Universality in Chinese Ethics
Further to our brief discussion of Chinese ethics, I wanted to note an interesting and telling episode in the history of Chinese philosophy.
Back in the Warring States era (479–221 BC) there was a lot of philosophical ferment. One of the schools that emerged was Mohism (after its founder, Mo Tzu, or Mozi), which taught universal and impartial benevolence. Here is a representative passage:
This is why our teacher Mozi says, “I approve of impartiality. Moreover, earlier I said that, ‘The business of a benevolent person is to promote what is beneficial to the world and eliminate what is harmful.’ And now I have shown that impartiality gives rise to all the great benefits in the world and that partiality gives rise to all the great harms in the world.”
Confucians explicitly rejected the Mohist ideal, insisting, for example, that it is proper to put your own family first (see for instance Mencius 3.A.5). Mohism died out and Confucianism eventually became a state religion. In a sense the Chinese tradition considered, and deliberately rejected, the ideal of universal and impartial love. (Though see the section on China in Skarphedin’s post on Buddhism and charity in China.)
Universal and impartial love is a pretty radical idea. I wouldn’t go for it on philosophical grounds myself.
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The above-linked article at the SEP is typical in suggesting that the Mohist writings propound a moral theory of a Utilitarian stripe. In fact those writings are not philosophically sophisticated enough to offer any theory.
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There’s a nice volume of Mohist writing edited by Burton Watson.