Philosophy of the Eastern Cultures

Philosophy of the Eastern Cultures

There are two main traditions in Oriental philosophy, Chinese and Indian. Both philosophies are basically religious and ethical in origin and character. They are removed from any interest in science.

Traditionally, Chinese philosophy has been largely practical, humanistic, and social in its aims. It developed as a means of bringing about improvements in society and politics. Traditionally, philosophy in India has been chiefly mystical rather than political. It has been dominated by reliance on certain sacred texts, called Vedas, which are considered inspired and true and therefore subject only for commentary and not for criticism. Much of Indian philosophy has emphasized withdrawal from everyday life into the life of the spirit. Chinese philosophy typically called for efforts to participate in the life of the state in order to improve worldly conditions.

Chinese philosophy as we know it started in the 500’s B.C. with the philosopher Confucius. His philosophy, called Confucianism, was the official philosophy of China for centuries, though it was reinterpreted by different generations. Confucianism aimed to help people live better and more rewarding lives by discipline and by instruction in the proper goals of life. Candidates for government positions had to pass examinations on Confucian thought, and Confucianism formed the basis for government decisions. No other civilization has placed such emphasis on philosophy.

Other philosophic traditions in China were Taoism, Mohism, and realism. Beginning in the 1100’s, a movement known as Neo-Confucianism incorporated elements of all these doctrines.

We do not know exactly when Indian philosophy began. In India, philosophic thought was intermingled with religion, and most Indian philosophic thought has been religious in character and aim. Philosophic commentaries on sacred texts emerge during the 500’s B.C. The Indian word for these studies is darshana, which means vision or seeing. It corresponds to what the ancient Greeks called philosophia.

In India, as in China, people conceived of philosophy as a way of life, not as a mere intellectual activity. The main aim of Indian philosophy was freedom from the suffering and tension caused by the body and the senses and by attachment to worldly things. The main philosophies developed in India were Hinduism and Buddhism, which were also religions. Yet some Indian philosophers did develop a complex system of logic and carried on investigations in epistemology. Some Indian philosophic ideas have been influential in the West. One such idea is reincarnation, the belief that the human soul is successively reborn in new bodies.

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