Monday, October 14, 2013

495: An East - West confrontation

In the lectures on Chinese philosophy I have pointed at a number of typical Chinese features, for which there hardly is a counterpart in Western philosophy.

Chinese culture still is  dominated by the long lasting Confucian tradition. Our metaphysical concepts can not be applied in translations of Chinese metaphysics.

The concept of democracy, as we see it, is in fact not available in Chinese thinking and China will have great difficulty integrating our individualistic consumerism in its social system.

But I have said too, that Chinese like we have the same instrument to deal with life: the brain. And I assume, that, biologically, it is the same in all human beings, but the way we use it in our interaction with our environment is different. And that results in different cultures.

But now take this. The point of view of David Hall and Roger Amos in "From Africa to Zen" (2003). They say. that "….WE believe in the ideals that emerged from the French Revolution 

and have found their specific instantiation in documents such as the American Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. 

These ideals we hold to be the guarantees of our individual autonomy, our liberal democracy, and our science and technology - all of which we believe to be the necessary vehicles of progress for all countries and peoples around the world.

We in the scientific, liberal democratic West must recognize that our tendencies toward universalism and the acceptance of objective ideas and values merely advertise the content of our own cultural sensibility. 

The West has masked its ethnocentrism by the claim that its self-understanding has universal applicability. One paradoxical element of our peculiar form of ethnocentricity is the rejection of ethnocentrism. 

 [ Ethnocentrism = the tendency to believe that one's ethnic or cultural group is centrally important, and that all other groups are measured in relation to one's own. ] 

But we do not escape provincialism simply because we make naive claims to objectivity and universality.

The comparison of Chinese and Western cultures is, therefore, the comparison of two sets of ethnocentric beliefs. 

Most of us who occupy a privileged place in a Western democracy consider ourselves autonomous individuals, possessing natural rights, with a faith in our ability to search out the truth of things for ourselves, generally confident that reason and goodwill can solve most of our problems. 

We are respectful of governmental authority when it serves to nurture freedom and autonomy for its citizens, but are perfectly capable of becoming an adversary of the government if it threatens those same values. 

We identify ourselves with ideas, values, and principles that we believe are reasonable and employ our religious, scientific, or political institutions as instruments for the implementation of those ideas and values. 

We deplore censorship and believe that free and open enquiry will result in consensus upon what is true about the need and desires of the majority of human beings.

Among our intellectual elites there is doubtless a great deal less naive assent to these beliefs, but the trust in objectivity lingers. 

The visions of natural and social scientists, and of philosophers too, still reflect the belief that there is an objective order to things and that the discovery of this order requires the responsible application of the methods of logic and science.

This faith extends for many of us into the idea that human beings have objective natures, identifiable characteristics that make us essentially the same from one society or culture to another.""

So far Hall and Amos and I thought….wow. IS this our biggest mistake here indeed… believe that, when all is said and done, being human has to mean being pretty much as we are ???????

The Discussion

[13:18] herman Bergson: Thank you :-)
[13:19] herman Bergson: Take your time to digest this argumentation....
[13:19] Abinoam Nørgaard: yes wow
[13:19] herman Bergson: If you have any questions or remarks...the floor is yours
[13:19] Abinoam Nørgaard: just to back to something, did you imply that universalism is in fact the negation of universalism? was that the paradox?
[13:19] Abinoam Nørgaard: go* back
[13:20] herman Bergson: no no....
[13:20] Abinoam Nørgaard: oh good
[13:20] herman Bergson: with universalism is meant the idea that there exist universal laws or maybe even universal concepts
[13:20] Abinoam Nørgaard: right
[13:21] Dagg: is that something that leads us to Plato by chance ?
[13:21] Abinoam Nørgaard: but to universalize is to impose one version of what those laws or concepts might be, no?
[13:21] herman Bergson: But the question here is.... Are Hall and Amos right?
[13:22] Abinoam Nørgaard: i think they are generalizing a great deal
[13:22] Bejiita Imako: ok
[13:22] herman Bergson: That question would lead to a metaphysical debate on the status of universlas , I am affraid, Abi...
[13:23] Abinoam Nørgaard: hehe yes, i know, let's not go there
[13:23] herman Bergson: Yes indeed they are....:-)
[13:23] Bejiita Imako:
[13:23] herman Bergson: The first time I read it, I thought...oh wow...good point....
[13:23] herman Bergson: But after a few minutes I thought..oh wow...totally wrong :-)
[13:24] Abinoam Nørgaard: lol yes
[13:24] Bejiita Imako: hehe
[13:24] herman Bergson: SO what could be questionable here?
[13:25] Abinoam Nørgaard: i think i can hear the crickets... lol
[13:25] Dagg: I think it would be important to understand what is previous to those ideals, where do they come from
[13:25] herman Bergson: Now about this statement: "the acceptance of objective ideas and values merely advertise the content of our own cultural sensibility. "
[13:26] herman Bergson: Exactly that aspect I have no problems with Daggash....
[13:26] herman Bergson: that may be cultural sensibilities :-)
[13:27] Dagg: or... they could be part of an evolutionary process
[13:27] herman Bergson: But what is said here is that we, the West, feel superior to the rest of the world....
[13:27] herman Bergson: and that for centuries the Chinese have the same attitude :-)
[13:28] Dagg: yes indeed
[13:28] Bejiita Imako: ok well that can be true
[13:28] Abinoam Nørgaard nods
[13:28] herman Bergson: so "two sets of ethnocentric beliefs"
[13:28] Corronach: i think it is true.
[13:28] Corronach: and i think neither are superior.
[13:28] Bejiita Imako: everyone thinks their own system is the best so to say
[13:28] Corronach: the difficulty is exactly as you have described it...
[13:28] Bejiita Imako: compared to others
[13:29] Corronach: people will view others through the lens of their own beliefs, attitudes, values, experiences etc
[13:29] herman Bergson: But there is one weak point in this argumentation....
[13:30] herman Bergson: It is claimed that science is in fact just a cultural sensibility....just like Chinese ideas on reality are....
[13:30] Abinoam Nørgaard nods
[13:30] herman Bergson: so science is part of our ethnocentric attitude....
[13:30] herman Bergson: and that is in my opinion plainly untrue...
[13:31] herman Bergson: It is claimed that "being human has to mean being pretty much as we are"....with the emphasis on WE Westerners....
[13:31] Mikki Louise: I am not sure if this is the right forum for this discussion, but it seems to fit, somehow.... I have a friend, posted on facebook yesterday... she had an app for her phone, for photography. She thought it was for different effects in your snapshots.. and discovered it is meant for asian girls.. it modifies their picture to look more 'western'... bigger eyes, pinker skin tone, etc.
[13:31] Corronach: perhaps it is looking at "science" as a way of viewing things. do the Chinese have another way of viewing things that comes to the same conclusion as "science"?
[13:32] Corronach: (sorry i know i'm speaking in riddles now)
[13:32] herman Bergson: And that is the question Corronach....
[13:32] Bejiita Imako: aaa yes
[13:32] herman Bergson: there are two matters here....
[13:32] Bejiita Imako: sciense is our way to understand nature but the Chinese might see it in another way, i don't know
[13:33] herman Bergson: Culture ...Mikki refers to that and science
[13:33] herman Bergson: Is physics, einstein's relativity theory, chemistry, that just a cultural sensibility?
[13:33] Corronach: here's a basic example of what i mean. let's say someone says "god did [whatever]" and a westerner says "no, science did [whatever]". does it really matter, since [whatever] was done?
[13:33] Mikki Louise: my friend felt strongly that the app is racist... yet it is developed by asians, for asians. so, is it racist.. and why do they aspire to look western?
[13:34] Dagg: herman .. what do you mean by culture, do you say its a sort of conditioning ?
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: our culture might embrace science more maybe bur science itself is not a culture
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: but
[13:34] herman Bergson: That is what I am thinking too Bejiita...
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:34] herman Bergson: and Dagg...what is culture....
[13:35] herman Bergson: It is the way how we look at our environment and interact with it
[13:35] herman Bergson: but regarding this looking at our environment....
[13:36] Bejiita Imako: culture is what we create and the way we do that in
[13:36] Bejiita Imako: i d say
[13:36] herman Bergson: if it is about a religious of metaphysical view...we may differ completely in interpretation and ensuing interaction....
[13:36] herman Bergson: But if it is about sending a rocket to the moon....
[13:36] herman Bergson: the americans do exactly the same as the Chinese....
[13:37] herman Bergson: the mathematics for such an operation are independent of any culture...or said differently..
[13:37] herman Bergson: applicable in all cultures
[13:37] Bejiita Imako: they learn from each other i guess
[13:37] Bejiita Imako: what is needed to send a rocket in space
[13:38] Mikki Louise: it's not how but why send the rocket
[13:38] herman Bergson: Sure...western mathematicians invented the math....
[13:38] Bejiita Imako: at least they've got the concept from there since us and russia have done it befopre
[13:38] Mikki Louise: different forms of imperialism, different motives to demonstrate supremacy
[13:38] Abinoam Nørgaard: i think the east/west dichotomy is to an extent entirely artificial. speaking of mathematics, we used arabic numerals, than originated in india. so what makes the basis of "western" mathematics western?
[13:39] herman Bergson: but in old India they already knew about this the Arab mathematicians in 1100 A.D did too
[13:39] Dagg: can we say that the way we look at our environment is the part that create division between the cultures even in our global world, right ?
[13:39] herman Bergson: Yes I think you could say that, Dagg.....
[13:39] herman Bergson: or even one step further....
[13:39] Bejiita Imako: aaa that seems indeed logical
[13:40] herman Bergson: the dominating religion in a given area on earth decided how we developed
[13:40] Dagg: yes we fight wars for those things
[13:40] herman Bergson: Not only that....
[13:40] Bejiita Imako: indeed
[13:40] Bejiita Imako: to many wars
[13:40] Bejiita Imako: cause of that
[13:41] Abinoam Nørgaard: well, it's mostly for oil and natural resources, but ok
[13:41] herman Bergson: The arabs till 1150 A.D were world famous for their mathematical skills and knowledge....
[13:41] herman Bergson: they were top of the world....
[13:41] Bejiita Imako: indeed
[13:41] Bejiita Imako: look at Algebra and similar
[13:41] herman Bergson: When Islam took over this ended abruptly
[13:41] Bejiita Imako: they were pioneers in math
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: aaa yes, islam stopped all development and it seems they still live likein the Middle Ages
[13:42] Abinoam Nørgaard: isn't the height of arabic scholarship actually well within the timeframe of islam?
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: thats sad
[13:42] herman Bergson: But their mathematical research was brought to the West....
[13:42] herman Bergson: Like the books of Aristotle also came by the Arab route!
[13:42] Dagg: yes
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:43] herman Bergson: So claiming that the difference between Western and Chinese philosophy is just a matter of two sets of ethnocentric ideas is to easy....
[13:44] herman Bergson: It leaves out the specific place science has in culture in general
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: much more to it i guess
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: like religion for ex
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: all things come together
[13:45] Bejiita Imako: complicated
[13:45] herman Bergson: Yes...China has big cultural problems at the moment, exactly because applied Western science  become more and more influential...
[13:45] herman Bergson: It is the Chinese who assemble our iPhones now....
[13:45] Bejiita Imako: true
[13:46] herman Bergson: where there isn't any technological tradition in that culture
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: but they don't have all pieces of the puzzle to make all go together so to say
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: since they have not the rest of our culture
[13:46] herman Bergson: my idea Bejiita
[13:47] Abinoam Nørgaard: well, there were some advances there, paper, gunpowder... there must have been some science and technology behind that, historically speaking
[13:47] herman Bergson: and the result of that is that they have to deal with consumerism as we have now...
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: maybe
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: however i don't think the Chinese understood how gunpowder worked in terms of chemistry, was more like a magic BANG powder
[13:47] herman Bergson: The absurd economic ideas of permanent growth...
[13:48] Abinoam Nørgaard: in that case, it's about methodology, rather than matter
[13:48] herman Bergson: lecture we'll look at the Chinese side of the story
[13:48] Abinoam Nørgaard: i'm looking forward to that
[13:48] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:48] Bejiita Imako:
[13:48] Bejiita Imako: this gets better and better
[13:48] herman Bergson: For now, thank you for your attention and participation again...
[13:49] Abinoam Nørgaard: thank you, herman
[13:49] herman Bergson: Class dismissed
[13:49] Dagg: thank you too Herman
[13:49] Bongo: thanks
[13:49] Bejiita Imako: nice
[13:49] Bejiita Imako: cu soon all
[13:49] Abinoam Nørgaard: bye bejita
[13:49] Abinoam Nørgaard: i'll be off too, take care everyone
[13:50] Dagg: bye all
[13:50] Mikki Louise: bye
[13:50] herman Bergson: Bye Dagg
[13:50] .: Beertje :.: thank you Herman..see you after next week
[13:50] Corronach: Thanks herman!
[13:51] Corronach: see you Thursday
[13:51] .: Beertje :.: have a goodnight everybody

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