Philosophy 111 – Introduction to Philosophy (Fall 2002)
[Students and professors, please read.]
3. Identify contributions from both Eastern and Western Philosophy that have made a difference in contemporary American culture.
I think in order to really answer this question, I would need to do atleast half a semester’s worth of research (or more), and it would be a research paper rather than a 500 word essay question. I think the way I want to go about it is to contrast some Eastern and Western ideas and their applications in American culture.
In the West, we see ourselves as distinct from nature, we see it as a store of resources at our disposal, but in the East, nature is not distinct–we are part of that store, in Taoism it would be said “All is One”. In Western philosophy, our concern for nature is not as great as our concern for ourselves, smog and deforestation only a couple examples. Whereas in Eastern thought, concern for the environment is of equal importance to taking care of ourselves. This is reflected in many environment-conscious programs here in America, sponsored by various Eastern religious groups.
In Eastern philosophy, their ethics reflect an emphasis on contributing to community and humility, whereas in the West our emphasis is on individuality and competition. Our post 9-11 patriotism reflects identifying with one’s nation as if it were a football team, but Eastern culture as a norm maintains a sense of genuine community. What matters most in the West is not others, but ourselves, our assets. There are many programs in America sponsored by various Eastern religions that give aid to those in need, that support hospice to those in the last stages of life, etcetera.
In Western medicine, we treat the symptoms, whereas Eastern philosophy takes an ‘holistic’ approach to the mind, body and spirit, as they are felt to be interconnected–if there is a problem with one, all need healing. Eastern religion has brought various forms of meditation, martial arts, herbal remedies, acupuncture, and other approaches to ‘holistic’ healing. I am considering getting my son started in karate, personally. Oh, that’s another impact on America–really great Kung Fu films, the Karate Kid movies, and the new ones with Jackie Chan (s’pose that’s somewhat of a trade-off)!
The East and West see conflict differently as well. We react differently to September 11, for example. I did hours of research and stumbled upon many Buddhist pages examining various aspects of 9-11–karma, American foreign policy, oxy-moron of “War on Terror,” etcetera. Buddhism focuses on peace, and Eastern thought sees conflict as an opportunity to get closer to harmony, whereas Western thought sees conflict as opposing harmony. Many in America and abroad are protesting America’s stance against Iraq, not a popular activity in Western thought, it seems.
Eastern cultures, though, have much to learn about such Western ideals as human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, and democracy. America has struggled for these ideals since the get-go of our nation. Western philosophy and critical thinking have had much to do with winning that struggle, but we can lose the struggle if we let our guard down. It is surely not over, if ever. Rand promoted a uniquelly Western approach with her objectivist philosophy and respect for capitalism.
Now, one of the most fascinating new things I have learned during research, something I am still learning about, actually, is called “dialetheism”. A dialethia is a true contradiction. Dialethia is not trivialism. Western philosophy has contributed the law of non-contradiction, but Eastern philosophy approaches logic a bit differently, and maybe that is our stumbling block in the way of finding a unification theory? It is something I am excitedly looking into.