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China has been long known as a state under a strong influence of Confucius. However, Confucianism was not the only available philosophy. One of the strongest opponents of Confucius was Mozi, whose teachings established Mohism (Graham 336). Being equal to Confucius in wisdom, Mozi is, however, very different in many instances. Due to a poor background, Mozi’s beliefs were deeply rooted in a material aspect of things rather than rituals and distant spiritual practices (“Mo Zi”). Mozi did not believe that humans are inherently ethical. In fact, he considered people responsible for their prosperity, which should not depend on whether they perform rituals or not. Thus, in contrast to Confucius, Mozi had a different understanding of human nature and the role of family. One of the central points of Mozi’s philosophy is universal love. Whereas love, first of all, is applied to personal relations, Mozi ascribed to the concept of universal love practical significance in ruling the state and solving social problems by placing other people’s needs above one’s own.
One of the tenets of Mozi’s philosophy was universal love. He based it on his belief that all people are equal before Heaven (De Bary and Bloom. 65). Only Heaven is inherently good and manifests love to people, whereas people are not naturally inclined toward performing good deeds and should therefore practice it. To emulate the goodness of Heaven, people should also show love and do good things. Providing food, clothes, and a place to live is a manifestation of love. It refers to both family and the state. Loving parents provide their children with all the necessities, and children would take care of their parents in return. A righteous ruler provides a good social system and welfare for his subjects, and they would respect him and serve well in return. Thus, a highly utilitarian and effective state can be established where everyone is satisfied and has no material needs.
Such approach to the concept shows that love does not refer to affectionate feelings. Mozi believed in a rather material manifestation of love. The Chinese word “ai” is not interpreted as “love” in the meaning of feelings; it is more of a decision to act in a particular way. Furthermore, it should not be directed only to related or loving individuals. Mozi was known for his utilitarian approach, and universal love was part of it. Actually, Benjamin I. Schwartz points out in “The World of Thought in Ancient China” that it would be more correct to translate “ai,” love, as “universal fairness or sense of equity” (Schwartz 149). Mozi suggested that an individual should take care and worry not only about themselves but about everybody. If people first took care of others and then of themselves, it would distract them from the unnecessary battle of their egos. Even if that disposition seems too altruistic, ultimately it is motivated by self-interest. Treating other people badly is punishable, thus, practicing universal love accomplishes several tasks. First, people aid everyone including oneself; second, doing people good helps to avoid a possible punishment.
Hao, however, explains that Mozi’s universal love means “to force oneself to serve others”, and in such wording it does not correspond to the essence of utilitarianism when everyone looks after oneself first (Hao 383). Mozi and his followers were known as ascetics; therefore, it is logical to assume that they would even agree to harm themselves, in case of need, for the sake of others. According to Hao, Mozi could not practice the utilitarian approach because it would not contribute to a strong and efficient society. If everyone takes care only of oneself, people become separate and incapable to help each other. If suffering for the benefit of others seems too drastic as if an individual does not love oneself, Hao explains that it is “the suspension of one’s love to oneself in facing the suffering of the other” (390). What is taken as utilitarianism is the benefit that people expect from universal love. However, Hao explains that this benefit should be regarded as a tool rather than the means in itself (390). To form a better understanding of it, one can imagine it simply as an outcome of love, whereas love is what produces a positive outcome.
Whereas naturally people are more inclined to be egotistic, hence care more about themselves or/and about their close ones, Mozi believed that society would benefit more from a much wider circle of those who occupy themselves with it resorting to the concept. Mozi’s universal love is not directed inside the individual and at their close circle of friends, but it is rather “outer-oriented” (Schwartz 146). Universality directs an individual not simply to benefit society but humankind in general. If a person is in the center of one’s universe, then others are on the periphery. Usually people think that it is natural to move away from the core, from where they are, outwards. Meanwhile, Mozi offers a contrary point of view: moving from the periphery inwards. People come first while individual’s interests can be served last.
Mozi based it on the assumptions that a greater good is achieved when a larger number of people are satisfied. In this sense, righteousness is being “oriented toward ‘doing good’ and not preoccupied with ‘being good’” (Schwartz 146). Such thinking disregards human inner states. Rather than waiting for one being pure enough to practice righteousness, one should start to act. It is an opposition to Confucius’ emphasis on “pure motivation” (Schwartz 147). Mozi expected people to understand this concept and follow it without waiting for some special states, circumstances, or occasions.
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To that effect, Schwartz explains how the concept of universal love is beneficial for rulers (150). War is detrimental to each side and it always involves expenses and losses. Therefore, on the whole people do not benefit from war, and it therefore should be avoided. Besides, in case of victory neighboring states may want to act in the same way, and it would force the states into an endless warfare. Thus, Mozi believed that warfare should be avoided at all times (“China’s Strategic Culture”). Meanwhile, a wise and peaceful ruler will be loved by his people and will be blessed by Heaven; it is a mutually beneficial situation.
However, Mozi believed the concept of universal love should be applied not only to rulers. Specifically, it should be practiced in family as well. Mozi explains that universal love is a natural way of behaving because it is easy and logical. Giving an example of filial love, Mozi contemplates the ways of achieving a good treatment of a person’s parents by other people. He reasons that the best way is to treat other people kindly, and in return they will treat this person’s parents in the same way. Mozi states that universal love is based on the principle of reciprocity and it is much more effective than demanding from people good behavior by the means of punishment and fear.
At this point, Mozi is in direct conflict with Confucian values. Confucius believed that people learn how to be righteous in their families; it is a primary social unit, and an individual practices the same behavior in the society which they assimilated in their families. In contrast, Mozi considers family a primary “interest group” saying that the criminals’ wrongdoings aim to provide for their families (Schwartz 148). Therefore, Mozi’s idea of universal love was truly universal, encompassed the whole world, and can be applied everywhere.
Even though the word “love” confuses the Western world, ultimately the result is as egotistic and self-caring as it can be. Mozi understood human nature and was never under a false impression that people are inherently altruistic and should purify themselves. However, he reasoned that the universal love concept will accomplish more in sustaining peace and harmony. The state’s coercion and punishment are not as successful and effective because a ruler can engage in warfare, and no system of reward and punishment can prevent them from doing it. Meanwhile, if a ruler understands the true meaning of universal love and the ways in which many people can benefit from it, they will be more motivated to adhere to the concept rather than feed their ego. As for universal love, Mozi’s teaching explains: “If men were to regard the state of others as they regard their own, then who would raise up his state to attack the state of another? It would be like attacking his own.” (qtd in De Bary and Bloom. 70) Placing benefit in the center of his philosophic system, Mozi believed that when people see that universal love is beneficial for everyone, they would be inclined and motivated to practice it.
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Responding to the criticism of the concept, Mozi says that people think that universality is too difficult and actually quite impossible to achieve similar to “picking up Mount Tai and leaping over rivers with it” (qtd in De Bary and Bloom. 71). However, Mozi sees that in the ancient times there were cases when the universal love principle was applied. “The Classic of Documents” and “The Classic of Odes” demonstrate that it has been possible in the lifetime of “four sage kings of antiquity” (qtd in De Bary and Bloom. 71). Often Mozi was criticized for utilitarianism, but in “Is Mozi a Utilitarian Philosopher?” Hao Changchi argues that Mozi’s universal love concept is the opposite of the utilitarian approach. At the center of universal love is the agreement to suffer if other people would benefit from it (Hao 383). At that, the notion of “other people” refers neither to the close relatives nor to the beloved ones but to strangers, people in general.
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Mozi’s universal love concept correlates with China’s concept of harmony. People should strive for equilibrium on all levels: inner individual, interpersonal, and global (with nature). Meanwhile, universal love would provide equality and comradeship. Moreover, human egotism should not interfere with economic and political state of the country. Rather than to wait for Confucian pure motives and spend time honing one’s spirit and altruistic skills to perfection, people can act immediately. Without relying on or expecting their good sides to develop, everyone can practice universal love. Inasmuch as it is difficult to become righteous, only few people can develop their inner selves so to be considered pure enough, become state officials, and help the country and its people. However, universal love prompts people to perform good deeds irrespective of their inner state and qualities. It undoubtedly increases an amount of good in the country and the world.
In conclusion, Mozi offered the concept of universal love to assist a state and humankind in general and live in the most harmonious way possible. Even though Mohism has never had an opportunity to become a leading state philosophy, its ideals are fascinating and interesting. It is very appealing to learn to benefit from something without harming other people. If this concept helps to increase the amount of the goodness in the world, it should be followed under any name, either “democracy” or “universal love”.