Mohism Workshop

From June 25–28, I will be attending what promises to be quite an interesting workshop hosted by Professors Carine Defoort and Nicolas Standaert at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven entitled “The Many Faces of Mozi: A Synchronic and Diachronic Study of Mohist Thought.” Despite the title, the workshop actually focuses on the “Dialogue” and “Summary” books of the Mozi, not the core essays. My own paper is on the ethical thought of the Mohist “Dialogues,” specifically how they differ from the core essays. An abstract follows.

The Ethics of the Mohist “Dialogues”


The ethics of the Mohist “Dialogues” is largely consistent with that of the “Triads,” but the Dialogues present at least four novel extensions of Mohist ethical ideas. First, they clarify the Mohist conception of dào 道 as norms that can be explicitly expressed in yán 言 (statements) and publicized and consistently followed by all with good consequences. Second, they express a series of views on moral worth, which tie it to agents’ character and intentions. Third, they fill out the Mohist view of moral motivation and indicate how the Mohists approach the problem of weakness of will. Fourth, they present a new, highly demanding ideal of moral sagehood. On the whole, the Dialogues present a more demanding conception of the moral life than the Triads do. This difference may be due partly to a general tendency in later generations of the Mohist movement to shift toward more extreme positions. But it can also explained partly by the different audiences to which the two sets of texts were directed. Whereas the Triads are addressed primarily to rulers, officials, and gentlemen, most of whom were probably not Mohist followers, the Dialogues appear to be addressed primarily to committed Mohist disciples. Hence they may depict ideals that exceed the norms to which the Mohists expected the typical member of society to conform.