Mozi was an ancient Chinese philosopher born in 470 BC, a contemporary of Confucius, and the founder of Mohism. Along with his followers, he would strongly oppose Confucianism, which placed values on the exact things which Mozi disliked. Mozi’s philosophy was a philosophy of the common man. He believed that ceremonies, rituals and other excesses of the elite were a waste of money and other valuable resources which would be better used for things like clothing and shelter. For the same reason, Mozi was strongly against war. In contrast to the Confucian belief that one should love their parents and those close to him more than others, Mozi put forth his doctrine of Universal Love. Mozi believed that the Way of Heaven was to do what is most beneficial.
Like Confucius, Mozi came from a humble upbringing. Also like Confucius, he would travel around China giving rulers advice. Because of his belief in the wastefulness of war, he is said to have travelled for 10 days to try and stop a ruler from beginning a campaign. Also like Confucius, Mozi would develop followers. They differed in that while Confucius elevated the values of elite society, such as ritual and filial piety (respect for one’s parents and ancestors), Mozi identified with the working man, who he believed deserved to be fed and sheltered more than kings and princes deserved to live luxuriously. For this reason, he would condemn the excesses of musical productions and elaborate funeral rituals.
Mozi was also a skilled carpenter and an expert in fortification (protecting a city from siege), and his practicality characterizes his philosophy. He believed in utilitarianism, the belief that what’s most important is maximizing what is good. Because in his time Chinese villages weren’t heavily populated, he saw the good as making sure that everyone had the basic necessities of life so that they would be able to live and reproduce. Mozi believed that when the common person’s basic needs are met, they will act properly. Mozi says, “What is the purpose of houses? It is to protect us from the wind and cold of winter, the heat and rain of summer, and to keep out robbers and thieves. Once these ends have been secured, that is all. Whatever does not contribute to these ends should be eliminated.”
In contrast to Confucius’ belief that one should love one’s parents and those who are close to oneself more than others, Mozi put forth a doctrine of Universal Love, also known as impartial concern. The idea is that society’s problems result from people caring more about some people than others. He explains, “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.” Mozi believes these problems would not exist if everyone cared for everyone else equally.
He would also attack the notion of fatalism. He says, “Fatalists are not men of humanity.” He believes that people must act according the will of Heaven, and that if they don’t, they will be punished. For example, he saw hurricanes as being a punishment from Heaven in the same way that the ancient Greeks believed that natural disasters were the result of the Olympic Gods being upset with people. Mozi also encouraged making sacrifices to the spirits for practical reasons, seeing it as a way for people to come together and bond.
Mozi and his followers opposed Confucianism’s embracement of elite values such as ceremony, ritual, and the special relationship one has with one’s family. In contrast, Mozi’s philosophy was concerned with the common person. He emphasized looking at things in terms of their practical worth, most important, whether they lead to people’s basic necessities being met and the will of Heaven being satisfied. As such, he was particularly critical of lavish expenses. He would be criticized by the Daoist philosopher and mystic Zhuangzi in his parable “the usefulness of the useless.” While Mohism flourished in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, it would soon die out as Chinese rulers embraced Confucianism. In recent times, Mozi’s thought has been of interest to Chinese Communists as well as those interested in understanding this critical period of time in Chinese history, known as the Hundred Schools of Thought.