More Mozi…

A couple of updates on the research!

I’ve finally finished slogging through my thousand page “The Mozi: A Complete Translation,” which, though it moved at a slow pace due to my goal of self-analysis and attempts to go back through the Mandarin text to do some of my own translating, has been a really enjoyable part of the research process. This text is certainly where the meat of the research lies: going through Mozi’s brief essays topic by topic has allowed me to really form a picture of who this man was and what his goals were as a philosopher and concerned citizen. Considering that Mozi wrote so long ago and in such a different cultural environment, I hope, by going through his writings first, my understanding of his intent will not be sullied as I turn my research to the realm of Western philosophy. In doing so, I will not (I hope), as can often happen when Western students set out to study Eastern literatures, overapply my preconceptions and attempt to force Mozi to conform to a predetermined set of philosophical rules or theories as, in this project, could easily occur with utilitarianism.

Which leads me to the next part of the research: reviewing the classical utilitarian literature out there. These publications are familiar to me, and a much easier read, but helpful to clarify a key question for the topic – what exactly the difference is between utilitarianism and consequentialism. So far, this has proved to be the greatest sticking point in my research. Going through several drafts, considering how to go about making this contentious jump from Mozi-as-consequentialist to Mozi-as-utilitarian, I’ve made a number of edits. The following series of paragraphs shows my mental process to this end:

These were my first impressions on the issue: The difference between consequentialism and utilitarianism must be specified. Consequentialism is defined in so far as the moral rightness of an act depends only on its consequences. Utilitarianism, being a kind of consequentialism, can be put in similar terms and appropriately called act consequentialism. In terms of the moral goodness of an action, this theory declares an act morally right if and only if that act results in the most good. Therefore, to jump from consequentialism to utilitarianism, Mozi’s theory must entail maximization of utility or, in Mozi’s terms, benefits, in order to achieve this ‘most good’ distinction unique to utilitarianism

While this conception of the distinction is certainly one piece of the puzzle, I eventually found it to be far too lenient a definition, one that would easily disintegrate into something other than classic utilitarianism when pressed. So, I developed the following (I’ve written this as though it is a paragraph in a longer paper on the topic): Having shown that Mozi’s theory of universal love via its description of the ‘man of humanity’ is, indeed, a fundamentally consequentialist concept, and further, that this consequentialist spirit is apparent in its application to daily life, specifically in terms of war, funerals, fatalism, and music, then we can now pursue an argument demonstrating why Mozi is not only a consequentialist, but a true utilitarian. To do so, the difference between consequentialism and utilitarianism must be specified. According to our previous definition, consequentialism is defined in so far as the moral rightness of an act depends only on its consequences. Utilitarianism, being a kind of consequentialism, requires specification: it has a focus on impartiality and agent-neutrality, it must entail some kind of maximization of the good, and this good must be understood somehow in terms of subjective welfare, as there are many legitimate varieties under utilitarianism. These distinguishing characteristics are chosen for their exclusivity to utilitarianism as compared to consequentialism and consistent presence in the general canon of utilitarian writing. It should be noted, further, that this paper does not seek to define what brand of utilitarianism Mozi espouses, merely that he qualifies as a utilitarian in the broadest sense of the word, which is why only the most essential, necessary characteristics of utilitarianism have been selected. In order to show that Mozi qualifies as a utilitarian, then, his work must meet each of these established qualifications.

This definitely seems to be progress, but I still have a couple of reservations. I think to fully complete the argument I’m making for this distinction, I’m going to bring in some contemporary literature here that claims that Mozi qualifies as a consequentialist but not a utilitarian and respond according to my distinction, as well as expand on the paragraph above and fully define each piece of the distinction so that it’s clear what I mean to be talking about.

But! With this distinction fleshed out, at least partly, I feel comfortable now moving on to go back over each of Mozi’s essays and identifying where and how his work meets these qualifications. I do foresee another difficulty arising at this point in the research: do all of his essays need to possess each of these qualifications for utilitarianism in order to qualify at all? Or should his work be taken as a whole – as in, if it mostly encompasses these qualifications, then it can be said to be utilitarian? Or what if one essay exemplifies one qualification but does not meet the others? These are questions that will need to be answered as I continue the research process.

But with all the initial reading done and with the most important philosophical distinction on its way, I definitely think the project is moving along as planned, so far.