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Fa (concept)

Fa (Chinese: ;Mandarin pronunciation: [fà]) is a concept in Chinese philosophy that covers ethics, logic, and law. It can be translated as "law" in some contexts, but more often as "model" or "standard."

Mohism and the School of Names

The concept of fa first gained importance in the Mohist school of thought. To Mozi, a standard must stand "three tests" in order to determine its efficacy and morality.[1] The first of these tests was its origin; if the standard had precedence in the actions or thought of the semi-mythological sage kings of the Xia dynasty whose examples are frequently cited in classical Chinese philosophy. The second test was one of validity; does the model stand up to evidence in the estimation of the people? The third and final test was one of applicability; this final one is a utilitarian estimation of the net good that, if implemented, the standard would have on both the people and the state.[2]

The third test speaks to the fact that to the Mohists, a fa was not simply an abstract model, but an active tool. The real-world use and practical application of fa were vital. Yet fa as models were also used in later Mohist logic as principles used in deductive reasoning. As classical Chinese philosophical logic was based on analogy rather than syllogism, fa were used as benchmarks to determine the validity of logical claims through comparison. There were three fa in particular that were used by these later Mohists (or "Logicians") to assess such claims, which were mentioned earlier. The first was considered a "root" standard, a concern for precedence and origin. The second, a "source", a concern for empiricism. The third, a "use", a concern for the consequence and pragmatic utility of a standard. These three fa were used by the Mohists to both promote social welfare and denounce ostentation or wasteful spending.[3]


While Mohism itself was eventually suppressed and the school of thought essentially disappeared, the Mohist concept of fa proved influential in other schools of Chinese thought. Xunzi, the important early Confucian philosopher, took up the concept and suggested that fa could only be properly assessed by sages, not everyday people, and that the most important fa were the very rituals that Mozi had ridiculed for their ostentatious waste and lack of benefit for the people at large.[4]


Through Xunzi, the concept of fa was elaborated in the school of Legalism, principally the philosopher Han Fei. It is sometimes claimed that Han Fei was pupil of Xunzi; whatever the veracity of the claim, his ideas were certainly referenced by the Legalist thinker.[5] Han Fei's conception of fa was less logical and more legal. Accordion to Han Fei, fa were to be created by the king and, through the instruction of his officials, taught to the common people so that there would be harmonious society free of chance occurrences, disorder, and "appeal to privilege". High officials were not to be held above fa, nor were they to be allowed to create their own fa. It was a concept that united both executive fiat and rule of law.[6]

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Mozi. (2003). Basic Writings. Burton Watson, Ed. Columbia University Press: New York, p. 122
  3. ^ Fraser, Chris, "Mohism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>
  4. ^ Robins, Dan, "Xunzi", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>
  5. ^ Robins, Dan, "Xunzi", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>
  6. ^ Han Fei. (2003). Basic Writings. Columbia University Press: New York, p. 7, 21- 28, 40, 91