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Eastern vs. Western
philosophy & metaphysics

A comparison of culture and philosophy
between Eastern and Western societies.
Similarities and differences in society.



It is often suggested that contrasting Eastern vs. Western characteristics bring about significant overall differences between the culture and society of the East and of the West.

Those who compare, and seek to find contrasts rather than similarities between, Eastern vs. Western characteristics tend to identify such things as:-

Eastern Society and Culture

Community orientation
passive
contemplative
accepting of what is
hope of enjoying life through society
wealth seen as resulting from good fortune
cherish wisdom of the years
high value on wider family

Western Society and Culture

Individualism
value activity
encourage diligence
seeking of positive change
hope for materialistic success
wealth seen as resulting from effort
cherish youthful vitality
high value on material pursuits

One would think that "Being Human" is much the same East and West, yet the differences between Eastern vs. Western characteristics suggested above are actually strikingly reflected in how eastern and western philosophy and metaphysics see the world!

Some western philosophers' approaches

In all districts of all lands, in all the classes of communities thousands of minds are intently occupied, the merchant in his compting house, the mechanist over his plans, the statesman at his map, his treaty, & his tariff, the scholar in the skilful history & eloquence of antiquity, each stung to the quick with the desire of exalting himself to a hasty & yet unfound height above the level of his peers. Each is absorbed in the prospect of good accruing to himself but each is no less contributing to the utmost of his ability to fix & adorn human civilization.
In William H. Gilman (ed.) The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol II, 1822-1826, 305




It is one of those fables, which, out of an unknown antiquity, convey an unlooked-for wisdom, that the gods, in the beginning, divided Man into men, that he might be more helpful to himself; just as the hand was divided into fingers, the better to answer its end.

The old fable covers a doctrine ever new and sublime; that there is One Man, - present to all particular men only partially, or through one faculty; and that you must take the whole society to find the whole man. Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all. Man is priest, and scholar, and statesman, and producer, and soldier. In the divided or social state, these functions are parcelled out to individuals, each of whom aims to do his stint of the joint work, whilst each other performs his. The fable implies, that the individual, to possess himself, must sometimes return from his own labor to embrace all the other laborers. But unfortunately, this original unit, this fountain of power, has been so distributed to multitudes, has been so minutely subdivided and peddled out, that it is spilled into drops, and cannot be gathered. The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters, - a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man.
From Ralph Waldo Emerson's ~ The American Scholar ~ address


Ancient, classical, Greek philosophy also evidences cogent suggestions that Human Nature is complex:-

Plato was a pupil and friend of the greek philosopher Socrates. Amongst the many works attributed to Plato's authorship is his "The Republic," (composed circa 375 B.C.), wherein is set out a series of discourses that allegedly took place between Socrates and a number of other persons who variously arrived and departed as the discussions continued.

It is in this record, made by Plato, of "Socrates? " philosophising that most intriguing themes are developed -

 ...can we possibly refuse to admit that there exist in each of us the same generic parts and characteristics as are found in the state? For I presume the state has not received them from any other source. It would be ridiculous to imagine that the presence of the spirited element in cities is not to be traced to individuals, wherever this character is imputed to the people, as it is to the natives of Thrace, and Scythia, and generally speaking, of the northern countries; or the love of knowledge, which would be chiefly attributed to our own country; or the love of riches, which people would especially connect with the Phoenicians and the Egyptians.
 Certainly.
 This then is a fact so far, and one which it is not difficult to apprehend.
 No, it is not. ...



Victor Cousin's "Introduction to the History of Philosophy" had an immense influence on American thought in the nineteenth century:-
What is the business of history? What is the stuff of which it is made? Who is the personage of history? Man : evidently man and human nature. There are many different elements in history. What are they? Evidently again, the elements of human nature. History is therefore the development of humanity, and of humanity only; for nothing else but humanity develops itself, for nothing else than humanity is free. ...
... Moreover, when we have all the elements, I mean all the essential elements, their mutual relations do, as it were, discover themselves. We draw from the nature of these different elements, if not all their possible relations, at least their general and fundamental relations.



In his essay "History" Ralph Waldo Emerson sets out an approach to History where the "innate Humanity" that is common to all of mankind is seen as operating throughout the ages in the shaping of events.
The first two paragraphs include such sentiments as:-
 "There is one mind common to all individual men.

 Of the works of this mind history is the record. Man is explicable by nothing less than all his history. All the facts of history pre-exist as laws. Each law in turn is made by circumstances predominant. The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain, America, lie folded already in the first man. Epoch after epoch, camp, kingdom, empire, republic, democracy, are merely the application of this manifold spirit to the manifold world."

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"Whatever concept one may hold, from a metaphysical point of view, concerning the freedom of the will, certainly its appearances, which are human actions, like every other natural event, are determined by universal laws. However obscure their causes, history, which is concerned with narrating these appearances, permits us to hope that if we attend to the play of freedom of the human will in the large, we may be able to discern a regular movement in it, and that what seems complex and chaotic in the single individual may be seen from the standpoint of the human race as a whole to be a steady and progressive though slow evolution of its original endowment."
Immanuel Kant
Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View (1784)

Some Eastern religious and philosophical approaches


Advaita Vedanta proposes a non-dualism wherein the individual spirit (Atman) is seen as being identical with ultimate reality (Brahman).
That which is nearest is least observed. The Atman is the nearest of the near, therefore a careless and unsteady mind gets no clue to the Atman. But one who is alert, calm, self-restrained, and discriminating, ignores the external world and, diving more and more into the inner world, realizes the glory of the Atman and becomes great.

Vivekananda



Stand upon the Atman, then only can we truly love the world. Take a very, very high stand; knowing our universal nature, we must look with perfect calmness upon all the panorama of the world.

Vivekananda



This is the secret of spiritual life: to think that I am the Atman and not the body, and that the whole of this universe with all its relations, with all its good and all its evil, is but as a series of paintings - scenes on a canvas - of which I am the witness.

Vivekananda



In Philosophy "Metaphysics" is the branch of Philosophy dealing with "being": how things exist, what things really are, what essence is, what it is 'to be' something, etc. The word comes from a "book" of some thirteen treatises written by Aristotle which were traditionally arranged, by scholars who lived in the centuries after Aristotle's life-time in the fourth century B.C., after those of his "books" which considered physics and natural science.
It may be that for want of other terminology directly suited to reference such elusive subject matter the term MetaPhysica, (in Greek it means "after physics" or "beyond physics"), was adopted in relation to Aristotle's "book" of "metaphysical" treatises.

A Shankara quotation relating to metaphysics

"The entire universe is truly the Self. There exists nothing at all other than the Self. The enlightened person sees everything in the world as his own Self, just as one views earthenware jars and pots as nothing but clay".


Many, if not most, people would surely see differences between how western and how eastern philosophy approach the actualities of human existence. For westerners society seems to largely result from human action whilst for the easterners existence is "somehow" there to be contemplated.


Within western philosophy Kant and Plato are definitely extremely highly regarded whilst Shankara and Vivekananda can be seen to have been particularly prominent within the "Eastern" and "Vedic" traditions of Advaita Vedanta.




For Indisputable Wisdoms about Human Nature
please visit our Human Nature - Tripartite Soul page