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Eastern Philosophers

Eastern philosophy or Asian philosophy includes the various philosophies of South and East Asia, including Chinese philosophy, Indian philosophy, Buddhist philosophy (dominant in Tibet, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia), Korean philosophy, and Japanese philosophy.

According to Victoria S. Harrison, the category of “Eastern philosophy”, and similarly “Asian philosophy” and “Oriental philosophy” is a product of 19th-century Western scholarship and did not exist in East Asia or India. This is because in Asia there is no single unified philosophical tradition with a single root.

Some argue that the distinction between Eastern and Western philosophies is arbitrary and purely geographic, that this artificial distinction does not take into account the tremendous amount of interaction between Eastern and Western thought, and that the distinction is more misleading than enlightening. Furthermore, it has been argued that the term “Eastern Philosophy” implies similarities between philosophical schools which may not exist and obscures the differences between Eastern philosophies.

One such argument is historical. Our first “historical glimpse” of Western Philosophy actually takes us to Asia Minor. Whether its roots lie in India (or the roots of Indian Philosophy stem from an Indo-Aryan invasion) we may never know. But it is surely plausible that the Middle East was a crossroads of ancient religious philosophical systems. A related argument is linguistic, based on the classification of Sanskrit as one of the earliest Indo-European languages. (Nietzsche famously argued that Christianity and Buddhism were “kindred” Religions.)

Below, you will find significant philosophical thinkers, their history, and contributions to social development.

Eastern Philosophy is a diverse body of approaches to life and philosophizing, particularly centered on understanding the process of the Universe and the endless “becoming”. In Western culture, the term Eastern Philosophy refers very broadly to the various philosophies of “the East,” namely Asia, including China, India, Japan. Eastern thought developed independently of Western and Islamic thought, but has greatly influenced both in Modern times. Eastern Philosophy does not have the rigid academic traditions found in Western thinking.

Because of the more rigorous academic approach to philosophizing in the West, most Western universities focus almost exclusively on Western philosophical traditions and ideas in their Philosophy departments and courses (with several exceptions). When one uses the unqualified term “philosophy” in a Western academic context, it typically refers to the Western philosophical tradition beginning with the ancient Greeks. Eastern philosophies are typically overlooked, but increased connections between “East and West” in recent years have served to bridge the culture gap by a large degree.

The central conceptual structure shared with Classical Western Philosophy (and lacking in East Asian thought prior to the Buddhist “invasion”) includes counterparts of the dichotomies between reason v emotion, appearance v reality, one v many, and permanence v change. Indian and Western thought, with their robust mind-body conceptual Dualism, share consequent tendencies to subjective Idealism or Dualism. Formally, they share the rudiments of Western “Folk Psychology” –a sentential Psychology and Semantics e.g. belief and (propositional) knowledge, subject-predicate grammar (and subject-object metaphysics) truth and falsity, and inference. These concepts underwrote the emergence (or perhaps spread) of Logic in Greece and India (In contrast to pre-Buddhist China). Other noticeable similarities include structural features of related concepts of Time, Space, Objecthood and Causation — all concepts hard to isolate within ancient Chinese concepts. One fundamental reason for the separation is that both traditions of Eastern Philosophy tend to be marginalized or ignored in Western studies of the “History of Philosophy.” So both tend to be relegated to the World Religions departments of Western universities, or to New Age nonacademic works, though there are several notable exceptions.

At least since Kant in the 18th Century, who was influenced by many diverse sources of Philosophy, Science and the Arts, there have been many modern attempts to integrate Western and Eastern philosophical traditions. German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was very interested in Taoism. His system of dialectics is sometimes interpreted as a formalization of Taoist principles. Hegel’s arch-enemy, Arthur Schopenhauer, developed a Philosophy that was essentially a synthesis of Hinduism and Buddhism with Western thought. He anticipated that the Upanishads (primary Hindu scriptures) would have a much greater influence in the West than they have had. However, Schopenhauer was working with heavily flawed early translations (and sometimes second-degree translations), and many feel that he may not necessarily have accurately grasped the Eastern philosophies which interested him.

Recent attempts to incorporate Western Philosophy into Eastern thought include the Kyoto School of philosophers, who combined the Phenomenology of Edmund Husserl with the insights of Zen Buddhism. Much of the work of Ken Wilber also focuses on bringing together Eastern and Western philosophies into a coherent and integrated framework or Integral Theory.

The following is an overview of the major Eastern philosophic traditions. Each tradition has a separate article with more detail on sects, schools, etc.

– Buddhism
– Confucianism
– Hinduism
– Legalism
– Maoism
– Shinto
– Taoism
– Zen

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