Sunday, January 19, 2014


129. What to make of East and West?

Where to stand, in the comparison of Western and Eastern philosophy outlined in the preceding item?

First, as in Buddhism, I do not acknowledge any metaphysical absolute substance or being, beyond reality, in the form of a God or in any other form, since if it exists, then almost by definition we could not say anything about it (see item 14 of this blog). In other words, I am an agnostic. I might accept Spinoza’s view of a God that is identical to the system of nature, which may be close to the view of Taoism. However, that would not be God in any customary sense, as a personal and providential God with designs for the world and for Man, and I think it makes for more clarity not to call the system of nature God.

Second, the notion of substance leads to the notion of absolute universals that I have argued against (items 16 and 17), as Buddhism does. In both knowledge and ethics, I argued for universals that are provisional and temporary, allowing for individuals that escape from the universal and contribute to its shift or transformation. This connects with my cycle of discovery (item 13). I was astonished to find out that this seems similar to a certain interpretation of Yin and Yang in Taoist philosophy. I will return to this in a later item.

Related to this, with much Eastern philosophy, and Western pragmatism and Heidegger, I share the idea of the unity of thinking and being in the world: ideas develop as they are put in action. 

Third, following Hume, and in agreement with much Eastern philosophy, I take a non-substantial view of the self. However, against Hume and Buddhism, I argue in my blog (item 8) that while indeed the self is neither unitary nor fixed, there still is a meaningful identity and continuity of the self, in a bodily coherence of neural activity. Without any identity for the self, how could we still talk of agency, intentions, learning, discovery, etc.? I will return to that issue also, in a later item.       

Fourth, I agree with Eastern philosophy, and with Montaigne, Wittgenstein and Heidegger, that language is misleading. In my blog, in the items on language and meaning, I discussed what I called the ‘object bias’ in our thought and language (item 29). That corresponds with the misleading lure of the notion of substance. We conceptualise abstract things (peace, happiness, meaning, power, identity, …) in terms of objects in time and space. I will not return to that issue. 

Fifth, as I discussed in item 122, in both Western and Eastern philosophy there is a tendency to reserve enlightenment for an elite of the initiated, the illuminated, the trained, the ascetic, in gaining access to a transcendent, elevated, absolute, supreme being (God, Brahman) or to an enlightened existence in the world (Nirvana). If we renounce absolutes and embrace imperfection on the move, we can achieve freedom from self-obsession in ordinary life, in horizontal, immanent transcendence.  

Sixth, inspired by Aristotle, and in line with Taoist thought, I seek a middle between extremes of: internal and external, self and other, subject and object, universal and individual, stability and change, exit and voice, trust and control. I seek to do this by analysing the dynamic interplay between the two.

However, I cannot make sense of Taoist rejection of causality in favour of parallel occurrence (what Jung called synchronicity). I hold on to causality, albeit in its form of Aristotelian multiple causality (see item 96).