Socrates to Mozi

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9 thoughts on “Socrates to Mozi”

  1. In Plato’s “Apology”, when Socrates defines the death-like state he arguments that it is either “nothingness” or a ” migration of the soul from this world to another”. What does he refer to when he says a state of nothingness? How do we define the state of not thinking? Can something be non-existent?

    1. This is great question! In some sense, if we are talking about true “nothingness,” then there it seems like there is no way to define or describe it. And if nothingness could exist then would it be a “thing” at all? That’s how I’m taking your last question about whether something can be being non-existent–if it’s something, then it exists.

      The only way I can understand what Socrates is referring to (and by the way, what Epicurus will also refer to), is simply an absence of all thought and sensation. He says it’s like a long night of sleep that you don’t remember anything about in the morning, so it’s as if it didn’t happen. But of course that only works if the absence of thought and sensation we experience at death were to stop being an absence–in other words, if we were at some point to start being aware again, then that “absence” would just be like a blank period of which we have no memory. But if death truly is an absence of all thought and sensation and continues to be so, then it’s not really like a long night of sleep; there would be no “me” there to experience it as being “like” anything at all.

      I think Epicurus’ argument makes more sense: he says that death is “nothing to us,” because upon death and afterwards, there is nothing that happens to us. We have no thought, no sensation…there is just an absence. But we’re not even aware of it as an absence. Whereas Socrates describes it like a night of dreamless sleep, I think that suggests too much like there is still “something” there, while Epicurus’s view that death is nothing at all makes more sense to me.

      1. i think that epicurus’ philophy doesn’t require a well fleshed out definition of the “afterlife”. whether there is something or nothing is beside the point. (as i understand the material), epicurus does not make a strong claim either way; he says only that death is “nothing to us”.

        1. likewise, consider that epicurean religious philosophy is equally valid under deism and atheism. the gods may or may not exist, but even if they do exist, they do not intervene and so we say “they are nothing to us”.

          1. I’m not sure what Socrates really thought about what happens after death (since what we read about him is usually from Plato), but Epicurus seems to suggest there is literally nothing after death. As in, our atoms disperse and there is nothing that happens other than that. It’s true that his claim is that death is nothing to us, but I think his view of the nature of what exists (matter & void, with matter being made up of atoms) and that the soul & the body have to be bound together or the soul can’t function, suggests that there probably really is nothing after death. But either way, since we can’t experience it, you’re right to point out that it’s nothing to us regardless!

            And yes, good point about his view of the gods–it doesn’t matter if they exist or not because we don’t have to worry about them either way.

  2. Here are some questions/comments that were posted on Learning Catalytics about Mozi, along with replies I posted to those students. I thought they could be useful to others too (there are no names attached to the questions and comments on the document so anonymity is preserved!).

    If you want to add your own thoughts, please do so below because I can’t tell when the google doc is updated so I won’t be able to see if anyone adds anything to it (and so I closed it off to additions except comments…I do get notifications for comments).

  3. In Mozi’s Reading, he advocates for impartial care. He uses the example of the filial son to support his argument, by saying that a devoted son would give to parents B so that his parents (A), would be supported by the son of parents B should he die. My question is: is not this also a form of partiality though? Because if the son of parents B, had to choose between helping parents A and parents C, he would most likely choose parents A because he had a reciprocal relationship with the son of parents A, so he is not being entirely impartial. Thanks for your help with this!

    1. Very good question! Yes, it does indeed seem that the child of parents B would be being partial to the parents A because of the reciprocal relationship.

      I think that Mohist “impartial caring” is a bit complex, and doesn’t necessarily entail treating everyone completely impartially. You can still engage in impartial caring while taking care of your own parents and grandparents first. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Mohism (entries in that encyclopedia are written by experts in their fields, and are high quality or they can’t get published) suggests that Mohists didn’t necessarily think you had to treat all people exactly the same; you could still provide more careful care to those close to you. The idea was rather, according to this entry, ensuring that you don’t ignore the needs of others entirely just because they aren’t close to you.

      I think part of what is working in here, given what I’ve read about Mozi, is that the value of social order (remember, that’s one of the three basic needs for human welfare in a state) includes people performing their social roles. I’m not sure if I emphasized this in class or not, but social order includes things like peace, lack of crime, good government that practices inclusive care, but also: people performing the roles they should have according to their social position. So, e.g., teachers should perform the role of teachers, parents should provide for the household and take care of their children, children should treat their parents with respect and take care of them when they grow older, etc. In that way, order is kept because people are doing the right things for their roles (of course, one also has to ask what those roles entail). So in some way one might think it could be part of impartial caring for society generally to perform your role as a filial child because doing so, especially if others do to, contributes to social order.

      Still, I’ve read other things that suggest some Mohists may have thought we should be impartial to the degree of sacrificing our own interests for the sake of benefiting others as much as possible, and that sounds like it’s going more in the impartial direction than the above. It may have been that different groups of Mohists, or Mohists in different time periods, had different views!

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