Our Approach to Eastern Philosophy


If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, then you might know that Yang and I take a more analytically-inclined approach to eastern and western philosophy. Ideally, what this entails is similar to developing a formula or working through an algorithm, but instead the work is done with propositions (there is no clear cut cardinality and arithmetic…and people think philosophy is easy!). Sometimes, though, time doesn’t allow for fully explaining everything such that the most coherent and strong view is formed or readily apparent, so we think it might suffice to introduce ideas into eastern philosophical discussion. This can be seen with Yang’s post about morality in Taoism.

I’m writing about this because I had to do a take-home final English exam this last week. This exam was overwhelming at first because each of the prompts, three of which I had to choose and answer, respectively mentioned so many aspects of the literature for that class that everything mentioned or implied would have taken well over the time limit that the professor placed for the exam. For example, one prompt mentioned that the nature of language was often explored, the author routinely conveyed that “muddiness” of language, and also the ontological and epistemological connections pertaining to language. At the end of all of this “mentioning,” all that was asked of me was to “discuss this.”

Using an analytical approach, I probably would have written another term paper about “Chanticleer the faire” and the “colefox,” potentially spanning 15 pages or so. Yet, I quickly realized that to explain everything would have been out of the scope of firstly the exam and secondly any English class in general. This is the case because English essays are different than philosophy essays, ideally. In English, there’s the primary aim of presenting your view in the best light, whereas the truthfulness of your view is primary in philosophy. I say ideally because there are some philosophy students who feign evaluating their views rigorously and others who employ inductive reasoning; likewise, there are some English students who realize that the best argument is one that appeals to truth, or rational strength for more technical terms. Another consideration is that both types of students cannot really argue towards truth unless it is an insubstantial argument. Taking all of these considerations, I think the main difference between the two academic areas is the rigor with which one evaluates her argument.

By this, I mean that what’s left on the table after an English essay is completed, compared to a philosophy essay, is still ample and ready for further assessment. When I figured this out, the very open prompt of “discuss this” became much less overwhelming, as I abandoned the goal of finding the right argument and adopted the more apt goal of finding the best frame for my argument. It’s not that one is better than the other, but rather you can think of Philosophy as painting itself – however bad – and English as painting to display – also however bad.

Hopefully you enjoyed this atypical post. Though not eastern philosophy in itself, I’ll call it meta-as-such.


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Hui Ho

I attend the University of Rochester and plan on majoring in philosophy. I try to talk to many people about Taoism to see their perspective, but that often can't be done because most don't know what Taoism or eastern philosophy teach. So, I contribute to taopracticed.wordpress.com to help others know the merits of eastern philosophy, and more specifically the philosophy of Zhuangzi.

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