Guantao, a professor of the Institute of Chinese Studies at the
Chinese University of Hong Kong, Fan Hongye, a research fellow with
the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of
Science Policy and
Managerial Science, and Liu Qingfeng, a professor of the Institute of
Chinese Culture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, have argued
that without the influence of proto-scientific precepts in the ancient
philosophy of Mohism, Chinese science lacked a definitive
From the middle and late
Eastern Han to the early Wei and Jin
dynasties, the net growth of ancient Chinese science and technology
experienced a peak (second only to that of the Northern Song
dynasty)... Han studies of the
Confucian classics, which for a long
time had hindered the socialization of science, were declining. If
Mohism, rich in scientific thought, had rapidly grown and
strengthened, the situation might have been very favorable to the
development of a scientific structure. However, this did not happen
because the seeds of the primitive structure of science were never
formed. During the late Eastern Han, disastrous upheavals again
occurred in the process of social transformation, leading to the
greatest social disorder in Chinese history. One can imagine the
effect of this calamity on science.
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Full text of the Mozi – Chinese Text Project
Mohism at Curlie (based on DMOZ)
Philosophy of psychiatry
Philosophy of perception
Space and time
Schools of thought
Acintya bheda abheda
Foundationalism / Coherentism
Internalism and Externalism
Ordinary language philosophy
Rationalism / Reasonism
Philosophy by region
Women in philosophy
Schools of Thought
Chinese Marxist Philosophy
School of Diplomacy
School of Names
School of Naturalists
See also: Hundred Schools of Thought
Jiān ài: Universal Love
Lĭ: Ritual propriety
Mìng: Mandate or fate
Tiān: Divine force
Wú wéi: Nonaction
Xiào: Filial piety
Xin: Disposition or intuition
Xing: Human nature
Yīnyáng: Interdependent opposites
Zhèngmíng: Rectification of names
Zhì: Intention or will; Wisdom or cleverness
Zìrán: Self-so or natural
Ethics (Role ethics
Social and political philosophy
Feminist political theory
Mandate of Heaven
Philosophy and economics
Philosophy of education
Philosophy of history
Philosophy of love
Philosophy of sex
Philosophy of social science