Assessment of Li 利 in the Mencius and the Mozi

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Journal article

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Dao : A Journal of Comparative Philosophy

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Mozi, Mencius, Ethics, Benefit


The attitude toward li 利 is often identified as a key difference between the Mencius 孟子 and the Mozi 墨子. A common view is that for the Mencius, rightness (yi 義) and li are incompatible; but for the Mozi they are not necessarily so. In this paper I argue that the Mencius and the Mozi are in broad agreement on the issue of li, and their attitudes toward li are not as different as may seem at first glance. If we take a finer-grained understanding of li in two ways, namely the self-regarding li and the other-regarding li, then both the Mencius and the Mozi would criticize the former but encourage the latter. The term li in the Mencius has a range of meanings, and it is not clear whether the Mencius actually opposes all li-pursuing activities. Mencius would agree with Mozi that, at least in some cases, one is obligated to seek li for others. Furthermore, despite their criticism of self-regarding li, both Mencius and Mozi allow that in some cases it is morally permissible to act from the motive of self-regarding li, as long as this motive coexists with the motive of rightness. That is, self-regarding li and rightness are not always mutually exclusive, even for Mencius, who seems to be more critical of li.



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Chiu, W. W. (2014). Assessment of Li 利 in the Mencius and the Mozi. Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, 13(2), 199-214. doi: 10.1007/s11712-014-9372-3