From Science to Philosophy

The Classification of Philosophy

Some philosophers have preferred a geographical classification: 

1-Eastern philosophy

2-Western philosophy

They have then proceeded to point out a series of characteristics for each category, sometimes even making them conflict. Here are five points of difference between Western and Eastern philosophy:

a)Eastern philosophy focuses on supernatural realities, but Western philosophy is more naturalistic, focusing on the physically observable. 

b)Eastern philosophy makes use of pure thought and reasoning when studying the facts and realities of the universe, whereas Western philosophy – particularly since the Renaissance – uses the senses and other technological devices. 

c)In order to discover general principles accounting for the universe, Eastern philosophy takes into consideration the post-experimental principles, whereas Western philosophy insists on using experimental methods.

d)Unlike Eastern philosophy, Western philosophy tends to criticize and reconsider general philosophical fundamentals and principles of the past.

e)Western philosophy emphasizes that when discussing man and the universe, "what there is" and "what there should be" be separated, but Eastern philosophy does not. 

Such an approach and distinction between Western and Eastern philosophies is not acceptable. The issues thinkers and intellectuals face depends on the conditions and circumstances they are surrounded with, so any intellectual or thinker may come up with the same issues and problems as his peers when facing the same conditions. If the conditions make him feel it absolutely crucial to discuss time and movement, for example, any other intellectual or thinker would do the same feeling the necessity. The important point is the intellectual's mind becoming engaged with the problem – if this happens the intellectual will start his work on it, whether belonging to Western or Eastern philosophy.  Industrial advances, changes in social relationships and the rise of a new meaning of Epicurean freedom led to new issues in the West, the study of which even infiltrated their philosophy and created special philosophical principles and basics. If such phenomena had arisen in the East, however, the same would definitely have happened to Eastern philosophy, too.

Th¬e points of criticism on the characteristics of thought systems in Western and Eastern philosophies are:

1-The claim that Eastern philosophy focuses on non-physical facts and Western philosophy pays more attention to materialistic issues is not acceptable. Although Western philosophy did find some tendency toward naturalism thanks to Francis Bacon, many Western thinkers did not follow it. In the twentieth century, many Western thinkers focused on the supernatural, and their naturalistic tendencies never prevented this. Einstein, Planck, Bergson and Whitehead had a comprehensive approach to the issues about man, both natural and supernatural.

2-Stating that Eastern philosophy is based upon pure reasoning and intelligence and Western philosophy is founded on experimental methods shows how ignorant one can be toward the developments of thought systems in the West. If the West has paid more attention to naturalism – which certainly follows experimental methods – throughout the recent centuries, it is due to the needs of those countries; if the East also felt the need to study the qualities and characteristics of vegetables and plants and physical and chemical phenomena, they would have used such methods too, rather than the al-vahed theory, which states that only a single, unique thing can arise from the nature of a single, unique thing. In the early stages of the development of Islamic culture, when Muslims paid a lot of attention to naturalism, experimental methods were put to frequent use. Scientists like Zachariah Razi, Avicenna and Hassan ibn Heissam used laboratory devices in fields such as chemistry, physics and medicine. Neither Islamic thinkers nor Western intellectuals, however, were ignorant toward the basic principles of philosophy, and the necessity of abstraction and mental generalization, for without them they could never have abstract natural laws from the order and harmony dominant over the universe.

3-Another point of criticism is the statement that Western philosophy shows little emphasis on general concepts and fundamentals, whereas Eastern philosophy searches for general laws that interpret the universe. Positivism – which aimed to categorize sciences and give philosophy a positivist aspect – failed in the West, and was criticized by many Western philosophers, who turned to non-experimental methods. No intellectual can defy a series of mental fundamentals and still believe in observable facts that cannot be analyzed without those fundamentals. 

4-The claim that there is no criticism or reconsideration in Eastern philosophy, whereas Western philosophy criticizes and reconsiders the fundamental philosophies of the past quite often is not correct. All books on Eastern philosophy include a criticism of the thoughts and ideas presented before. Islamic thinkers and intellectuals have never been mere followers of their predecessors' thoughts. For instance, though Farabi and Avicenna have accepted some of the philosophical ideas of Aristotle and Plato, they never completely followed them. In his book Asfar, Mollasadra has discussed and criticized many of the philosophical thoughts before him, and presented new ideas, too. If Eastern philosophy were truly obedient of prior thoughts, there would be no valuable works like Qazali's Tahafat-ul-phalasefe or Ibn Rushd's Tahafat-ul-tahafat.

We must remember, however, that philosophers have also sometimes turned to indirect criticism; in other words, they have criticized the thoughts of others alongside presenting their own ideas. Some of them have even interpreted the thoughts of other philosophers, for sometimes a thinker cannot properly word his own thoughts, but another intellectual may be able to correctly interpret them in a better way. This has been an important step toward eliminating the disputes between philosophers. Furthermore, respecting others' views is a highly significant principle in scientific and philosophical research; even in the West, there are both inconsiderate figures like Bertrand Russell and also quite morally well-adjusted ones like Whitehead and Planck. 

5-It also incorrect to say that in Western philosophy there is much attention to making a distinction between "what there is" and "what there should be" when discussing mankind and the universe, whereas Eastern philosophy shows little emphasis on it. First, we cannot make any separation between what exists and what there should exist concerning man, for human life is drowned in an ocean of "propers." Second, such a distinction is merely an excuse for some people to make a negative approach toward morals and religion which are the basic factors of human development. Third, we cannot speak of "what there should be" without discovering the existence of man and activating his positive potentials; this is what neither Western nor Eastern philosophy knows how to do. 


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