Mozi (c. 470–c. 391 BCE)

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(c. 470c. 391 BCE)

Mozi, also called Mo Di, was the founder of one of the classical systems of Chinese philosophy, Mohism, as well as of a religious community. After serving for a brief period as a civil servant, Mozi spent a number of years as a traveling counselor to feudal lords and princes, and, having never been given the opportunity to put his teachings into practice or the world in order, he had eventually to be contented with conducting a school and preparing his disciples for public office. He left a work consisting of seventy-one chapters, known as The Mozi. It is said that Mozi was at first a follower of Confucianism but later renounced it to found a system of thought of his own. He was critical of Confucianism for its emphasis on the codes of rituals and social elegance, which were to him burdensome and wasteful.

The rigoristic temperament of Mozi made him also a man who practiced what he preached. A chief concern for Mozi, for instance, was to reduce the recurrent military conflicts among the feudal states. There are records of his taking distant journeys to prevent the outbreak of impending wars. On one of his journeys, according to the record, he had to walk ten days and ten nights and tear off pieces of cloth from his garments to wrap up his sore feet.

A distinctive characteristic of Mozi's thought was his stress on methodology. He declared: "Some standard of judgment must be established. To make a proposition without regard for standard is similar to determining the directions of sunrise and sunset on a revolving potter's wheel." He attached great importance to the threefold test and the fourfold standard. The threefold test refers to the basis, the verifiability, and the applicability of a proposition. Explained in present-day language, this test is employed to examine a proposition for its compatibility with the best of the established conceptions, its consistency with experience, and its conduciveness to desirable ends when put into operation. The benefits resulting from the application of a proposition, the last part of the threefold test, are conceived in terms of the fourfold standard, namely, enrichment of the poor, increase of the population, removal of danger, and regulation of disorder. Mozi evidently would employ these tests and standards on all propositions without exception, and contemporary scholars have sometimes called him a pragmatist, and sometimes a utilitarian. There is a section of six chapters in The Mozi that has come to be spoken of as the section on Mohist logic. Most of the material contained therein has little utilitarian application, but it must have been written in Mozi's tradition, if not by his hand. This logical development is an outgrowth of Mozi's insistence on "standard of judgment" but is generally regarded as constituting a neo-Mohist movement.

A common problem that confronted all the thinkers of the classical age was how to bring order out of chaos. The system of feudalistic hierarchy instituted at the beginning of the Zhou dynasty had crumbled, the Period of Warring States (403222 BCE) was setting in, and the people were living in suffering and bewilderment. By Mozi's diagnosis, the chaotic condition was brought about by selfishness and partiality. And the cure? "Partiality should be replaced by universality." Universal love is the keystone of Mozi's teaching. Mozi was dissatisfied with Confucianism for its gradation in benevolence, and he exhorted everyone to regard the welfare of others as he regarded his own. He was convinced that the practice of universal love would bring peace to the world and happiness to man, and he took pains to demonstrate that the principle of universal love was grounded simultaneously in its practicability on earth and its divine sanction from Heaven. Universal love for Mozi was at once the way of man and the way of God.

In contrast to most Chinese philosophers, Mozi spoke of Heaven with feeling and conviction; his conception of it was similar to the Western conception of God. The will of Heaven was to be obeyed by man and was to be the standard of human thought and action. Heaven loved all men, and it was the will of Heaven that men should love one another. Soon after Mozi's death the teacher's system became embodied in an organized church with a succession of elder masters and a considerable following.

As a religious congregation Mohism did not last long, but as a system of thought and teaching Mohism ranked with Confucianism for some two centuries as one of "the eminent schools of the day." Mohism was pushed into the background if not into complete oblivion by the ascendancy of Confucianism for the next two thousand years and was rediscovered only in the mid-twentieth century.

See also Chinese Philosophy; Heaven and Hell, Doctrines of; Logic, History of; Peace, War, and Philosophy; Scientific Method.


For the secondary literature on Mozi, see the bibliography in Journal of Chinese Philosophy 28 no. 1 & 2 (2001).

Fraser, Chris. "Mohism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2002 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL:

Lowe, Scott. Mo Tzu's Religious Blueprint for a Chinese Utopia. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1992.

Mei, Yi-pao, tr. The Ethical and Political Works of Motse. London: Probsthain, 1929; Westport, CT: Hyperion Press, 1973. Complete translation.

Mei, Yi-pao. Mo-tse, the Neglected Rival of Confucius. London: Probsthain, 1934; Westport, CT: Hyperion Press, 1973.

Tseu, Augustine. The Moral Philosophy of Mozi. Taibei: China Printing Limited, 1965.

Watson, Burton, tr. Mo Tzu: Basic Writings. New York: Columbia University Press, 1963. Selected translation.

Y. P. Mei (1967)

Bibliography updated by Huichieh Loy (2005)