Class #11

The Structure of Mohist Doctrine

Reading:  in Burton Watson,  Mozi: Basic Writings:
    1.   "Identifying With One's Superior," pp. 35-40
    2.  "The Will of Heaven," pp. 81-96
    3.  "Explaining Ghosts,"
pp. 97-112

Lecture PowerPoint Deck

In today's class, we will focus most directly on the chapters called "Identifying With One's Superior" and "The Will of Heaven," discussing "Explaining Ghosts" more tangentially.  In analyzing these chapters, we will refer to the criteria of argument that the Mozi lays out in its "Anti-Fatalism" chapter, as follows:

An argument must be judged on the basis of three tests. What are the three tests? --
        its origins;
        its confirmability;
        its practical applicability.
How do we judge it on the basis of origins? We do so by comparing the theory with the deeds of the sage kings of antiquity.
How do we judge its confirmability? We judge it on the basis of what ordinary people attest to on the basis of their eyes and ears.
How do we judge its practical applicability? We judge it by observing whether it would benefit the state and the people when put into practice.

"Identifying" and "Will of Heaven," taken together, construct a portrait of political and moral order that is both religious and a direct expression of the fundamental Mohist doctrine of universality. "The Will of Heaven" presents us with a metaphysical ground for Mohist standards, by linking them to Tian. In class, our principal goal will be to unpack the chapter, and note how the Mohist model compares to the doctrine of Tian which we examined in the Analects. In both texts, Tian serves as a legitimizing anchor for core doctrinal assertions that require strong support to gain a first level of acceptance, but the way Tian works for the two schools is quite different. In our analysis, we will use the chart represented by the online table: Contrasts in Views of Tian, Analects & Mozi, and you should review this table as part of your reading of the "Will of Heaven" chapter.

The Mozi is famous for its wide variety of specific doctrines that flow from the school's fundamental maxim of the primacy of utilitarian choice-making.  These doctrines were listed Monday on the board in class as follows:

Universal Love*     
Against Warfare              direct corollaries

Appointing Worthy  
Spiritualism*                     indirect corollaries

Righteous Will of Heaven   — legitimizing theories
Honoring Superiors 

Anti-Confucianism*             special corollary

Of these, the ones marked * are most directly anti-Confucian in nature, and we will, from time to time, raise the issues touched on in those chapters in connection with Confucian responses to Mohism.  The chapter "Explaining Ghosts," which sets forth Mohism's spiritualist doctrine, is among the chapters most explicitly directed against Confucian positions.

Among the chapters we will not discuss in class are "Moderation in Funerals," which puts forward the utilitarian value of thrift by attacking the Confucian tradition of lavish funerals, demonstrating filial intent, and "Anti-Fatalism," which charges Confucians with propagating a cynically fatalistic portrait of the world, a charge we will examine when we discuss the Mencius. We have already read "Universal Love," which is, in large part, an attack on Confucian filiality.