UNDER HEAVEN IX

“To remain free from extravagance though born in a decadent age, not wasteful in the use of any of the ten thousand things, making no display in the observance of one’s delineated obligations, rigorously disciplining oneself as if with ropes and cords, and taking upon oneself all the troubles of the world: these were some aspects of the ancient Art of the Dao.” (33; p 119)

And these are the ones that Mozi (fl. ca. 430 BCE) hoped to actualize.

For all but those who study classical Chinese philosophy Mozi has been pretty much lost to historical awareness though in Zhuangzi’s time his philosophy was Confucianism’s greatest rival. I won’t venture to give a full account of Mohism—that is easily accessible for those interested. (I recommend: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mohism/.) Only a few aspects of it will serve our purposes here.

From the point of view of Confucianism, one of the greatest challenges of Mohism came in its declaration that we should love (care for) all people equally. This led to a kind of austere political collectivism reminiscent of recent “communist” experiments.

Confucius, on the other hand, taught a rigidly hierarchical love (caring and deference) that began with one’s love for one’s parents and from there extended out into every aspect of familial and societal relations all the way up to the ruler. The younger were to respect and defer to the older, female to the male, peasants to their lords, lords to their overlords.

Though it was not given primacy, I think self-love was the true point of departure in this hierarchy of love. This is seen in Confucius’ “negative” expression of the Golden Rule:  Tsekung asked, “Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?” Confucius replied, “It is the word shu—reciprocity: Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” (Analects 15:23).

This in fact seems to be the intuitive backbone for nearly all ethics, and is seen in both Mozi (“If people regarded other people’s families in the same way that they regard their own, who then would incite their own family to attack that of another? For one would do for others as one would do for oneself.”) and Laozi (“Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.”). For an extensive list of such pronouncements see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule.

The actual expression of Confucius’ model of deferment was guaranteed through ritual, and in the case of many, especially funerary arrangements, these were quite extravagant and costly. Thus the Mohist advocacy for a utilitarian austerity that so rankled Confucians.

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