Thursday, October 10, 2013

494: Chinese Otherness continued

How are we to approach the question of Chinese philosophy against the background of the general recognition on the parts of both China and the West of vast  cultural differences? 

In the first place, we had better not overload the term philosophy with its Western connotations. 

What serves as "philosophic thinking" in China is significantly different from that with which most of us are familiar. 

Second, we must be prepared to understand the differences between Chinese and Western thinking as both cause and consequence of those broader cultural differences perhaps more easily observed.

In the previous lecture I referred to Gerald Heard's words: For Europeans it is the question "Where am I?"; for Chinese it is all about the question "What am I?"

Consequently, the West was focused on discovering the objective nature of things. Philosophers on metaphysics searched out the BEING of things. 

Epistemologists wondered how we can know the reality behind its appearances in our senses.

But the overriding concern of the Chinese has always been the establishment of harmonious relationships with their social ambience.  Their "philosophic" thinking is always concrete, this-worldly, and, above all, practical.

Western understandings of the way things hang together rest on the presumption that order and harmony must be vigilantly maintained by appeal to a creative agent or laws of nature and principles.

Ancient Greek thinking began with the question "What is there?" Elements like air, water, fire or atoms or the like. This lead to metaphysics, "ontologia generalis" on the one hand and a "scientia generalis", the more physical and scientific approach to BEING.

The whole conceptual framework which comes with this metaphysics is useless, if you want to apply it to Chinese thinking. It never developed a cosmology, an explanation of BEING, like we did.

This is reflected in the character of the Chinese language. Let me quote from "From Africa to Zen":

The usual Chinese equivalents for "being" and "not-being" are YU and WU. But the meanings of these terms are markedly different from their uses in Indo-European languages. 

The Chinese YU means not that something "is" in the sense that it  exists; it means rather that "something is present." "To be" is "to be available," "to be around." 

Likewise, "not be" means "not to be around." Thus, the Chinese sense of "being" overlaps with "having." A famous line from the Taoist classic the Tao Te Ching, often translated as "Not-Being is superior to Being," may as easily be translated "Not-having is superior to having". end quote -

Stated in a more general way, you could say, that Chinese thinking looks at the things how they are here and now and in harmony with their environment.

For that you don't need an established structure of the universe, organized by laws of nature and principles. You only need to look at things in there actual context.

The dominant meaning of order in the West is associated with uniformity and pattern regularity. In its most general sense, this "logical" or "rational" ordering is expressed in terms of the structure, or logos, of the cosmos. 

The Chinese understanding of order is one in which the natural and social worlds comprise concrete particulars whose uniqueness is essential to any context to which they belong.

This is just an example how different the West and China looked at metaphysical interpretations of the world we live in. They both have a different starting point.

Main Sources:
MacMillan The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd edition
Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1995
Routledge History of World Philosophies, vol 3, History of Chinese Philosophy (2009)
An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy - Karyn L. Lai, Oxford 2008
Chinese Philosophy, P. Carus, 1902
A Brief History of chinese Philosophy. D.T. Suzuki, 1914
From Africa to Zen, ed. R.Solomons & K. Higgins  2003 

The Discussion

[13:18] herman Bergson: Thank you...^_^
[13:18] NectanebusNectanebus applauds
[13:19] Gandalf Whinstanes: Thank you.
[13:19] herman Bergson: If you have any questions or remarks...feel free :-)
[13:19] xtc yonimyxtc: i am
[13:19] xtc yonimyxtc: impressed.
[13:19] xtc yonimyxtc: :-)
[13:19] Nectanebus: Yeah, some real heavy concepts and wordings today ;)
[13:19] .: Beertje :.: is our way of thinking more complicated than the Chinese way of thinking/
[13:19] Bejiita Imako: aaa very interesting
[13:19] .: Beertje :.: ?
[13:20] Bejiita Imako: i guess it is
[13:20] herman Bergson: Well I am impressed myself by the huge difference in perception of reality between the West and China
[13:20] herman Bergson: Good question Beertje....
[13:20] Gandalf Whinstanes: I am new to this, pardon my simplicity. When you say they have different starting points, does that mean they meet on things at some point?
[13:20] Bejiita Imako: we use lot of physics and complicated formulas to describe the world, the chinese i guess just are
[13:20] herman Bergson: Because this relates to how we look(ed) at the Chinese for centuries...
[13:20] Bejiita Imako: try to be in harmony with nature and then its good
[13:21] ἀρετή: hmm..
[13:21] herman Bergson: That has been the case Bejiita....
[13:21] herman Bergson: But the weird thing is....
[13:21] ἀρετή: since when has the Chinese been in harmony with nature?
[13:21] Nectanebus: IN thought if not action, areyn, for a while
[13:21] herman Bergson: eventually everyone likes to use the laws of nature and physics...
[13:22] Bejiita Imako: well i guess so cause thats where u learn in detail how everything rweally work for the curious minded
[13:22] herman Bergson: Your remark, Arayn, is typical for our approach of the situation....
[13:22] ἀρετή: with one difference.. :)
[13:23] herman Bergson: Because you apply YOUR concept of harmony to Chinese thinking...
[13:23] Nectanebus: I'm kind of interested by the part about how "Chinese" thought focuses less on "why" things are, and more on the use in context. Kinda links to their ready acceptance of Communism as an ideal easier than a more "what contingency" American outlook..
[13:23] herman Bergson: and it might well be the case that it doesn't apply at all within their thinking]
[13:24] xtc yonimyxtc: being in harmony with nature keeps you in nature. being in harmony with the universe keeps you universal
[13:24] Bejiita Imako: guess so
[13:24] Bejiita Imako:
[13:24] herman Bergson: I agree Bejiita ^_^
[13:25] herman Bergson: But to respond to Nectanebus remark....
[13:25] herman Bergson: Social harmony is one of the ruling principles in Chiese thinking...
[13:25] ἀρετή: I thought it's financial wealth.. .
[13:25] Nectanebus: as opposed to the individualistic Western notions, yeah ;)
[13:26] Nectanebus: and everyone wants wealth if we're talking nations, areyn
[13:26] herman Bergson: So accepting communism in stead of confucianism wasn't such a big difference, technically, I would guess
[13:26] xtc yonimyxtc: i did, too, areyn
[13:26] xtc yonimyxtc: financial harmony
[13:27] xtc yonimyxtc: the Chinese warlords would differ on that
[13:27] herman Bergson: I think China is in a deep cultural crisis at the moment....
[13:27] Nectanebus: That's kind of my logic as well, Herman. Also like how Capitalism was taken up in America easily off the back of Social Darwinism et cetera, it's all how far back you trace the lines heh
[13:27] Nectanebus: sorry, do continue
[13:27] herman Bergson: no you are right Nectanebus....
[13:28] Gandalf Whinstanes: Is China going through the same thing Japan did after mixing with us?
[13:28] Nectanebus: Interesting idea, Gandalf...
[13:28] herman Bergson: China is now absorbing consumerism and capitalism in its system....and these are alien aspects of society to them...
[13:28] Corronach: it's quite a shame.
[13:28] Bejiita Imako: dont knowing how to handle it so spins out of control
[13:29] herman Bergson: But on the other hand Chinese are as human as we are and have the same brain layout ....
[13:29] Gandalf Whinstanes: then the decadence and greed sets in, then the generation gap.
[13:29] Nectanebus: Phrenology be damned!
[13:29] herman Bergson: so greed , pleasure , etc...are also known to them....
[13:29] Bejiita Imako: we all work the same way basically yes
[13:29] ἀρετήἀρετή smiles
[13:29] herman Bergson: no no not phrenology...that is nonsense...
[13:29] Nectanebus: BUt yeah, certainly generation gaps seem to be a defining point of cultural loss over the past 40 years especially
[13:30] Nectanebus: Yeah, I know, I was having a giggle with the phrenology thing.
[13:30] herman Bergson: just simple neurobiological properties of the human being...
[13:30] Gandalf Whinstanes: i think i was trying to say our level of it. whereas they've lived harmoiously, capitalism injects a greater competitive nature.
[13:30] Gandalf Whinstanes: kind of messes things up a bit.
[13:30] Gandalf Whinstanes: and the generation gap i think is the sudden embracing of technology.
[13:31] herman Bergson: Yes Gandalf, something like that may be the case....
[13:31] Gandalf Whinstanes: i wonder if their kids will have a high suicide rate like japan.
[13:31] herman Bergson: Competition was not one of their social values.....harmony is...
[13:31] ἀρετή: the generation gap seems to be asian parents sending their kids to be educated in the western world.. coming back with a western thinking to the eastern world..
[13:31] Nectanebus: That's an interesting one
[13:31] Nectanebus: But then we did the same in the 60s
[13:32] herman Bergson: and in the 20s too...
[13:32] Gandalf Whinstanes: it created a gap as well.
[13:32] Nectanebus: These cultural bleed throughs may all be long overdue teething proccesses, to some extent.
[13:32] Bejiita Imako: ah'
[13:32] Gandalf Whinstanes: now parenting is in trouble in my opinion, as a result.
[13:32] herman Bergson: Betrand Russell and John Dewey lectured in China...
[13:32] Nectanebus: names...
[13:33] herman Bergson: Leading philosophers in those days Nectanebus....
[13:33] herman Bergson: un the UK and the US...
[13:33] Nectanebus: Ah, analytics and such
[13:33] Nectanebus: Sorry, I'm better with concepts than the creators thereof  [13:33] herman Bergson: yes and pragmatism....
[13:33] Gandalf Whinstanes: Do Chinese intellects look at us as inferior, equal, or superior.
[13:33] herman Bergson: but it was all overruled by communism in 1949
[13:33] ἀρετή: as inferior..
[13:34] Gandalf Whinstanes: I feel our cultures are definitely inferior to theirs, meaning America.
[13:34] herman Bergson: Good question Gandalf...
[13:34] herman Bergson: but Ido not know the answer...
[13:34] Nectanebus: I@m sure gwailo and gaijin are as loaded terms for 20-something Chinese kids as certain slurs were for us in the 70s..
[13:34] Gandalf Whinstanes: They've had millennia to learn to get along.
[13:34] Nectanebus: Chinese/Japanese*
[13:34] herman Bergson: They have always looked at us as an inferior species....rude, clumsy and barbaric
[13:34] Gandalf Whinstanes: valid
[13:35] Nectanebus: Shinto helps in those circumstances, methinks
[13:35] Nectanebus: Being descended directly from Gods kind of gives people superiority complexes sometimes...
[13:35] .: Beertje :.: what are 'methinks'?
[13:35] Gandalf Whinstanes: Their culture is much older and less conflicted than ours.
[13:36] Bejiita Imako: huess so
[13:36] Gandalf Whinstanes: thats where i think they have advantage. we have no culture really.
[13:36] Bejiita Imako: guess
[13:36] herman Bergson: Well...I don't know how things are now in that respect....
[13:36] Nectanebus: Sorry, "methinks" is old slang for "I think".
[13:36] .: Beertje :.: ok..thank you
[13:36] Nectanebus: np
[13:36] herman Bergson: That is a bit too fast Gandalf, to say that we have no culture....
[13:37] Gandalf Whinstanes: well, hopefully given the age of the culture, these new events will only be a ripple, not a break.
[13:37] herman Bergson: just being a society is culture and not nature
[13:37] Gandalf Whinstanes: But we are splintered and divided.
[13:37] Gandalf Whinstanes: and young.
[13:37] Corronach: i would agree with you, Herman
[13:37] herman Bergson: So  many cultures in a melting pot Gandalf :-)
[13:37] Nectanebus: BUt all cultures have bits of others. English is Latin+Saxon+French, Rome harkened back to Egypt, yaddadeedoo
[13:37] Gandalf Whinstanes: i would disagree.
[13:38] Gandalf Whinstanes: i think the melting pot was all hype.
[13:38] Nectanebus: haha
[13:38] Gandalf Whinstanes: whatever was put into it was diminished.
[13:38] Gandalf Whinstanes: not combined or refined.
[13:38] herman Bergson: Yes Nectanabus.....but we have little understanding of Chinese cuture
[13:38] Nectanebus ponders
[13:38] herman Bergson: The the Japanese use Western science...yes...
[13:39] xtc yonimyxtc: i agree to an extent, gandalf - cultural melding takes time
[13:39] herman Bergson: yes Gandalf...we still live in a world which is divided, not uniting....
[13:39] Gandalf Whinstanes: i think our culture, specifically, is conflicted because we have no harmony. Everyone is hyphenated something, not americans.
[13:39] ἀρετή: is it possible to create a new culture?
[13:39] Nectanebus: I think we focus more on our differences as vilification rather than areas to explore as avenues of learning about cultures. Kind of like nikhabs, there's so many layers to their meanings and most Westerners think all women that wear one are persecuted Mary Sues...
[13:40] Nectanebus: Interesting point, areyn...
[13:40] Nectanebus: Maybe it's a worry of being proud of any culture when we're in a politically correct society
[13:40] Nectanebus: Thus we all go grey by lowest common denominator politic
[13:41] herman Bergson: I can not predict the future Arayn, but I guess....not in our lifetime ever...
[13:41] Nectanebus has no answers here, only questions
[13:41] Nectanebus: Seems to be the problem of our age, though
[13:41] xtc yonimyxtc: i am not a hyphenated citizen and i am a first generation born citizen of an officially declared multicultural country. i was taught by my immigrant parents to take up the main, historic culture of my country
[13:41] Nectanebus: "Why can't we all just....get along?"
[13:41] Nectanebus: I think you've hit the nail, xtc ;)
[13:42] Gandalf Whinstanes: political correctness is really the ending of free speech and expression. we remain divided over petty issues, which allows us to ignore the worldy ones.
[13:42] Gandalf Whinstanes: the Chinese move as one it seems.
[13:43] herman Bergson: I think all becomes too much speculation here now :-)
[13:43] Nectanebus: Bound to happen, haha
[13:43] Bejiita Imako:
[13:43] ἀρετή: sorry.. goes back to the lesson :)
[13:43] herman Bergson: so to focus again on the main issue today....
[13:43] herman Bergson: we can observe that our metaphysics do not fit in with Chinese thinking....
[13:44] herman Bergson: In Chinese there are no words for concepts we use....and that is remarkable...
[13:45] herman Bergson: this difference is cause and consequence of a certain culture...
[13:45] herman Bergson: The way we live causes ideas and the ideas lead to new behavioral patterns...
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:46] herman Bergson: an amazing fact if you see the difference between Western and Chinese philosophy
[13:46] Gandalf Whinstanes: we are at a point in history where the cultures are colliding?
[13:46] Gandalf Whinstanes: with china becoming most wealthy.
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: could say that i guess
[13:46] herman Bergson: And you can witness every day in the news how this affects us and China as a society...
[13:47] herman Bergson: Well Gandalf..
[13:47] Gandalf Whinstanes: when you say society, you mean both of us together? or individually?
[13:47] herman Bergson: if you take into account the collapse of communism in 1989 and the switch to capitalist methods in China today..yes ...I guess you are right
[13:48] Nectanebus: It's interesting how China's almost being set up as "The Second Red Menace". American media is already "othering" them in the same way as they did Russia during the Cold War.
[13:48] Gandalf Whinstanes: Other?
[13:48] Gandalf Whinstanes: whats that mean?
[13:48] Nectanebus: To "other" a person, uhh..
[13:48] herman Bergson: TO feel united you need an enemy Gandalf...:-)
[13:48] Gandalf Whinstanes: ahhhh.
[13:48] Gandalf Whinstanes: us and them.
[13:49] Nectanebus: It's identifying as "us" and "them".
[13:49] Nectanebus: yeah
[13:49] Gandalf Whinstanes: well, thats our specialty.
[13:49] herman Bergson: And since the Russians are no threat anymore, the US needs a new enemy, I guess
[13:49] Gandalf Whinstanes: thats our sickness.
[13:49] Nectanebus: And Communism's the same threat they had for Russia and Vietnam, so third strike?
[13:49] herman Bergson: Not a sickness Gandalf...basic human behavior...
[13:50] herman Bergson: like all primates have a sense of "us" and "the others"
[13:50] herman Bergson: still tribal thinking...:-)
[13:50] Gandalf Whinstanes: I would say given Americas war mongering ways, and success with it, we are not basic in those aspects.
[13:50] Nectanebus: Pack mentality, et cetera, starting of society in monkeys and such
[13:51] herman Bergson: No Gandalf that is a way more complex discussion....not meant for this class :-)
[13:51] Nectanebus: heh
[13:51] herman Bergson: Well, I guess we saved the world again today....
[13:51] xtc yonimyxtc: the 'new enemy' is the islamist terrorists, not china
[13:51] Gandalf Whinstanes: ironic.
[13:51] herman Bergson: So thank you all for your participation :-))
[13:51] ἀρετή: can we just send all the people who think of us and them to the moon.. they'll see just one Earth
[13:51] Bejiita Imako: hehe
[13:51] Gandalf Whinstanes: yes.
[13:52] Gandalf Whinstanes: thank you Herman.
[13:52] Nectanebus: Thanks Herman, interesting as always :)
[13:52] Bejiita Imako:
[13:52] Bejiita Imako: yues
[13:52] Bejiita Imako: very
[13:52] herman Bergson: Class dismissed :-))
[13:52] xtc yonimyxtc: thank you very much, Professor Bergson.
[13:52] Gandalf Whinstanes: ciao.
[13:52] Bejiita Imako: cu soon again
[13:52] Bejiita Imako:
[13:52] Corronach: Thanks Herman
[13:52] herman Bergson: Bye Bejiita :-)

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