Category Archives: Mohism

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.

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Dao ToC and Free Access to Loy’s Article on Mohism

Issue 12:4 of Dao: A Journal of Comparatie Philosophy is now available on-line; see below for the Table of Contents. I’d like to call everyone’s attention to the fact that Hui-chieh Loy’s article, “On the Argument for Jian’ai,” is available for free access to everyone (just click on the “Full Text PDF” link for that article below). Next week, we will host some discussion of this article here on the blog, to be led off by an intial “featured post” on the subject by Dan Robins. Please read through Loy’s article and take part in the conversation!

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Three New Books: Mozi, Yi Jing, and Confucianism in HK

Three new (or at least new to me) books of interest:

If anyone has read any of these, please let us know what you think!

Successful 8th MCCT

Bloomington, Indiana was the site of the 8th Midwest Conference on Chinese Thought, which took place last Friday to Sunday. Our hosts at the University of Indiana (primarily Aaron Stalnaker, Maichel Ing, and Cheryl Cottine of the Religious Studies Department) organized things very well. The group was small enough that everyone was able to participate, but large enough that there was a critical mass to discuss a wide range of topics intelligently. As compared with the more narrowly philosophical conferences that I have mostly been attending, there was a refreshing dose of sinology (details of texts, less-well-known authors, etc.); too bad that the AAS doesn’t seem to be more open to broad discussions of Chinese thought, because it might then be more of a forum for conversations like this one. Two of my personal highlights were Esther Klein’s paper “Sima Qian’s Confucius and the Western Han Lunyu,” which both reviewed recent research on the possible Western Han composition of the Lunyu and presented her own research into citations of the Lunyu in Shiji; and Frank Perkins’s “The Mohist Daodejing,” which explored parallels between the last 16 chapters of the Daodejing (which are unattested in the Guodian texts) and Mohism. Both papers hint at further ways in which our understanding of early Chinese thought may continue to change in dramatic ways in years ahead!

Xunzi and the Mohists on Natural Disasters

In a famous passage, Xúnzǐ argues that natural disasters lead to catastrophe only because of human failings: with the proper preparation, floods and droughts still occur, but do not devastate. I’m probably not the only friend of this blog who found special poignancy in this argument while lecturing on it in the aftermath of Katrina.

The news today has been good. Irene seems to have weakened unexpectedly. (I hope this hasn’t changed since last I saw good information.) Here in Philadelphia, it looks like we’ll get a category one hurricane, the equivalent (in Hong Kong terms) of a typhoon signal ten. I think there was just one of those in the ten years I lived in Hong Kong; we didn’t even lose internet. I’m preparing mostly by baking lots of bread and making lots of hummus. I’m still a bit nervous, because I don’t know what I can expect from local construction, and the American infrastructure is (understandably, to an extent) less robust than Hong Kong’s. And there are lots of people more vulnerable than I am, and lots of people who have been and are going to be hit harder. I’m glad that friends have evacuated the Jersey shore, and am proud of friends who are part of the preparations and will be part of the response.

In any case, it’s got me thinking about Xúnzǐ, and also about the Mohists, who would have interpreted a storm like Irene as a punishment from heaven. Continue reading →

Xunzi on Poverty

Book 9 of the Xunzi includes a passage that seems to argue that in order to prevent desperate poverty (qiong 窮) it is necessary that some people be poor (pin 貧) while others are rich. Sorting out the view Xunzi takes of poverty in this argument is harder than you might expect.

The argument’s central claim is that if people are equal in their power and position and the same in their desires and aversions, this will inevitably lead to conflict, disorder, and poverty. The sages are supposed to have solved this problem by establishing the rituals and the duties, a hierarchical system that ensures that some can lead while others follow.

Why, though, must there be inequality of wealth as well as of power? Continue reading →

Fatalism in Mozi

This is my first post here so I will begin by thanking the Steve and Manyul for first inviting me (and gently reminding me to post), and begging everyone’s indulgence since I wanted to post something less weighty.

So I was reading Ian Johnston’s new complete translation of the Mozi to write a review (out next year in PEW) when I came across this passage in the introduction:

Mo Zi’s argument against Fatalism is very simple. To a significant extent, the simplicity is a result of Mo Zi’s failure to provide, in any of the [“Feiming”] essays, a clear exposition of what Fate actually is or might be. The discussion is really only in terms of what a belief in Fate is presumed to entail. There is no semblance of any argument about determinism and free-will more generally, although the existence of the latter is certainly implied in Mo Zi’s social prescription. (lxv)

It’s a small point in a compact overview of Mohism so I didn’t think it’s necessary to make too much of it (no, what follows is not in my review). But I can’t help but think that Johnston had committed the common error of conflating fatalism with determinism. But that’s not really my point in this post (having just concluded a semester’s teaching on free will and determinism, I think I’ll take a rest from that mess.) Rather, it’s the point that the Mozi text lacks a clear exposition of what Fate is that bugged me. What follows are some relatively unpolished thoughts I had when thinking about Mozi, “Feiming” and Johnston’s complaint. Continue reading →

Loving Brothers and Handsome Men

Anybody want to talk about ai 愛? It seems like this might be the day for it.

The natural topic (for me, anyway) is the Mohist doctrine of jian ai 兼愛, or inclusive care. But, awkwardly enough, it’s perfectly clear that this doctrine isn’t about love, much less romantic love. So that won’t do.

But what about the statement in the “Lesser Selection 小取” that though Huo does ai her younger brother, who is a handsome man, she does not ai a handsome man. That second ai maybe looks a bit Valentine-y. Does anyone think they know what’s going on? Continue reading →

Pre-Qin Love (愛)

[Moving up to front, to restart discussion on this topic — see new comments]

Because it’s now come up twice, in separate places (here and here), I can’t stop thinking about this question: What does ai 愛, broadly translatable as “love,” connote? If I had the time, I would do some actual research into this. But since the antecedent of that conditional is false, I’m going to allow myself just to post the question and my initial thoughts, and see what others think. Let me paste here a version of the comment I made at Tang Dynasty Times, attempting to understand the early Chinese concept through some early Greek ones, and see what kinds of responses I get:

My sense of ai in early Chinese literature is that it is actually more like agape–along with philia–than eros. Lian 戀, along with perhaps se 色, captures the sense of eros much better. Ai seems very much reserved in Classical Chinese for these two senses:

1) kindly attachment and affection (sort of like philia and agape); benevolence, if the direction of hierarchy in the relationship is right


2) fondness; or in the verbal sense, to fancy (sort of like hao 好, in the Classical sense)

I can’t call to mind any instances of ai that I’ve come across that connote the type of longing and lustfully urgent desire that eros suggests.

Or maybe that’s too narrow a rendering of eros? Maybe. Still, I think the broad outlines of what I’m saying are right at least.

Afterthought: The meaning of agape isn’t determined by its use in Christianity. So, I don’t think that’s a factor here.

I might sound confident, but I’m happy, as always, to be set straight.