Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Loy on inclusive care and partial virtue

As Steve and Manyul announced last month, with each new issue of Dao the blog will host a discussion of one of the issue’s articles, and the journal will make that article freely available online. Here I’m kicking off the series with a discussion of Loy Hui-chieh’s “On the Argument for Jian’ai” (Dao 12.4, available here).

Loy’s article treats the Mohists’ main argument for inclusive care (jiān ài 兼愛), focusing on the role played in it by appeals to virtues such as filial piety that are inevitably partial. Fundamental to his treatment is the view (which I share) that inclusive care did not require absolute impartiality—it did not imply that we have equal obligations to all people, or that we should treat them the same, or feel the same about them. Loy thus undermines one common sort or argument against the Mohists, that inclusive care is incompatible with the partial virtues and is therefore morally dubious. However, this does not mean that the Mohists’ own appeals to the partial virtues succeed, and Loy goes on to argue that they do not. I’ll sketch Loy’s argument, and then make critical comments on two points.

A sketch of Loy’s argument

As Loy reads it, the Mohists’ main argument for inclusive care proceeds by identifying a series of evils, offering a unifying diagnosis of those evils, and then proposing inclusive care as a cure.

The evils fall into two groups. Some involve people’s failures to possess various role-specific and partial virtues, including filial piety and loyalty. The others involve people harming either other people or various outgroups (other lineages or states for example) in order to benefit themselves or their ingroups.

The Mohists claim these evils arise because people do not care sufficiently for one another. (The “sufficiently” begs an interpretive question that Loy treats at pp. 492–493.) Loy adds to this, writing that (in two versions of the main argument) “[the Mohists'] diagnosis of the problem is that it is mutual lack of care that led to reciprocal harming among people” (p. 492). For the purposes of his larger argument the key claim here is that all of the evils that the Mohists had identified consisted in people harming one another.

And similarly with the cure that the Mohists propose. This is of course that people care inclusively for one another, but Loy again goes further, this time saying that inclusive care is supposed to work as a cure because it will prevent people from harming one another and (perhaps) get them benefiting one another more (more on that issue in a moment).

You can see how this is supposed to work with the second group of evils the Mohists identify. A lineage head cares for his own lineage more than for other lineages, so he is willing to mobilize his own lineage to harm the other ones; that’s an evil. But if he cared sufficiently for the other lineages, then he would not be willing to bring harm upon them, and the evil would be cured.

But the first group of ills do not yield the same treatment, and that is Loy’s objection to the Mohists’ argument. Here is how it would have to go. A son cares for himself more than for his father, so he is willing to harm his father to benefit himself; this is the son lacking filial piety. If he cared appropriately for his father, though, he would be filial, because he wouldn’t harm his father and (perhaps) would also benefit him appropriately.

The problem is that filial piety does not work that way—it is not simply a matter of whether or how one benefits or harms one’s parents. (And similarly for the other partial virtues.) Loy thus concludes that the Mohists’ diagnosis of the ills they identify is incompatible with the inclusion among those ills of people’s lack of filial piety (and other partial virtues).

Care and benefiting

My sketch of Loy’s argument evaded the question of what inclusive care amounts to. Here we face two pressures. The first is the widely-shared sense that inclusive implies impartial. The second is the Mohists’ obvious endorsement of a range of partial virtues. How can they advocate impartial care alongside filial piety (for example)? Is it not obvious that filial piety requires us to care more for some than for others?

Aside: the reasons for thinking that inclusive care is impartial are a lot weaker than the reasons for thinking they endorsed partial virtues; they are weak enough that if there’s no way to reconcile impartial care with partial virtue then the appropriate conclusion is probable that inclusive care would not be impartial after all.

Loy entertains three accounts of what inclusive care might demand: equal concern to benefit all people, equal concern to help all people, and refusal to harm anyone (pp. 497–498). The third of these does not go far enough: the Mohists regularly associate inclusive care with benefiting people. The first sounds like it goes too far, for (as Loy in effect recognizes at p. 497) it seems incompatible with partial virtues. So what about the second?

The idea, I take it (drawing still on p. 497), is that some people are in need, and we should be just as concerned to help them to the point where they are no longer in need as we would be concerned to help ourselves if we were similarly in need. It follows that we need not be concerned to benefit all people equally, because inclusive care is irrelevant to the things we do to benefit people who are not in need.

I do not see how this can be right. Consider an elderly couple who would be in need if their children did not provide for them. Does the children’s filial benefiting (as I will call it) count as helping? If it does not, then (on the proposed interpretation) it seems that it must be irrelevant to inclusive care and thus that the children could still count as caring appropriately for their parents even if they did not provide for them. This is manifestly not the Mohists’ view. Except: this would leave the parents in need; which is to say that inclusive care would require the children to engage in filial benefiting if and only if they did not engage in it. Surely that is mad. So filial benefiting must count as helping. But then (on the proposed interpretation) the children are supposed to be equally concerned to provide for all people, and again that is manifestly at odds with the Mohists’ views (and the helping interpretation inherits all the problems of the benefiting interpretation).

So I don’t think this is a promising way to reconcile inclusive care with partial virtue. I’ve got an account I prefer, but won’t get into it here; it’s in my “Mohist Care” (PEW 62.1).

The Mohists’ diagnosis

Recall Loy’s account of the diagnosis the Mohists’ offer of the world’s ills: these ills all involve people being willing to harm one another. The problem is that this seems a poor way to characterize a person’s lack of a partial virtue. If a son is unfilial, this does not seem to mean just that he is willing to harm his father. But if Loy’s account of the Mohists’ diagnosis is correct, the Mohists seem to be assuming that unfiliality just is a willingness to harm; and they seem to be reducing filial piety to a refusal to harm and a willingness to benefit.

Loy’s account gains its main support from these statements (and the subsequent parallels about the converse relationships):

Subjects and sons not being filial to rulers and fathers is what is called disorder. Sons care for themselves but not for their fathers, so they injure their fathers to benefit themselves. Younger brothers care for themselves but not for their older brothers, so they injure their older brothers to benefit themselves. Subjects care for themselves but not for their rulers, so they injure their rulers to benefit themselves. This is what is called disorder. (Book 14)

Here the Mohists do seem to equate a lack of filial piety with a tendency to a harm, and thus invite Loy’s objection. But these statements (along with the subsequent parallels) are the only ones in all three versions of the main argument that do this. Nowhere else do the Mohists suggest any reduction of filial piety to benefiting.

Consider the account of the cure the Mohists propose from the same version of the main argument:

If the world cared for one another inclusively, if they cared for others like they cared for themselves, would any still be unfilial? If they saw their fathers, older brothers, and rulers like their own persons, how could they practice unfiliality? (Book 14)

(There again follow parallel claims about the converse relationships.)

Here there is nothing about benefiting and harming; the Mohists treat unfiliatily as itself an ill.

Similarly, in the second version of the Mohists’ diagnosis, we find them describing people harming one another when dealing with the second group of ills that Loy identifies, ills such as states going to war with other states. But with the first group of ills, the ones relevant to the partial virtues, they say only this:

If ruler and subject do not care for one another they are not gracious and loyal, if father and son do not care for one another then they are not loving and filial, if elder and younger brother do not care for one another they are not harmonious. (Book 15)

That is, the Mohists relate the ills in question—the lack of the partial virtues—to a lack of care but not to a willingness to harm. Loy’s direct statement to the contrary (p. 492, citing this passage) is just wrong. And, again, there is nothing in the subsequent account of the Mohists’ cure that implies that the partial virtues require only that we benefit others.

Loy’s discussion of the third version of the main argument (p. 495) is much briefer because this version of the argument is itself very brief. As far as I can tell, Loy does not claim that this version of the argument reduces the partial virtues to benefiting, and certainly he would be wrong to do so.

In sum, Loy’s objection to the Mohists depends on an account of the diagnosis they offer of the world’s ills, but that account is motivated by just one passage in just one version of the Mohists’ argument. This might be reason to take issue with that one version of the argument. But whether or not the Mohists recognized this problem, they avoided it in later versions.

Hannah Pang detail

January 5th, 2014 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Dao Article Discussion, Ethical Theory, Filial piety, Mohism, Politics | 18 comments

18 Responses to Loy on inclusive care and partial virtue

  1. Hui-chieh Loy says:

    Hi Dan:

    Thank you for a very detailed (and sympathetic) response to my paper. A couple of quick ones for now.

    1. First off, the disclaimers. As I stated early in the paper, my paper does not attempt to present an overall account of the jian’ai doctrine; it focuses mainly on what I called “the main argument” (488). For example, later in the paper, I also mentioned various additional qualifications that (which are orthogonal to my distinction between BENEFITTING, HELPING, and NOT HARMING). A full story would have to take everything into account–something I didn’t do in the paper given my specific focus.

    2. Re: your first critical point (under “Care and benefiting”). I don’t actually think that inclusive care under any of my proposed interpretations (whether HELPING, BENEFITTING or NOT HARMING) can be reconciled with partial virtue–or more accurately, my criticism of the Mohists’ main argument is exactly that IF the ‘jian’ai’ doctrine (as it is expounded in the main argument) was to resolve the problem of people not living up to the partial virtues, then it is a poor solution.

    I’ll get back to your second critical point later. I’ll need a bit of time to collect my thoughts.

  2. Bill Haines says:


    Hi Hui-Chieh and Dan – this is a great start to the new program! Thank you both.

    Hui-Chieh, you quote – Hui-Chieh quotes on 497 an account of a principle from Van Norden

    “One should have equal concern for, and has equal obligations toward, promoting the well-being of every person, regardless of any special relation [the respective persons] might have with oneself”

    and paraphrases it thus:

    BENEFITTING: People are to have a concern to benefit each other as much as they do themselves, each other’s groups as much as they do their own groups.

    Let’s distinguish:

    (P1) Be equally concerned for equal increments of the well-being of each person.
    (P2) Be equally concerned about one’s own promoting an increment of well-being for any one person and an one’s promoting an equal increment for any other person.
    (P3) Be equally concerned about one’s benefitting any one person and one’s benefitting any other person equally much.
    (P4) Be concerned that the increments of well-being one promotes for each person be equal.
    (P5) Be concerned that the well-being of all persons be equal.

    (P1) is, roughly, utilitarianism.


    I’m not sure whether Hui-Chieh specifically intended (P3) as distinct from (P1). Arguably they differ:

    a. If by “concern” one means not only a disposition to act, but also dispositions to be glad or disappointed at various outcomes, (P3) might say Smith should be disappointed when Johnson’s benefitting Davis removes Smith’s opportunity to benefit Davis. (P1) would not say that.

    b. If “benefitting Davis” implies some more direct or concrete connection than “promoting Davis’s well-being,” then (P3) can recommend that Smith act to block Johnson from benefitting Davis, simply so that Smith can do the benefitting herself. (P1) would not recommend that.

    I’m not sure whether Hui-Chieh’s distinction between BENEFITTING and HELPING (497) is meant to focus on (a) abstract causing versus some narrower kind of promoting, or (b) a concern for increments of welfare versus a concern that absolute levels not fall too low, or (c) well-being versus fulfilment of existing wants, (d) some combination of the above, or (e) something else.

    All these distinctions may be too subtle for the Mozi.


    On Hui-Chieh reading of the Mozi, the evils that beset the world arise from the weightings in our calculations: if Smith cares more about Jones than about Davis, she may have occasion to harm Davis to help Jones, and thus she will sometimes harm people.

    But each of (P1), (P2), and (P3) seems to recommend that on some occasions I harm or disbenefit some people to help others – for example, recommending that the starving sometimes steal bread, and perhaps that I steal one of your books. (P4) does not seem to recommend such disbenefits.

    Maybe this problem is too subtle to worry about.


    Still, I wonder if it is right to read the Mozi as tending to envision actual or recommended decisionmaking in terms of calculations with weightings (equal or unequal). Indeed, a calculative picture would suggest more interest in a unified conception of well-being, or in a conception of well-being at all, than we find in the Mozi.

    Hui-Chieh arrives at his reading by interpreting the statement that the evils of this world come from sons not caring for fathers, rulers not caring for subjects, etc. Pointing out that the diagnoses is to account for “the evils that beset the world,” and that it is implausible to think that a high proportion of sons do not care for their fathers at all (and adducing a comment in Mozi 46), Hui-Chieh argues that probably the statement only meant to claim hyperbolically that these days a large proportion of sons do not care enough for their fathers. Thus it is a claim about the inadequacy of the degree of concern for the other party’s well-being (e.g., as we might say, a son is equally concerned with one unit of his own well-being and three units of his father’s).

    Against the argument for this reading, I want to say, first: the Mozi need not be talking about a high proportion of sons in order to account for the problems that beset the world, for sons are just one case among many listed by the Mozi. The list includes rulers not caring for their subjects; the argument of the Mozi does not require that malfeasance by sons be sufficient to account for a world of ills.

    Second: While one the one hand reading ai 愛 as “concern” is to conceive it as a causal factor in the agent’s activity, hence a somewhat stable feature of the agent; on the other hand reading it as a kind of activity, a taking-care-of, easily allows us very easily to think of Smith as ai-ing Jones one minute and not ai-ing Jones the next. Perhaps the right reading for the Mozi is somewhere in the middle. Thus the problem might be that in many instances sons ignore the interests of their fathers (not that many sons have stable unconcern for their fathers, or stable but wrongly weighted concern). Thus the sons may do things that they would not do were they taking account of their fathers at all.


    If the idea of degrees of concern does not enter into the three Jian’Ai essays, then perhaps there is little reason to think of their prescription in terms of equality (or impartiality).

    The prescription might be a “caring” that takes everyone into account, without necessarily following any self-consciously quantitative conception, or anything like the utilitarian vision. “Look, if people cared about each other they wouldn’t act this way. Care about each other!”

    Dan has proposed that on the Mozi’s view, “those who care inclusively would express their care by committing themselves to collective norms” (p. 60 etc.).


    Granted, the Mozi says we are to see others as we see ourselves, regard others’ fathers as [we regard?] our own, etc. – but such formulae must be taken non-literally, so the question exactly how to take them is open. In this context could they mean what we might express as “Appreciate others’ points of view”? “Appreciate that each person is somebody’s daughter, somebody’s father, somebody’s sister, somebody’s son”?

    ( 7

    Anglophone moral philosophers tend to assume a sharp distinction between “care” and “respect,” often associating the former with a concern about individual well-being, and associating the latter with obedience, consent, and rights. The importance of each is agreed; no theoretical mediator is agreed.

    There are signs of similar distinctions in early Chinese thought: for example in the distinction in Mencius 6A6 between the origin of ren 仁 and the origin of yi 義, or Xiaojing 5.

    But Xiaojing 9 talks about how care and respect arise by differentiation out of a more primal xiao 孝, and I have argued that Youzi lumps the two together in LY 1.2. (Like the oldest version of the Mozi’s Jian Ai 兼愛, LY 1.2 focuses on the source of luan 亂 and suggests a remedy. Also, Youzi there relies on a conception of the analogy between a son’s xiao 孝 toward his parents and a ruler’s ren 仁 toward the people that we also find, I have proposed, at the beginning of Mozi 25.) Even English has words and phrases that do not distinguish; words for care-and/or-respect: such as “service”, “devotion”, and “taking others seriously” or “putting others first”. Maybe also “concern” for someone …

    Perhaps we should not think of “care” (ai 愛) in the Mozi as an attitude specifically focusing on well-being? I’m inclined to think that individual well-being is a pseudo-concept. I don’t know how to name it in Chinese; I think I recall that it’s not mentioned in the Mozi.

    ( 8

    A question from sheer linguistic ignorance: I wonder whether “jian” 兼 has to be read as “combining” only the objects of concern – referring to a person’s concern for all, or for all equally – and not at all as referring to the subjects of concern, or to the concern itself. Is it possible that the phrase refers to a sort of shared or collective concern, so that the phrase 兼相愛交相利 is more or less redundant on both sides?

  3. Hui-chieh Loy says:

    Hi Bill

    Thanks for your lengthy comments–through which I am still working my way. A quick point about my distinction between BENEFITTING and HELPING. The distinction I had in mind when writing the paper was like your (b):

    A benefits B iff A does F, and (because of F) B’s welfare is higher than it would have been without F.

    A helps B iff A does G, and (because of G) B’s welfare does not fall short of the norm* than it would be without G.

    *In other words, I take helping to make reference to some sort of welfare norm such that when a person falls below it, the person has a need. This is, presumably, like your (b). (Taking things one step further, the Mohists also seem to think that increments of welfare above the norm are wasteful; their strictures against ornaments and luxuries.)

    However, I did also consider formulating the distinction in terms of a list of objective needs (e.g., for food when hungry, for clothing when in the cold, for medication when sick, for proper burial when dead) where helping someone is about meeting those needs; vs. benefiting, which is not so restricted. This seems closer to your (c). (And analogously, the understanding of the Mohist strictures against music and ornamentation is adjusted accordingly.)

    But whichever way it’s done, my concern is that the notion relevant to the Mohists is a more restricted notion that a more generic promoting of the object’s welfare.

  4. Phil H says:

    Hi, thanks for doing this, Dan and Dao, and thanks for engaging, Hui-chieh.

    I’m not very comfortable with the way, as I see it, Hui-chieh reduces the Mohist injunction to jianai to a kind of behaviourist shadow of itself.

    “In fact, “Jian’ai”A (the whole of which consists in the presentation of the main argument) can be understood purely in terms of NOT HARMING and without reference to either HELPING or BENEFITTING.”

    But the chapter says (using the Mei translation from ctext.org): 愛人若愛其身…視父兄與君若其身loving others as one’s self…When every one regards his father, elder brother, and emperor as himself

    This seems clearly attitudinal. It’s about mental states, not actions. The results of the mental states vary in the three jianai chapters, but to characterise the argument as being about the behaviour just doesn’t seem right.

    Looking at your comment above, I like the formulation “B’s welfare does not fall short of the norm*”. The norm of being a father would be that you are owed some xiao by your sons, and applying that standard I think makes the jianai argument much easier to understand. If this is a definition of helping, then this is also a counterexample to the assertion above, because in jianai A it says that everyone would be filial if they practiced jianai. I’m suggesting that being filial is an example of helping, so this means that Jianai A brings in helping as well as not harming.

    • Hui-chieh Loy says:

      Phil, Thanks.

      1. I’m not assuming that 愛 is purely behavioral (even though a version of my account would work if it is). I am assuming that “A 愛 B” is *not* just another way of saying “A 利 B”. (Nonetheless, in Mohist texts, the two are closely related to each other.

      2. The all-caps HELPING, BENEFITTING and NOT HARMING are from the paper–they stand in for three formulations of what I think the maxim of JIAN could amount to (see pp. 497-498). These maxims need not be taken as prescribing only behavior.

      3. Your worry is about whether NOT HARMING is enough to capture the argument in Version A. The reason why I’m inclined this way is this. In the chapter, the problem (chaos in the world) with respect to, say, father and son (i.e., infiliality 不孝), is explained in terms of 子自愛不愛父,故虧父而自利, i.e., using a diagnosis common to all of the other patterns of chaos. Including, for instance, the robber’s actions (賊愛其身不愛人,故賊人以利其身). (This point is captured also in Dan’s comments above.) If the Mohists were serious about this apparently unifying account, then ‘infiliality’ (in Version A) just is another instance of people harming another so as to benefit self. Correspondingly, if the point is to eliminate, chaos–instantiated in the different ways in which people harm others so as to benefit self–it also follows that the solution need not go beyond prescribing that people conduct themselves according to NOT HARMING.

      4. I do agree that HELPING is involved in Versions B and C of the chapter (see p. 498).

      • hamida says:

        The English-Chinese dialogue between you and Bill and Phil is intriguing. Are you guys “conversing” in Chinese or English? This is my analysis:

        1. If the three of you are all Chinese (ethnically-speaking), then you could be talking Chinese using English as the medium of communication.

        2. If Bill and Phil are not Chinese and you are, then the three of you would be using English as the lingua franca. In this case, would the intellectual exchange among the three of you be in terms of Chinese concepts of ethical values (in other words, talking Chinese)? Or would it be a rational discussion governed by western theories of morality (that are absent in Chinese thought)?

        I wonder if sorting this out might throw light on any possibility of a meeting of minds on your article.

      • Bill Haines says:

        Hi hamida,

        These are very interesting points – I think you’re right to note the importance of language as well as the way in which one language can be another in disguise.

        Of the four participants so far (other than yourself, but including Dan Robins), I think I’m the one who is least neutral as between today’s Chinese and English-speaking worlds, and the only one whose Chinese language skills are weak, though I do my best. I’m the only one who currently lives outside of China/Singapore. Phil Hand is an award-winning translator.

        I’m not sure how Mandarin or Cantonese would be relevant to the Mozi. My impression is that in this conversation we’re all mainly “thinking in English” rather than in modern or ancient Chinese, though to some extent we think in ancient Chinese when reading the Mozi. That we are thinking and writing in English has some effect on the ideas we use. But we all recognize that we’re working together toward rather than from an understanding of the key concepts of the Mozi, and trying to describe them in terms that are not ruled by any theory from West or East.

        Academic conversations that take place wholly within one language and tradition very often involve large and small failures of “meeting of the minds.” My sense is that in this conversation we’re understanding each other quite well. In one place I wasn’t sure what Hui-Chieh meant, so I asked him and he explained very clearly. Another person presented a challenge that might have been based on overlooking a certain word in some formulae – not a problem from cultural difference – and that was answered. The conversation is moving slowly because people are busy.

        I don’t agree that a person’s concepts are limited by the language she uses, especially if she has absorbed more than one language and has some experience playing with concepts across traditions. Also I think that each of the two languages and traditions – English and modern Chinese – includes within itself a great variety of mutually conflicting conceptual schemes and theories, so that using one language certainly does not mean being “governed” by any one scheme or theory. And the two languages and traditions have long been benefiting from contact with each other, exchanging strings of concepts and theories.

        It is certainly not true that Western theories of morality are absent from modern Chinese thought; on the other hand, it’s impossible for anyone’s discussion to be governed by most Western theories, since Western theories are many theories that strongly disagree with each other and use very different conceptual schemes from each other.

        At one point you might seem to suggest that “rational discussion” would be out of place in a conversation in modern Chinese. Is that your view?

        • Paul R. Goldin says:

          I agree that it would be seriously problematic to pretend that Mozi is written in Modern Mandarin. We really do need to get past the fallacy that “Chinese” is a timeless language. How come nobody ever supposes that Aristotle can’t be discussed in any language other than Modern Greek?

        • hamida says:

          Thank you for your thoughtful response. I appreciate your grasping of the two salient points I made:

          1. The importance of language in the way it “governs” the conveyance of thought, and

          2. The disguise of the language in which we think in the form of the one in which we speak.

          To my mind, a command of the Chinese language is not the issue. Matteo Ricci’s mastery of classical Chinese was impressive even to the mandarins of China’s imperial court. His standing in history, both as a sinologist and translator, would probably never be surpassed. His authority on Chinese thought (as expressed in the Classics), however, is quite another matter.

          You are correct in stating that, in this conversation, we are all “thinking in English” when discussing 孝 and 兼愛 . This is not a matter of choice for our way of life compels us to do so. I surmise that even ethnic-Chinese participants would also be “thinking in English” when they think in Chinese to answer questions about the contextual meaning of those characters. To my mind, modern Chinese thinking is not fundamentally different on account of the fact that everybody these days is connected. We all live in a globalized world of common concerns and common goals. Consequently, language tools, regardless of their different forms, perform basically similar functions in the verbalization of a uniform, technologically-structured world of people who, regardless of their ethnic diversity, are all essentially living in the same “westernize” way. (So, why do you believe we can “think in ancient Chinese when reading Mozi”? Is this belief true and justifiable?)

          I do agree with your observation that participants in this conversation understand each other quite well. This is because we are all in the same paradigm “thinking in English” together to make sense of Mozi’s 兼愛. When I began to follow the conversation, it momentarily transported me into Mozi’s paradigm. When I realized that it was an illusion, I posted my comment. Your response to it reassured me that we are indeed “here” doing our thing and not “there” examining the authentic Mozi concepts of ancient China.

          I won’t deal with your disagreement: “that a person’s concepts are limited by the language she uses”. This would derail our conversation on Loy’s article.

          As for your disbelief “that Western theories of morality are absent from modern Chinese thought” I would just say that you are correct on that point given the “contemporary world” paradigm we all, including the Chinese, share. The “Chinese thought” that is incommensurable with western moral theories is outside our vision of reality and belong to the paradigm of ancient China.

          With regard to your final question on “rational discussion”, my view was laid out above. Rational discussion would not be out of place but an imperative in a conversation in modern Chinese. There is no other way for a Herbert Fingarette or a Tu Weiming to expound on 仁 or 禮 . And this is the way – since Matteo Ricci – we study Chinese philosophy.

        • Hui-chieh Loy says:


          Thanks for your comments.

          As Bill put it, “The conversation is moving slowly because people are busy”–and I can only offer my apologies for my own tardiness.

          Consider the three languages that are potentially involved: (1) English, (2) Modern Chinese, and (3) Classical Chinese (meaning the language that the Mozi is written in, whatever is the proper name).

          First: The text is in (3). This means that if it is part of our collective brief that we are trying to understand some stuff that is supposed to be *in* the text, then, we are also committed to the notion that what the Classical Chinese words meant is supposed to be the touchstone of our analysis. This implies that we are all claiming (defeasibly, of course) that we are able to get at what the text in Classical Chinese meant.

          Second: We are speaking to each other in English (1). (Presumably more the bland English of contemporary academia, than the more colorful versions of life.) And we seek to articulate what the text meant in (3) using (1).

          Third: (2) is not involved–as far as I can tell. Now, it could be that while dealing with Classical Chinese, someone who is otherwise fluent in Modern Chinese makes a mistake–anachronistically mistaking the classical text to be saying X when it is saying Y, because had the text been written today by someone in mock Classical, that would very likely be what he meant. To give an example: if the text had been written in Modern Chinese, then I think it would be quite proper to say that “A愛B” in the text means “A loves B”, and very likely, we won’t give the wrong impression. But such a translation of the ‘same’ line in an ancient text would very likely give people the wrong impressions. (Note, however, that this is partly because the connotations of the English word ‘love’ itself have been shifting. In his recently published translation, Riegel defends the use of “love” on the basis that the *English* has been misunderstood.)

          But back to the initial point. You said: When I began to follow the conversation, it momentarily transported me into Mozi’s paradigm. When I realized that it was an illusion, I posted my comment. Your response to it reassured me that we are indeed “here” doing our thing and not “there” examining the authentic Mozi concepts of ancient China.

          Now, as far as I am concerned, we are all ‘here’, and conversing with each other in English. None of us are ‘there’ or were ever ‘there’ (unless someone has a time-machine I don’t know about). Nonetheless, the thing we are talking *about* is irretrievably over ‘there’. And it is at least part of our brief that we are trying use the resources available to us ‘here’ (surviving texts, inherited traditions, philological analyses, reconstructions of context, historical information, etc.) to understand, to the best of our abilities, what was going on ‘there’. I don’t claim to *know* in an ultimately definitive what was going over ‘there’. But I am (and others too are) able to make claims about what was going on ‘there’–given the mass of (entirely defeasible) body of knowledge accumulated by colleagues and past scholars.

          Is such a project doable? One important thing that it hangs on is the feasibility of the central move: the articulation of whatever is going in in texts, written in Classical Chinese, in English (substitute that with Modern Chinese, and you have the same issues). Note: not the exhaustive *translation* of each nuance of the text into English, but getting enough of what we (‘here’) are interested in in the text into English, in a defensible way. For my own intellectual purposes: some of the key ethical concepts, and some of the salient argumantative moves.

          What might make the project not just difficult (which all at hand will probably agree on) but impossible would be this: that ancient Chinese thought may well be incommensurable with western moral theories and thus outside our vision of reality. Consequently, that any attempt on my part (or the part of Dan or Bill) to understand Mohist thought and articulate it in English and to discuss (and rationally disagree) with each other the same will involve a rational discussion governed by western theories of morality (that are absent in Chinese thought) and thus at best the illusion of understanding.

          To me, this is not an impossible outcome–but we need to distinguish two ways of getting to it.

          One version of the worry would be a priori–Ancient Chinese thought is (‘by definition’) incommensurable and therefore, any attempt to articulate the concepts expressed in the Mozi in English is doomed from the get-go. Sort of like attempting to square the circle (given classical geometry). If this is the version of the worry that is being proposed, then I think a good argument that Ancient Chinese thought is incommensurable in this way would be helpful.

          Another version of the worry would be something like this. We have evidence that the Ancient Chinese thought in a peculiar way that is to some degree incommensurable with the thinking of modern people (say, those who are mainly conversing in English). Such evidence consists in our best understanding of surviving texts, inherited traditions, philological analyses, reconstructions of context, historical information, etc. In other words, the proponents of such an eventuality are themselves participants in the same debates that Dan, Bill and I are in–all at hand are attempting to make the best sense of the ancient texts using the best resources available to us. They just happened to come to less sanguine conclusions about the suitability of the proposed matches between this or that thing that is expressed in the texts and this or that concept that may be articulated in English. If this is the version of the worry that is being proposed, then the porposing of of specific counter-arguments citing specific evidence would be helpful.

          So in a nutshell, while I’m sympathetic to your general worry, I’m not sold that it’s a crippling problem. Not yet, anyway.

          (I still owe Dan and Bill some replies. Let me see if I can get them out soon.)

        • Hui-chieh Loy says:

          A couple of quick disclaimers and qualifications, in case of misunderstanding.

          1. At various point, I said things about Dan and Bill–I don’t claim to divine their own understanding of what they are doing; I’m only stating my own understanding of what they are doing in the discussion.

          2. I said “part of the brief”–this is important. Not all of the engagement with the text is exclusively about ‘there’. Some of it is strictly here in a stronger sense. For instance, my re-presentation of the Mohist’s argument is partly meant to be a good faith attempt to capture what was ‘there’. But not all of it is about the Mohists, strictly speaking. It is also my claim that what goes on in the text takes a certain logical form, and that this form is open to possible criticisms. These latter claims are not strictly about what the Mohists are about as much as my analyses ‘here and now’. I don’t for instance, claim that the Mohists themselves are always and in every part consciously aware that their arguments have such and such a form (they might; but that’s not my point). But even if they are not aware, it doesn’t follow that what they said are not subject to the proposed analysis. (In this regard, consider also what is said about Hume’s statement regarding causation reported in the paper.)

          3. Most of what I said regarding “English” goes just as well if it is “Modern Chinese” that is the counterpart.

        • hamida says:

          Thank you Loy for laying it all out clearly. As I said before, the Chinese language is not critically important when it comes to making sense of Chinese thought of the kind outside our vision of reality. The sense-maker is our mind-set, that self-protective mental facility which can only operate within the world we have created. And it is our present day language in the form of (1), (2) and (3) as well as French, German, etc. that determines what is sensible.

          In our examination of Mozi texts, any idea (symbolized by 孝 or 兼愛 or whatever) – purported to be Mozi’s is actually conceived by us inside our paradigm and it is then either taken apart or hammered into shape on the anvil of Socratic rationality to fit our arguments.

          There is no way, based on the evidence you outlined (“best understanding of surviving texts, inherited traditions, etc.), to tell how the ancient Chinese were thinking anymore than there is evidence, adduced from arrangement of archaeological bone scrap finds, to tell how dinosaurs roar. Proponents who make claims, that they can establish what was inside Mozi’s head, from researching classical texts, are as imaginative as the sound engineers on the movie set of Jurassic Park.

          I did not assert that Mozi’s concepts are incommensurable. I am saying that they don’t exist. What we are discussing in our conversation is Loy’s argument based on Loy’s presentation of “Jian’ai”. And this is good enough for me.

          • Hamida,
            re: “There is no way, based on the evidence you outlined (“best understanding of surviving texts, inherited traditions, etc.), to tell how the ancient Chinese were thinking anymore than there is evidence, adduced from arrangement of archaeological bone scrap finds, to tell how dinosaurs roar. Proponents who make claims, that they can establish what was inside Mozi’s head, from researching classical texts, are as imaginative as the sound engineers on the movie set of Jurassic Park.”

            – I am less pessimistic than you I guess, and I don’t think the dinosaur analogy is apt. For one, Mozi was presumably a homo sapien like us, and so experienced the world similarly. Secondly, at the time of the dinosaurs, there was no technology available to record their roars, but the same cannot be said of the thoughts of the ancient Chinese, who had the technology (i.e., writing) to record them. (This same technology, especially when in rhyme,also yields information that aids in scientifically reconstructing the spoken language of the ancient Chinese, although admittedly, the reconstruction of their roar is hypothetical.)

          • hamida says:

            Let’s say you are right. If you believe Mozi was a homo sapien, then you perceive him (the way you see yourself) as a type of ape sharing an ancestry with the chimp and the gorilla. Assuming we can draw an accurate conclusion (based on inherited tradition as Loy suggested) that Mozi observed ancestral worship rites, what sort of filial piety do you think we could conceive of today that is commensurable with his practice now that we have come to see that we would be paying respects to forebears that were mindless beasts? And do you think filial piety of the Mozi kind is equivalent to “Honor thy father and thy mother”? I cannot imagine any other way than that to be filial. Can you?

            You might also like to consider the concept of “inclusive care”, as we envision it, to achieve global order. Since Mozi, as you believe, experienced the world similarly (never mind the fact he had no idea that we all lived on a round planet revolving around the sun), his concept of world order would, like yours, encompass non-Han cultures. Is this plausible?

          • Bill Haines says:

            Well, people are not devoid of imagination, and I suppose nobody is expecting to arrive at perfect understanding. When something is not very easy for an individual to imagine or think of right away, often the task can be accomplished in stages, by many discussants over time.

          • Manyul Im says:

            Hamida, I’m not sure why we today would have to conceive of the meaningful group of “ancestors” in the performance of ritual honor as inclusive of every biologically prior generation of creature. More important, I’m not sure why our conception of the evolutionary history of homo sapiens has to be applied to our understanding of what Mozi thought. That would just be bad history of thought. Knowing that a particular conception of humans was not available at Mozi’s time should guide us against that kind of anachronism.

            The choice isn’t between having no understanding of the past on the one hand and having a stupidly clumsy understanding of it on the other. There are lots of positions in between. I imagine that the best course is to construct some careful, contextually based idea of what kinds of concerns and ideas were available and germane to Mozi and then attempt to understand the views that are written in the Mozi text within that construction. So far, I haven’t heard any good reasons from anyone for denying such a possibility.

          • hamida says:

            Manyul, I am examining what you said. I am afraid I have been making an argument in a way that is unacceptable. I need to reflect on the disconnect between my approach and that of Loy and others. I hope, I can sort it out through discussion in stages over time (as Bill advised).

  5. David Chai says:

    Nicely said, Scott.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>