Western vs. Eastern Ways of Doing Philosophy

The practice of doing philosophy, together with its approach, could be considered as contrasting and different in Eastern as against Western philosophy. It was seen in the previous lesson that during the pre-Socratic period in ancient Greece, which has been referred to as marking the beginnings of Western Philosophy, the basic task for these philosophers was to satisfy their curiosity. They have veered away from a mythological tradition in order to explain the nature of things around them through man’s recognized rationality and his ability for coherent thought. Western philosophy tends to make heavy use of logic, reason, and categorization. An idea is presented, reasons are given for believing in the idea, and then conclusions are made based on the idea. Western philosophy breaks down ideas and tends to focus on the parts rather than the whole. This also marked the beginning of the process for searching for knowledge for its own sake. This practice of philosophy is very different from what they have been used to, making the beginnings of Western philosophy somewhat revolutionary, because it went against tradition.

For the first time, man’s rationality is the key to explaining the order or logos in the universe. Thus, the universe was conceived as a cosmos, an orderly system that is governed by laws that could be coherently explained by man. As a consequence, the beginnings of philosophy could be described as the beginning of the process of searching for knowledge for its own sake. This process paved the way for the development of sciences and other disciplines as they become independent from their mother discipline, philosophy. As a consequence, the objective view about the world and the scientific paradigm flourished in the West.

Unlike the West, Eastern Philosophy seems to have no dichotomy between the objective world and man as a human being. The Eastern tradition of philosophizing has been associated with their religion. Thus, they may not see the same objective reality that the Western tradition is trying to explain and analyze. For them, philosophy and religion are one. When they are doing philosophy, they are also practicing their religion. There is no dichotomy or separation between the man and the objective world. They look at man as being one with the world. Thus, their being or their oneness with the world could actually be experienced by practicing their religion. There need not be any artificial dichotomy in the practice of Eastern Philosophy. Through their consciousness, not through the objective self the Western Philosophy is used to, they could experience this oneness with the world. Consequently, the approach of Eastern Philosophy could be summarized as philosophy being a way of life. Here, they are one with the world and the universe, they actually experience this consciousness when they are practicing their religion and at the same time doing philosophy. Thus, those who succeeded could claim, for example, that they have reached the highest level of consciousness, or Nirvana like the Buddhist tradition.

This general overview is barely scratching the surface in differentiating Eastern and Western Philosophy. The point to be made here is that, instead of asking the question “What is the correct way of philosophizing?” perhaps, it is better to consider whether or not it is proper to impose one’s method on the other. Eastern Philosophy and Western Philosophy are two different persuasions. They are governed by different points of view. Thus, the lesson that we have to keep in mind is: We have to appreciate both worlds, the East and the West. After all, they are both trying to explain the same phenomena, albeit, from different points of view. As the saying goes, different folks, different strokes.