There is no need to go into great lengths to prove that there are fundamental differences in the Western and Asian philosophy. Starting from the basic concepts to the key principles of being, the two philosophies do not seem to have many points of contact.
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However, most of the differences between the two manners of interpreting reality come into the open when the phenomenon of self is being explored.
Although the idea of self is usually restricted to the realm of philosophy, the gaps between the Western and the Chinese understanding of self result in completely different approaches towards the human conscious and subconscious not only in philosophy, but also in psychology and even neuroscience.
In their research, Zhu and Han (2008) offer a rather intriguing idea.
According to their hypothesis, the basic difference between the Western and the Chinese understanding and perception of self is that the latter consider self in the context of society, while the Western philosophers believe that self is the concept that should be considered from the standpoint of an individual.
As Zhu and Han explain, “Traditionally, Western philosophers were interested in finding invariant in the self rather than the relation between the self and others” (Zhu & Han, 2008, 1800).
On the contrary, their Chinese opponents believed that self is an integral element of society: “The central topic of traditional Chinese philosophy is men rather than the self” (Zhu & Han, 2008, 1801).
Although each of the above-mentioned postulates seem rather organic and solid, they actually come very close to extremes, with the Chinese understanding of self that borders a denial of individuality and the Western philosophy of self that can seem leading to the isolation of an individual from the rest of the society.
While the Chinese philosophy uses people’s social behavior to find the key to human nature, their Western colleagues seem to fall into another extreme, focusing solely on personal changes.
While these philosophical approaches are considered the epitome of a human thought across the world history, it is still necessary to make a bold statement concerning their categoricalness.
Both the Western and the Chinese philosophical interpretation of self are doubtlessly worth attention, yet each lacks what the opposing concept offers. It seems that only when considering self from both social and personal aspects, one can cognize one’s own self (Bandlamudi, 2011).
On the one hand, the Chinese philosophers had sufficient proof to claim that society predetermined a person’s temper, features of character and model of behavior to a considerable extent. On the other hand, it would be wrong to deny the possibility of existing outside the society.
In fact, the existing cases of ostracizing can be the proof that self should also be considered as a thing in itself that can also develop outside the boundaries of society.
Hence, it can be concluded that there are crucial differences in the way the Western and the Chinese people envision human nature.
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While these differences used to pertain to the spiritual realm, at present, these inconsistencies affect such fields as psychology and neuroscience, which proves once again that the psychological and the physiological are only parts of the whole.
Since it would be wrong to consider one of the approaches prior to another one, it can be assumed that together, the Chinese and the Western philosophy of self will someday help people build the ultimate knowledge about human nature.
Bandlamudi, L. (2011). Dialogics of self, the Mahabharata and culture: The history of understanding and understanding of history. New York, NY: Anthem Press.
Zhu, Y. & Han, S. (2008). Cultural differences in the self: From philosophy to psychology and neuroscience. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2(5), 1799–1811.