Is Mohism really li-promotionalism?

Asian Philosophy 31 (4):430-440 (2021)
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A longstanding orthodoxy holds that the Mohists regard the promotion of li (benefit, 利) as their ultimate normative criterion, meaning that they measure what is yi (just, 義) or buyi (unjust, 不義) depending on whether it maximizes li or not. This orthodoxy dates back at least to Joseph Edkins (1859), who saw Mozi as a utilitarian and an ally of Bentham. In this paper, we will argue that this orthodoxy should be reconsidered because it does not square with several passages from the Mozi. That the Mohists place a strong weight on the promotion of ‘li for the whole world (tianxia zhi li, 天下之利)’ is uncontroversial. We argue, however, that in certain cases the Mohist moral calculus diverges in its rationale or outcome from li-promotionalism. This position rejects the orthodoxy by showing that Mohism and li-promotionalism are not entirely coterminous.

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Amin Ebrahimi Afrouzi
University of California, Berkeley


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