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« Obligations to Parents | Main | Han Feizi on the Economic Crisis »

February 24, 2009


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Hi Sam,

I made some notes on that Mozi chapter a few months ago. I'll see if I can find them. In the meantime, I'll mention that these criticisms may seem off-base to us, with our Lunyu, Mengzi and Xunzi in hand, but may be fair criticisms of some of the actual Ru of the time. This is how I feel about some of the Daoist criticism of the Ru also. We do find some fatalism in ancient China, which should be expected when good men are not being employed or are meeting bad ends. It's natural at times like that to say, "it's just not meant to be." Mozi points out the danger of this attitude. One would like to say to Mozi to lighten up, but, that seems quite uncharacteristic for him.

See the recent JCP article by Dan Robins on how the Mohists don't actually target the Ru in most of their text. Except in the Feiru chapter, their opponents are consistently the "gentlemen of the world", the aristocratic mainstream culture.

Thanks guys. Very helpful. I especially like the notion that Mozi is taking on the "mainstream aristocratic culture" - which on the face of it (funerals, music, partiality) seems rather Ruist. Might we say that Confucius may have lost the pre-Qin political battle (i.e. never got the job he wanted and his thought was not elevated to state ideology until the Han) but won the pre-Qin culture wars?
I will read Robins article...

Ru supported lavish funerals, stressed family values, and talked about fate from time to time. But so did many, many other people in the Warring States elite. Ru would have principled disagreements with the Mohists, but so would plenty of other people. Those other people seem to have been the ones Mohists were actually interested in talking to, judging by the way they describe their opponents. Ru and Mo came to view each other as rivals, but only because they were both trying to win over the same kinds of people. The later dominance of Confucianism, particularly of the Mencian variety, has led interpreters to assume, more or less automatically, that the early Mo must have been targeting the early Ru in the "synoptic chapters". This probably exaggerates the actual importance and visibility of the Ru in the early centuries. There is indeed a very big difference in rigor and style between the synoptic chapters and the Feiru chapter, which might suggest that the authors simply did not take the Ru seriously as opponents for philosophical debate.

To tie this back to that wonderful post on Warring States Intellectual Production post you did over at Manyul's, I am thinking about how this intellectual-political project of the Mo (to win over non-Ru mainstream aristocrats) perhaps shaped their rhetorical and argumentative style - but in a manner that ultimately frustrates their aim. The Feiru chapter, in my uninformed reading, does take the Ru seriously - the authors have taken the time and effort to write a whole chapter on them. Rather, it seems that, perhaps, it is precisely their desire to take down the Ru fundamentally that impels them to go after the character of Ru with personal attacks. The Mo lose sight of one of their greatest strengths, their methodical logic (which can sometimes get a bit rigid and stifling) and descend into name-calling. It seems like the Ru get under the skin of the Mo and knock them off their game.
What is your sense of the historical sequence of the writing of the Mozi chapters? How long after the "synoptic chapters" was the Feiru chapter written? Or can that even be known?

I'm one of those (not all of whom have to be Confucians) who find most of the Mohist arguments clumsy and uninteresting. If they were intended as written documents they couldn't fail to make a rather embarrassing impression--which is part of why I buy the theory that the synoptic chapters were most likely intended as crib sheets or references for oral debate. The Mohists are the first people we know of to make a point of polishing their public debate chops; that's commendable for the intellectual elevation of the culture but doesn't mean that "their game", as you put it, is much to write home least in the form we have it. The Feiru chapter is indeed a bit of an anomaly, though there is sloppy argument throughout the Mozi. (See their treatments of theodicy, for example. Consistent they ain't.) Any account of why the Feiru exists is speculative; our two personal hunches are actually, I think, compatible with each other.

Can someone clarify what exactly we mean by Ru 儒? Classicists? Literati? Experts on ritual and etiquette?

It seems everyone picked on the Ru, Mohists (two chapters explicitly), Daoists (implicitly and explicitly), Legalists. Even Xunzi.

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