Philosophical Forum 51 (1):17-31 (2020)

In this paper, I wish to examine the plausibility of two distinct but interrelated claims that might arise out of reading the Mozi . First, I want to examine the plausibility of understanding Mohist philosophy as quite naturalistic, notwithstanding the Mozi’s apparent discussion of a Heaven (tian 天) that has desires, likes, and dislikes and ghosts and spirits who do Heaven’s bidding. In this vein, I wonder if the Mohists think that it is simply a fact of the universe that Heaven cares for all humans impartially, in much the same way that certain other thinkers in the Chinese tradition understand Heaven as having a set of regularities that can be understood and acted upon. Arising from this may be the idea that the right thing to do, in a hypothetical rather than categorical sense, is to accord with Heaven. This then leads to the second part of this paper – questioning the substantive moral normativity often ascribed to the Mozi. Once we remove the supra-natural understanding of Heaven from Mohist thought, we may understand the normativity within as a non-moral normativity. Perhaps it is not that we morally ought to accord with Heaven’s will and act impartially or morally ought to accord with the natural world and follow the Dao. Rather, these can simply be seen as success criteria. Insofar as we wish to have a strong, flourishing, and prosperous state – or, in the Mozi’s terms a wealthy, populous and well-ordered state – it is necessary to accord with how the world is actually structured.
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DOI 10.1111/phil.12241
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