Major Rival Schools: Mohism and Legalism

Chris Fraser

in The Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780195328998
Published online September 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Major Rival Schools: Mohism and Legalism

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The Confucians, or Ru, were just one of several widely recognized social or ethical movements, and the figures and texts we now call “Daoist” did not represent an organized school or movement at all, but only a loose network of mentors and pupils with a roughly overlapping doctrinal orientation. Neither can be considered to have approached the status of philosophical orthodoxy or dominance, and numerous other thinkers and ideological communities flourished alongside them in what later became known as the age of the “hundred schools,” perhaps the most intellectually fertile period in Chinese history. This article introduces two of these rival strands of early Chinese thought, Mohism (Mo Jia) and Legalism (Fa Jia). The Mohists were a well-organized, grassroots social movement deeply committed to moral, political, and religious ideals and particularly concerned for the welfare of the common people. Mo Di, the charismatic teacher from whom the movement took its name, was arguably the first real philosopher in the Chinese tradition. By contrast, Legalism was not an actual school or movement at all, but a taxonomical category invented by Han dynasty historians, who classified the thinkers of the classical age into six major jia, or schools of thought. Under the rubric of the Fa Jia, or “School of Fa”—commonly translated as “Legalism”—they grouped together a disparate set of statesmen and political thinkers who lived at different times, in different states, and advocated no unified doctrine or way of life.

Keywords: Chinese philosophy; Chinese philosophers; Mohism; Legalism; Mo Di; Han dynasty

Article.  5129 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Non-Western Philosophy

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