Mo Tzu

Chinese Philosophy
Confucius

Lao Tzu

Mencius

Mo Tzu
   Mo Tzu (470-391 B.C.) is a curious figure among the early giants of Chinese thought. Unlike most of the other names he is associated with (Confucius, Lao Tzu, Mencius, Chuang Tzu, etc.), Mo Tzu, born Mo Ti, seems to have been of low birth, possibly the son of a slave. He was a thoroughgoing eccentric, as famous for his dress and manners as his thought. His direct legacy, Moism, died out fairly quickly; in spite of this, his thought is enormously influential for all Chinese thought to follow. He despised Confucians with a passion, regarding them as uptight, egotistical, pretentious, upper class, and characterized by a mindless devotion to empty rituals. Despite this animosity, Mo Tzu shared with Confucius an overwhelming concern with government; his life was literally spent moving from feudal court to feudal court trying to talk some ruler or other into living by his philosophical teachings.


   Unlike Confucius, Mo Tzu did not shy away from talking about religion and heaven. At the heart of his thinking was the belief that all human beings were fundamentally equal in the eyes of heaven; differences between human beings, such as status, wealth, or position, were artificial and man-made distinctions. The equality of humans before heaven mandated an overriding ethical principle for people to live by: universal love, to love every human being equally. This is not some crazy sixties mush; love for Mo Tzu was a practical thing, closely related to Confucius's jen. To love people was to take care of them, to feed them when hungry, to clothe them when naked, to house them when they are homeless. Universal love also meant avoiding any activity that might hurt another person, such as war or profiteering; universal love also meant avoiding any activity that did not directly take care of someone—for this reason, Mo Tzu rejected all the music and rituals that the Confucians were so fond of. This moral obligation to take care of fellow human beings applied to all human beings; you are responsible not only for your family and your friends, you are equally responsible for people you don't even know, such as the homeless in Spokane. If you take care of only a few people that you are intimately related to, you are practicing partial love more than universal love. It is partial love that is responsible for all the calamities that human beings suffer:
"Humane men are concerned about providing benefits to the world and eliminating its calamities. . . . When we come to ask about the causes of the calamities (war, poverty, etc.) that people suffer, from what do these calamities arise? Do they arise from people loving others and benefiting others? Certainly not. We should say that they arise from people hating and injuring others. If we should classify one by one all those who hate and injure others, will we find that they are partial or universal in their love? Certainly, we'll find them partial in their love. Therefore, partial love is the cause of all the human calamities in the world. Partial love is wrong."1
   Universal love confers "righteousness" on a person; "righteousness" for Mo Tzu is merely living one's life in accordance with heaven, which after all regards all humans as equal: "One who obeys the will of heaven will practice universal love; one who disobeys the will of heaven will practice partial love." When people live their lives in accordance with heaven, the world is ordered and peaceful; when they don't live their lives in accordance with heaven, the world becomes disorder, violent, and chaotic.

Richard Hooker





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1996, Richard Hooker
Updated 10-8-96