Mohism or Moism (Chinese: 墨家; pinyin: Mòjiā; literally: ‘School of Mo’) was an ancient Chinese philosophy of logic, rational thought and science developed by the academic scholars who studied under the ancient Chinese philosopher Mozi (c. 470 BC – c. 391 BC) and embodied in an eponymous book: the Mozi.Wikipedia entry on Mohism
Mohism, together with Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism, was one of the four main philosophic schools in the ancient China. Quoted from Mencious’s writing, “The ideologies of Yang Zhu and Mozi fill the world. What the people speak of is either Yang’s or Mo’s.” Mencious is generally known to be the philosopher that drives Confucianism after the death of Confucius, while Yang Zhu is one of the Taoist philosophers. From this quote we can imagine that Mohism was as huge as Taoism during Mencious’s time, despite we rarely hear of it as compared to Confucianism and Taoism nowadays.
When comparing Confucianism, Mohism, Taoism, Legalism and other ancient Chinese schools of thought, we are generally comparing them on their philosophies and ideologies on ethics, morality, social and politics, because that is generally their common ground of study. However, Mohism is actually more than that. The only Mohist book, named as Mozi, after the teacher of the school of thought himself, also includes various knowledge including those on mechanics, optics, astronomy, geometry, algebra, logic, epistemology, metaphysics, fortification technologies etc.
I’m very inspired by Mohism. Personally, I think it is almost comparable to classical Greek philosophy, science and mathematics. Mozi lived around the same time as Socrates. But in my opinion, the varieties of Mozi’s knowledge is comparable to those of Plato’s (student of Socrates) or even Aristotle’s (student of Plato).
Other than that, Mohism is the only classical Chinese philosophy with a highly structured political and military organisation. The organisation, led by a leader, is formed from a network of local units in many states at that time. Members of the organisation are students of Mozi or those of his students, consisted of political scholars who are competent in negotiation, statesmanship and diplomacy, and also craftsmen and strategists who are skilful in fortification and defence war tactics. They were often hired by the smaller states as advisers to counter the wars and prevent the states from being conquered by other bigger states. Their ultimate goal is to promote their ethical, social and political ideology to the states to end the long war and the commoners’ suffering.
Mohism was lost for centuries. The Qin state united China, established the Qin dynasty and marked the end of the Warring States Period. The Qin dynasty introduced several reforms and standardisation strategies, one of which is to suppress all philosophic schools, except Legalism which was adopted as the official state philosophy. The infamous incident of burning of books and burying of scholars has put an aggressive stop to the Mohist movement and its popularity among the commoners.
After the Qin dynasty was ousted by the Han dynasty, Confucianism was adopted as the official doctrine, and so were almost all the following dynasties. Due to that and also the shift of the social mentality (Mohists lived a thrifty, disciplined and hard life following to their social ideology), Mohism has slowly faded away over the time and what was left was only its name in some historical writings stating that it was one of the more popular schools of thought during the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period in the ancient China.
Part of the moral philosophy in Mohism was later absorbed into Confucianism but was not given much credit to. However unfortunately, the science and mathematics discoveries, and fortification and defence technologies had been lost since. It was only until two thousand years of its disappearance, scholars started to discover some but not all chapters of the book were mixed in or referenced as part of some other books. If they were to be preserved well and rediscovered earlier, it probably would have been studied and improved a lot and benefited the rest of the world like how the Greek philosophers’ knowledge did.
This blog contains a collection of various quotes from the book Mozi that reflects its societal and political ideology, translated by yours truly based on what I understand about them. Feel free to share the wisdom of these quotes around.