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Eastern vs. Western Philosophy
January 26, 2006 8:41 AM   Subscribe

The other philosophy: Eastern
posted by Gyan (31 comments total)

 
[via]
posted by Gyan at 8:42 AM on January 26, 2006


great post!
posted by garfield at 9:09 AM on January 26, 2006


it's all one, baby.
posted by carsonb at 9:16 AM on January 26, 2006


it's all one, baby.

DILUTE! DILUTE! OK!
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:24 AM on January 26, 2006


For much of the 20th century, the overwhelming majority of British and American philosophy departments did "analytic" philosophy. Analytic philosophy was (virtually) founded when G. E. Moore (thought that he) refuted British Idealism (which was in turn heavily influenced by Hegel, who had (somehow) absorbed many of the insights of Eastern philosophy). The fact that Russell and Wittgenstein, who shared the analytic style, were considered world-class philosophers in their time only worsened the situation by rendering Anglo-American philosophy departments in the 103 years since Moore's paper quite content to totally ignore entire eras and regions of intellectual history. The situation is such that some contemporary philosophers still won't admit that 20th century German or French philosophers produce "real" philosophy (I'm talking about the median thinkers here, not the top ones). (Link goes to a Wikipedia comment by Michael Huemer, assistant prof of phil at U of Colorado-Boulder. See the 2nd green paragraph.)

With the ascendency Richard Rorty and the other postmodernists, the situation has gotten much better. But to ask these people to read or understand Indian thinkers or ancient Indian thinkers is really asking quite a bit. On the whole, American professional philosophers are an isolated, narrow-minded, insufferable group, and certainly not comprised of those who love wisdom. (No, my philosophy major hasn't made me at all bitter.)
posted by goethean at 9:31 AM on January 26, 2006


Giving credit where credit is due is another philosophical problem. Where does an original insight come from? What do we mean by original? Then there is the concept of self.
Such a term implies the existence of an other, which in turn implies separation. The question contained in both Eastern and Western traditions is: What actually is the value of the 'I'? Is it fixed? Is it always the same? And what does it do? These are mongst a myriad of other questions that are raised in just about every philosophical tradition with the possible exception of the Anglo-American analytical approach.
posted by donfactor at 9:33 AM on January 26, 2006


is this a real magazine? that was the worst quasi-academic article on philosophy i've ever read.
posted by phaedon at 9:36 AM on January 26, 2006


and i mean, as for bringing up rorty, the point in 'consequences of pragmatism' where he opens the door to buddhism as a kind of natural philosophical end state, coincides almost simultaneously with his other argument, 'and of course, philosophy as we know it is dead'.

so you open the door to this east-west conversation, and as i agree with rorty, you automatically reduce philosophy to say, something more resembling comp lit. but the point is, maybe thats all philosophy really is. so what does eastern philosophy have to gain by entering a discourse with the west?

sorry im on a grumpy allnighter binge
posted by phaedon at 9:52 AM on January 26, 2006


Wow, I just sign up and a post on Eastern Philosophy. Man I love Metafilter.
posted by khaibit at 9:57 AM on January 26, 2006


The best book I ever read of this subject was The Meeting of East and West by F.S.C. Northrop (link). I'm surprised it's not mentioned in this article.
posted by drinkcoffee at 9:58 AM on January 26, 2006


I feel like the North and the South are not getting their due as hemispheres.
posted by srboisvert at 10:06 AM on January 26, 2006


'and of course, philosophy as we know it is dead'

Well, I would emphasize the "as we know it" part. There were still real Indian philosophers like Radhakrishnan long long after the confrontation with Buddhism.
posted by goethean at 10:23 AM on January 26, 2006


[this is good]
posted by bonaldi at 10:42 AM on January 26, 2006


The problem with "eastern philosophy" Is that to most people it's just a mishmash of i-ching and feel good Daoism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Zen (isn't Brittney Hindu now, after getting bored with Kabala? does that mean she hates the untouchable castes? Who will buy her records?).

The western philosophical tradition is pretty well thought out, and really building on the history that's there "we" have made great strides.

Anyway.
posted by delmoi at 10:51 AM on January 26, 2006


The fact that Russell and Wittgenstein ... were considered world-class philosophers in their time ... worsened the situation by rendering Anglo-American philosophy departments ... quite content to totally ignore entire eras and regions of intellectual history.

I like Russell.
posted by delmoi at 10:55 AM on January 26, 2006


I'm not a philosophical expert, but it should be pointed out that, while American philosophy departments are insular and ignore most of continental philosophy (see rorty: http://www.stanford.edu/~rrorty/analytictrans.htm), the same is true of continental philosophy and literary theory. When's the last time you heard a language poet cite Donald Davidson or Quine? Also, I'm not sure if I agree with some of the characterizations in this thread: many analytic philosophers would be suspicious of Wittgenstein and Rorty (see the catfight between him and Soams in the London Review of Books). Incidentally, there's a book where Rorty corresponds to an Indian philosopher and says that he wonders if China needs philosophy, by which he means Western-style university programs.

The problem with "eastern philosophy" Is that to most people it's just a mishmash of i-ching and feel good Daoism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Zen (isn't Brittney Hindu now, after getting bored with Kabala? does that mean she hates the untouchable castes? Who will buy her records?).

The western philosophical tradition is pretty well thought out, and really building on the history that's there "we" have made great strides.


This characterization is factually inaccurate and substitutes the New Age stereotype of Asian cultures for the actual intellectual discourses. They are clearly different: even Taoist philosophy is different from Taoist religion and a lot of Chinese philosophy revolves around Confucian and legalist political philosophy (not covered by your spiritualist groupings). If your criterion of intellectual value is how a tradition measures up "to most people," then we shouldn't study, say, Augustine because to most people Christianity is a mishmash of non-analytical beliefs featuring angels and demons hacking it out in 3D first person shooter style. Also, you're aware that the Kabbalah is not Asian, right? Even if your characterization were accurate, it is factually inaccurate to say that Asian traditions have no intellectual discourses in which intellectuals respond to and refute each other.

If you're interested in this, Philosophy East/West put out a great anthology with Rorty, Macintyre, Ames, AC Graham, and a number of Western and Asian philosophers responding to each other.
posted by kensanway at 11:28 AM on January 26, 2006


Okay now that I've actually had a chance to read the article, I have to say that, while containing useful information, it's really sort of silly. For example, he states that Asian traditions don't have a coherent tradition--but this is only true because he's grouped Islamic, Hindu, Indian Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist, Zen, etc., traditions in one group. It would be like saying Western philosophy wasn't coherent because Islamic, analytic, and continental philosophers didn't integrate each others discourses. Also, he states Asian philosophers were concerned with "problems of existence"--this is sort of silly or inaccurate; it's certainly not true of, say, Confucius or Mencius if he means ontological questions.

Also, I don't think this is racist. It's not that analytical philosophers aren't interested in Asian philosophers, it's that they're not interested in philosophical history at all. As that Rorty article states, you don't see most American general philosophers writing long monographs on Plato.

Sorry about the weird Christian 3D shooter analogy -- I was thinking of Christian theology and for some reason the first thing popped into my mind were images from CONSTANTINE starring Keanu Reeves!
posted by kensanway at 11:38 AM on January 26, 2006


Meanwhile, in California: Hindu history ignites brawl over textbooks
posted by homunculus at 12:35 PM on January 26, 2006


From the intro paragraph:

Cinema, literature and other aspects of western culture are increasingly open to Asian influence. Not so western philosophy, which remains almost entirely sealed off from eastern traditions.

So when did Christianity become western philosophy and tradition?
posted by Pollomacho at 12:46 PM on January 26, 2006


Rorty was my fave philosophy from my undergrad years. "Philosphy - get your head out of your arse! No more pretending to be clever by writing unintelligably." Words to live by.

I had the opportunity to study in my third year with an indian professor who had made the transition from eastern to western. He summed up the basic distinction thusly: Law of the excluded middle? Fuck right off." He almost made me want to do postgrad, but I decided I'd rather eat.
posted by Sparx at 1:19 PM on January 26, 2006


also -
kensanway: totally my new favourite metaphor
delmoi: Britney married an untouchable, didn't she? Who's now boinking Paris Hilton if the magazine covers in my local newsagent are to be believed, and they've never lead me astray before.
posted by Sparx at 1:23 PM on January 26, 2006


kensanway, I think the article is (among other things) pointing out that there's no such thing as "Asian philosophy". There are some shared concerns, but the same is probably true of any two groups of philosophical thought. In other words, I think he was making precisely the point you did.
posted by jiawen at 1:46 PM on January 26, 2006


jiawen--I agree, my point is that this is an issue that he's just deconstructing a form he invented. Surely, hindu philosophers don't think of themselves as being in the same tradition as Confucians, so we only talk about "Asian philosophy" because that's what the article is about. The point is slightly misleading because there are traditions of Asian philosophy but there is no singular Asian philosophy. Taken out of context, his thesis paragraph could be read to say that Asian didn't practice philosophy--something a TA of mine pronounced arrogantly to the class when I was a freshman!

That Indian philosophy class sounds great--can you talk more about it?
posted by kensanway at 2:08 PM on January 26, 2006


also, you're aware that the Kabbalah is not Asian, right?

You don't consider Israel to be part of Asia?

But yes, I am aware that Kabala is not considered "Oriental", which is what most Americans mean when they say "Asian", although "Eastern" probably includes India. or particularly eastern. You are aware that Britney Spears actually switched from Kabala to Hinduism, right? Like that's not a joke that's what she actually said?

My "most people" comment referred to most westerners, and yes again I familiar with the differences, and I excluded things that I didn't think people considered in their personal mish-mashes, such as Confucianism.
posted by delmoi at 2:28 PM on January 26, 2006


Interesting post.

Most westerners also think Zen is an airy touchy feely cute phrase sort of philosophy as opposed to real sweatwork delmoi.

Nice comment goethean
I wasn’t aware there was that much of a backlash though. I’d always thought it got more of a “yeah, yeah, that’s nice for you” sort of thing.

Would Chomsky fit in the contemporary philosophers who still won't admit that 20th century German or French philosophers produce "real" philosophy category?

Just curious. ‘Cause I have no clue.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:01 PM on January 26, 2006


I highly recommend Alan Watt's The Book for a synthesis between western and eastern thinking.
posted by dhruva at 3:11 PM on January 26, 2006


Would Chomsky fit in the contemporary philosophers who still won't admit that 20th century German or French philosophers produce "real" philosophy category?

I think so, I seem to remember him saying that the stuff that Foucoult and Derrida put out make so little sense to him, that he basically didn't know what it was...

Now as to whether Chomsky is an actual "Western philosopher"... he's more of a linguist who made huge contributions to philosophy of language, and mind with his scientific work
posted by stratastar at 8:43 AM on January 27, 2006


*pleads ignorance on Chomsky*
posted by goethean at 9:02 AM on January 27, 2006


Yeah, I was just thinking because of the connection between analytic philosophy and linguistics - etc.
Dunno really.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:11 AM on January 27, 2006


*pleads ignorance on Chomsky*

You Kant. Knowledge of Chomsky is innate.
posted by srboisvert at 3:58 PM on January 27, 2006


"it's springtime for Hitler and company"
posted by OU812 at 7:51 PM on January 27, 2006


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