Monday, August 17, 2009

Western and Eastern Philosophy

I. Western Philosophy
Western philosophy first came about when a philosopher named Thales, who was born in approximately 585 B.C., became the first man to think outside the box and sway away from using myths and gods as the answer for all intellectual questions. Known as the first Greek philosopher, Thales initiated a way of understanding the world that was based on reason and nature (Sullivan). Once he revealed this whole new way of philosophizing, Western philosophy was born. There are many different subjects that Western philosophy covers, including logic, natural philosophy, ethics, poietics, and metaphysics. Philosophy can be described as the certain knowledge of things through their ultimate causes seen in the light of the principles of reason (Sullivan).

Western philosophy consists of expanding the mind and exercising the intellect. It differs from other types of philosophy because it is the only type that analyzes things to such a certain extreme. For example, under Western philosophy, the very question of "what is beauty?" is brought up under the subject of poietics. While a normal human being living today would not really think twice about what is beautiful, Western philosophers such as St. Thomas Aquinas suggest that "the beautiful can be reduced to the good, nevertheless it differs from it in concept. It is a special kind of good –¶ that which pleases on being apprehended" and he continues to go on and discuss the concept of both good and beauty (Sullivan).

Not only are things such as beauty philosophized about, but also things such as truth, what it is, and if we as people can actually know truth. The study of truth is what makes up epistemology, a category of the subject Metaphysics. Philosophers known as skeptics argue that humans can never know truth, while those in opposition believe that evidence is the decisive factor in determining truth ("Tomlin"). Questions such as these are what separates Western philosophy from other philosophies. Western philosophy takes all subjects and puts them in their most general and broadest aspect, questioning everything about it and its existence ("Philosophy").

After the father of Western philosophy, Thales, came Socrates, another legendary philosopher. Socrates passed his knowledge onto Plato, who opened an Academy for philosophy and was responsible for teaching the great philosopher Aristotle. All three of these men are accountable for many of the philosophies that are still held today, such as Plato's Cave Theory, which shows how ignorance can control oneself for the worse. Plato's philosophy of the Divided Line was groundbreaking and led to such theories as Aristotle–Ęs philosophy of form and matter, which attempts to explain the reasoning of why things are what they are, for example, why a chair is called a chair and what the chair is made up of (Stumpf). The ideas that these men were coming up with were unprecedented.

In conclusion, Western philosophy sets itself apart from all other philosophies because it has veered away from using myths and gods as explanations for all things that can be questioned, thanks impart to Thales. Because of this, under the ways of Western philosophy there are no conclusive answers for most questions, just more questions. Though it provides for wonderful mental exercise, Western philosophy falls short as an investigation of existence ("Philosophy").

II. Eastern Philosophy - Taoism
An example of an Eastern philosophy is Taoism, a Chinese philosophical system. Under Taoism, the followers of the system are taught answers as to why things are the way they are and they abide by and believe in those answers. Taoism is based on the belief that Tao is the eternal reality and source of all existence. The goal of each follower's life is to avoid earthly things and to live in harmony with the Tao and with nature in hopes of achieving immortality. Under Taoism, everything is basically one despite physical differences, which gives things a different appearance ("Philosophy"). Because all is one, matters of good and evil and of true or false can only arise when people lose sight of the oneness and think that their private beliefs are absolutely true.

This differs from Western philosophy in the fact that Western philosophy would question the existence of such a thing that could be the source of all existence and be eternal reality. Many Western philosophers made different arguments as to what the source of all existence is but because Western philosophy has more of a scientific base rather than a mythological base, no answer can be concluded without proper evidence. Taoists believe that good moral conduct is rewarded with health and long life, while bad conduct results in disease, death, and suffering in the afterlife ("Philosophy"). In opposition, a Western philosopher would question what exactly good moral conduct is and what justifies good and bad.

Taoism is unfortunately characterized frequently in terms of femininity, quietism and spirituality, a principle embraced by humble and religious people such as artists, loners, and religious fanatics.

III. Change and Permanence
The problem of change has been around for many, many years, dating back to the conflicts of Heraclitus and Paramenides, two pre-Socratic philosophers who had disagreeing views on change. Heraclitus, who was born in 535 B.C., believed that everything was changing at all times while his counterpart Paramenides, born in 510 B.C., believed that change was absurd and could never happen (Sullivan). After these two had held such stances in extreme opposition to each other regarding change, Aristotle, born in 384 B.C., came along and presented a new way of describing change without taking such an extreme position. All three philosophers argue very well-thought-out and believable points but it is Aristotle who makes the most sense with his theories.

Change was the key to the universe for Heraclitus, who was known as the philosopher of change. He believed that everything in the world, including the world itself, was in a state of flux at all times and is noted for stating that "you can never walk into the same river twice" because in fact while all rivers are in flux, no river could ever remain the same from moment to moment (Sullivan). While a river is just one example used, the same could be said for any other object under Heraclitus' theory. All materials are in a constant state of decay, which makes them change from moment to moment, and while plants, animals, and humans grow or become old, we are constantly changing at any given time. Heraclitus even went so far as to say that if a thing is changing from one moment to the next then in the very act of naming it, it is changing; therefore, no thing could ever be named (Sullivan).

In complete contradiction to Heraclitus, Paramenides believed that the notion of change is absurd and that there is no such thing as change, it is merely an illusion (Sullivan). Paramenides looked at things from a broader aspect and believed that things should be looked at for what they really are, not what they appear to be. He believed that the one thing that all things have in common is that they exist, which makes them being. His theory stated that if everything that is is a being, then the only way for change to occur is for something to go from being to non-being, or from non-being to being. If something is being, it can never become non-being, and if something is non-being, it can never become being, because something cannot turn into nothing and something cannot come from nothing (Sullivan). Paramenides believe that the senses were to blame for depicting change and it was simply just a false appearance.

Change seemed to only have these two beliefs behind it until Aristotle came around years later and brought about a new view on the problem of change and permanence. He presented the world with his theory of act and potency, which states that the full reality of any being is what it actually is plus its potential ways of being (Cohen). He brings this into the question of change stating that change to one thing can be found in the potency of that thing and what it is able to become (Tomlin). Aristotle defines change as "the actuality of the potential as such", and believes that change is neither potency nor act but something that can be found in between (Sullivan).

In Aristotle's view, the form of the thing which is changing will always remain the same, regardless of the change in physical appearance (Cohen). For example, as a human gets older, the body begins to wrinkle and show signs of aging. Aristotle recognizes the physical change but still understands that the form has not changed, for it is still a human being. Under this example, Heraclitus would not recognize the form of the human and state that the body is changing at all times and cannot be named, for it is in a constant state of flux. Paramenides on the other hand would argue that there is no change occurring to the body because a human being is a human being, regardless of the physical change that takes place. In conclusion, the age long debate of change and permanence, and "what is change?" still exists, but because of the revolutionary philosophies laid down by the ancient philosophers like Heraclitus, Paramenides, and Aristotle, we have a much broader and more precise view as to what exactly change is even though, under Western philosophy, no specific answer may ever be found.

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