Friday, November 06, 2009

Pragmatic Love
China c. 400 B.C.E.

In the Period of the Warring states in China, 772-221 B.C.E., there flourished in China a veritable explosion of Chinese Philosophy and letters. Including such Philosophies / Religions as Confucianism and Taoism, both of which have had an enormous impact on the west.1

Those however were just the two most successful schools of philosophy that arose during this time period. Another school that flourished during this time period was founded by a man called Mozi, (also Mo Tzu). He was born c. 470 B.C.E. and died c. 390 B.C.E. Mozi was born an artisan although he apparently served for a time as a Minister in the Court of the state of Song. He apparently was an extremely capable carpenter and loved to build mechanical devices, such as purely amusing gadgets and siege devices. He set up a school were he taught disciples things which he thought would aid them in becoming government officials. Mozi was also apparently much sought for his advice regarding fortifications and siege craft.2

We know that Mozi was greatly admired during his life time for his concern for people’s well being and for his earnest attempts to make peace between the warring Chinese states of his time. His belief in peace and his attempts to procure for others its blessings, as led many to call him a pacifist. This is an error as indicated by his teaching the arts of fortification and defence. Mozi had no trouble with the idea of defending oneself even with violence, and thought that refusing to defend oneself from unjust attack was simply foolish. Mozi’s philosophy was in many ways highly pragmatic. Despite that some of the ideas he had seemed very idealistic he always tried to ground them firmly in reality and utilitarian usefulness.

For example Mozi’s definition of the superior man is:

The way of the superior man makes the individual incorruptible in poverty and righteous when wealthy; it makes him love the living and mourn the dead. These four qualities of conduct cannot be hypocritically embodied in one's personality. There is nothing in his mind that goes beyond love; there is nothing in his behaviour that goes beyond respectfulness, and there is nothing from his mouth that goes beyond gentility. When one pursues such a way until it pervades his four limbs and permeates his flesh and skin, and until he becomes white-haired and bald-headed without ceasing, one is truly a sage.3

The above shows a combination of belief in both right action and right attitude. That both go together.

Mozi is best known for his belief in Universal Love. For Example:

Suppose everybody in the world loves universally, loving others as one's self. Will there yet be any unfilial individual? When every one regards his father, elder brother, and emperor as himself, whereto can he direct any unfilial feeling? Will there still be any unaffectionate individual? When every one regards his younger brother, son, and minister as himself, whereto can he direct any disaffection? Therefore there will not be any unfilial feeling or disaffection. Will there then be any thieves and robbers? When every one regards other families as his own family, who will steal? When every one regards other persons as his own person, who will rob? Therefore there will not be any thieves or robbers. Will there be mutual disturbance among the houses of the ministers and invasion among the states of the feudal lords? When every one regards the houses of others as one's own, who will be disturbing? When every one regards the states of others as one's own, who will invade? Therefore there will be neither disturbances among the houses of the ministers nor invasion among the states of the feudal lords.4

Thus Mozi argues for Universal Love on the grounds that such love puts an end to violence and enmity. In other words Universal Love is practical and utilitarian. The argument of the Confucians that Filial Love is especially praiseworthy is rejected on the grounds that such graduations of Love encourage enmity and lead to strife while Universal Love would lead to harmony. So Mozi says:

So, when there is universal love in the world it will be orderly, and when there is mutual hate in the world it will be disorderly.5

Further Mozi argues:

Now that there is disapproval, how can we have the condition altered? Mozi said it is to be altered by the way of universal love and mutual aid. But what is the way of universal love and mutual aid? Mozi said: It is to regard the state of others as one's own, the houses of others as one's own, the persons of others as one's self. When feudal lords love one another there will be no more war; when heads of houses love one another there will be no more mutual usurpation; when individuals love one another there will be no more mutual injury.6

Further Universal Love is very pragmatic for reasons of self preservation:

Whoever loves others is loved by others; whoever benefits others is benefited by others; whoever hates others is hated by others; whoever injures others is injured by others.7

Other benefits result from Universal Love:

Thus the old and those who have neither wife nor children will have the support and supply to spend their old age with, and the young and weak and orphans will have the care and admonition to grow up in. When universal love is adopted as the standard, then such are the consequent benefits. It is incomprehensible, then, why people should object to universal love when they hear it.8

Regarding Universal Love’s utilitarian aspects Mozi says:

Yet the objection is not all exhausted. It is asked, "It may be a good thing, but can it be of any use?" Mozi replied: If it were not useful then even I would disapprove of it.9

Mozi says in conclusion that:

…universal love is really the way of the sage-kings. It is what gives peace to the rulers and sustenance to the people. The gentleman would do well to understand and practise universal love; then he would be gracious as a ruler, loyal as a minister, affectionate as a father, filial as a son, courteous as an elder brother, and respectful as a younger brother. So, if the gentleman desires to be a gracious ruler, a loyal minister, an affectionate father, a filial son, a courteous elder brother, and a respectful younger brother, universal love must be practised. It is the way of the sage-kings and the great blessing of the people.10

Mozi was quite categorical in his condemnation of offensive war he compares it to stealing from another man and assault but says that although we condemn such acts:

…when it comes to the great attack of states, they do not know that they should condemn it. On the contrary, they applaud it, calling it righteous. Can this be said to be knowing the difference between righteousness and unrighteousness?11

Later Mozi states that is it not strange that the murder of one man is condemned as wicked but the murder of thousands is applauded. To Mozi that indicates the confused and absurd state of morals in the society of his days.12

Further offensive war is not pragmatic:

But men of Heaven are murdered, spirits are deprived of their sacrifices, the earlier kings are neglected, the multitude are tortured and the people are scattered; it is then not a blessing to the spirits in the middle. Is it intended to bless the people? But the blessing of the people by killing them off must be very meagre. And when we calculate the expense, which is the root of the calamities to living, we find the property of innumerable people is exhausted. It is, then, not a blessing to the people below either.13

In keeping with Mozi’s pragmatism he advocated a rational attitude towards expenditure and needs and condemned all excess.

Mozi said: Just so that on the side it can keep off the wind and the cold, on top it can keep off the snow, frost, rain, and dew, within it is clean enough for sacrificial purposes, and that the partition in the palace is high enough to separate the men from the women. What causes extra expenditure but does not add any benefit to the people, the sage-kings will not undertake.14

Needs must be tailored to actual moderate needs and not excessive extravagance, and so must the expenditures of the state. Taxes must be low and consumption moderate to satisfy actual not extravagant needs. Production must be only up to satisfy those needs and nor go into over production.

Again Mozi’s philosophy is pragmatic, commonsensical and geared to minimizing conflict and disharmony by what amounts to pragmatic self interest.

Mozi attacks the idea that elaborate funerals and extended mourning are good and virtuous He says:

…if in adopting the doctrine and practising the principle, elaborate funeral and extended mourning really cannot enrich the poor, increase the few, remove danger and regulate disorder, they are not magnanimous, righteous, and the duty of the filial son. Those who are to give counsel cannot but discourage it. Now, (we have seen) that to seek to enrich a country thereby brings about poverty; to seek to increase the people thereby results in a decrease; and to seek to regulate government thereby begets disorder. To seek to prevent the large states from attacking the small ones by this way is impossible on the one hand, and, on the other, to seek to procure blessing from God and the spirits through it only brings calamity. When we look up and examine the ways of Yao, Shun, Yu, Tang, Wen, and Wu, we find it is diametrically opposed to (these). But when we look down and examine the regimes of Jie, Zhou, You, and Li, we find it agrees with these like two parts of a tally. So, judging from these, elaborate funeral and extended mourning are not the way of the sage-kings.15

It must be emphasized that in attacking elaborate funerals and extended periods of mourning Mozi was attacking deeply ingrained cultural rules concerning proper filial respect for one’s ancestors and relatives. As per usual Mozi’s reasons for urging simplicity and moderation of expenditures in funerals were pragmatic. Mozi was concerned that such things as extended periods of mourning and high funeral expenditure brought little or no benefit to the living.

Mozi believed that Heaven consecrates and determines the boundaries of a proper human life. And that:

…this does not exhaust my reasons whereby I know Heaven loves man dearly. It is said the murder of an innocent individual will call down a calamity. Who is the innocent? Man is. From whom is the visitation? From Heaven. If Heaven does not love the people dearly, why should Heaven send down a visitation upon the man who murders the innocent? Thus I know Heaven loves man dearly.16

Thus to Mozi even Heaven ordains his ideal of pragmatic love. And from this love Heaven punishes those guilty of murdering the innocent. For:

Be sure to do what Heaven desires and avoid what Heaven abominates. Now, what does Heaven desire and what does Heaven abominate? Heaven desires righteousness and abominates unrighteousness. How do we know this? Because righteousness is the standard. How do we know righteousness is the standard? Because with righteousness the world will be orderly; without it the world will be disorderly. So, I know righteousness is the standard.17

Thus Mozi declaims like a Hebrew Prophet. However notice the pragmatic calculus in the equation, the price of wicked behaviour is disorder the benefit of good behaviour is order. Thus righteous behaviour is inherently self serving and useful to oneself.

Further in his pragmatism Mozi goes very far indeed:

The policy of the magnanimous will pursue what procures benefits of the world and destroy its calamities. If anything, when established as a law, is beneficial to the people it will be done; if not, it will not be done. Moreover, the magnanimous in their care for the world do not think of doing those things which delight the eyes, please the ears, gratify the taste, and ease the body. When these deprive the people of their means of clothing and food, the magnanimous would not undertake them. So the reason why Mozi condemns music is not because that the sounds of the big bell, the sounding drum, the qin and the se and the yu and the sheng are not pleasant, that the carvings and ornaments are not delightful, that the fried and the broiled meats of the grass-fed and the grain-fed animals are not gratifying, or that the high towers, grand harbours, and quiet villas are not comfortable. Although the body knows they are comfortable, the mouth knows they are gratifying, the eyes know they are delightful, and the ears know they are pleasing, yet they are found not to be in accordance with the deeds of the sage-kings of antiquity and not to contribute to the benefits of the people at present. And so Mozi proclaims: To have music is wrong.18

Thus so long as injustice exists in the world music etc., is excessive and must be condemned, because those excesses are impediments to satisfying the drive for justice. This may be highly idealistic but it is also more than touched with a little inhumanity for doe not these pleasures aid in making life more endurable?

Mozi also accepted the idea that the spirits of the dead influenced the lives of the living, but he firmly rejected any doctrine of Fatalism because of its consequences:

If the doctrine of the fatalist were put to practice, the superiors would not attend to government and the subordinates would not attend to work. If the superior does not attend to government, jurisdiction and administration will be in chaos. If the subordinates do not attend to work, wealth will not be sufficient. Then, there will not be wherewith to provide for the cakes and wine to worship and do sacrifice to God, ghosts and spirits above, and there will not be wherewith to tranquillize the virtuous of the world below; there will not be wherewith to entertain the noble guests from without, and there will not be wherewith to feed the hungry, clothe the cold, and care for the aged and weak within. Therefore fatalism is not helpful to Heaven above, nor to the spirits in the middle sphere, nor to man below. The eccentric belief in this doctrine is responsible for pernicious ideas and is the way of the wicked.19

Again the idea that the way to judge the effect or even truth of some idea is its effects on people. Fatalism has disastrous effects on how people behave and so must be rejected.

Mozi rejected Confucianism mainly on grounds of it upholding contradictory doctrines and practices that are not conducive to proper conduct along with being absurd and tending towards extravagance and waste. For example:

Again, the Confucianist says: "The superior man conforms to the old but does not make innovations." We answer him: In antiquity Yi invented the bow, Yu invented armour, Xi Zhong invented vehicles, and Qiao Cui invented boats. Would he say, the tanners, armourers, and carpenters of to-day are all superior men, whereas Yi, Yu, Xi Zhong, and Qiao Cui were all ordinary men? Moreover, some of those whom he follows must have been inventors. Then his instructions are after all the ways of the ordinary men.20

Mozi said concerning what is the most valuable thing in existence:

Hence we say, of the multitude of things none is more valuable than righteousness.21

Much of the rest of the work of Mozi consisted of practical military advice. Such as defence against attack by tunnels and ladders and the use of pennants as ways of giving orders, how to give orders etc. All illustrating that for all of Mozi’s hatred and dislike of war he was no pacifist and he absolutely believed in the right to self defence.22

Mozi when he was discovered by Western experts on China in the 19th century was thought to be a precursor of Jesus. This was largely because of his passages condemning war and expressing the desirability of Universal Love. Yet in some respects the similarity is just a similarity. For example Mozi, ever the pragmatist, did not condemn all war but only offensive war. Of course he realized if there were few offensive wars there would also be few defensive wars; in fact few wars of any kind. He himself was an expert on fortifications and defence and advised the rulers of his day on those things. Further he believed in the right to self defence. Also his doctrine of Universal Love was pragmatic and prudential. He worked out that since people benefited from it in terms of prosperity and peace then it was good he explicitly said if people did not benefit than it was of no use.

Mozi’s attacks on then traditional morality regarding both filial pity, treatment of the dead and music are in some respects so practical and pragmatic has to have a decidedly inhuman aspect. Sometimes moderation is in itself immoderate and extreme.

In the end the Chinese although largely ignoring him for over 2000 years did carefully preserve his writings and although perhaps if we heed his message that Universal Love is not simply an airy abstraction but a concrete prudential, pragmatic and in effect selfish practical attitude we might get a little closer to getting along with each other.

In closing I give an example of Mozi the practical man of action

Gong Shuzi confessed to Mozi: "Before I saw you, I wished to take Song. Since I have seen you, even if Song were offered me I would not take it if it is unrighteous." Mozi said: Before you saw me you wished to take Song. Since you have seen me even if Song were offered to you, you would not take it if it unrighteous. This means I have given you Song. If you engage yourself in doing righteousness, I shall yet give you the whole world.23
Not many men can claim to have saved who knows how many of his fellow human beings from pain, suffering and death. That is probably Mozi’s greatest monument.

Portrait of Mozi

1. McNeill, William H., Rise of the West, University of Chicago Press, London, 1963, pp. 228-232, 309-313. For a comparison and contrast between Chinese and Greek Schools of Philosophical inquiry see Lloyd, G. E. R., Ancient Worlds, Modern Reflections, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004.

2. Mozi, Wikipedia Here

3. Mozi, Mozi, Book I, Self Cultivation s. 3, Chinese Text Project at Here.

4. Mozi, Book 4, Universal Love I s. 4.

5. IBID, s.5.

6. IBID, Book 4, Universal Love II, s.3.

7. IBID. s. 4.

8. IBID, Book 4, Universal Love III, s. 3.

9. IBID, s. 4.

10. IBID, s.12.

11. IBID, Book 5, Condemnation of Offensive War I, s. 1.

12. IBID, s.2.

13. IBID, Condemnation of Offensive War III, s. 2.

14. IBID, Book 6, Economy of Expenditures II, s. 6.

15. IBID, Simplicity in Funerals III, s. 11.

16. IBID, Book 7, Will of Heaven II, s. 7.

17. IBID, Will of Heaven III, s. 2.

18. IBID, Book 8, Condemnation of Music I, s. 1.

19. IBID, Book 9, Anti-Fatalism I, s. 6.

20. IBID, Anti-Confucian II, s. 5.

21, IBID, Book 12, Esteem for Righteousness, s. 1.

22. IBID, Books 14 & 15.

23. IBID, Book 13, Lu’s Question, s. 22.

Pierre Cloutier

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