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The Mozi and Just War Theory in Pre-Han Thought

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The Mozi presents one of history’s earliest discussions of the justification for war. Mozi and his followers held that although unprovoked aggression is always unjustified, defensive war and punitive aggression may sometimes be warranted. However, their criteria of just war are so stringent as to permit only defensive war, rendering offensive, punitive war nearly impossible to justify. The article reviews discussions of just war in the Mozi and other pre-Han texts and discusses how The Annals of Lü Buwei presents a conception of “righteous arms” as an alternative to the Mohist privileging of defensive over offensive war. I argue that, with minor refinements, the Mohist view answers the Annals’ criticisms while underscoring problems concerning the justification of aggression that the Annals overlooks. The article highlights how features of early Chinese justifications for war—most importantly, the analogy between just war and criminal punishment—raise deep problems for the justification of aggression.

Affiliations: 1: University of Hong Kong cjfraser@gmail.com

10.1163/22127453-12341300
/content/journals/10.1163/22127453-12341300
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2016-11-21
2017-11-18

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