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East and West: Different geography of thinking and implications on actual problems of today´s world
28.10.2016, 12:28

УДК 327:94

JEL Classification: JEL Z19


Хоча в даний час глобалізація усуває і розмиває відмінності між культурами в різних регіонах світу, відмінності в схильностях і перевагах у мисленні між Сходом і Заходом, культурні особливості та різні ієрархії цінностей, що історично склалися, нині грають важливу роль у підходах до вирішення актуальних проблем.

Специфіка сприйняття світу, ставлення до навколишнього середовища, організація людських відносин, роль соціально-економічних аспектів та модель управління державними справами, прийнята сьогодні на Сході та Заході, настільки відчутна, що ми можемо говорити про різні географії думки.

Це стає особливо помітним при зіставленні західної культури з поглядами суспільства конфуціанської Східної Азії. Це відображується не тільки на окремих позиціях, а й у системних підходах, які є свого роду формою ідентифікації колективної свідомості цих культур.

У деяких випадках ці підходи і сприйняття є суперечливими і можуть бути співставлені з допомогою методу "проти", що включає в себе такі антигоністські пари понять: індивідуальність і суспільство, цілісність і редукціоністські рішення, громадський порядок і громадський спротив, обов'язки і права, прагматизм і онтологічні переконання , конфліктуюче і доповнююче один одного сприйняття світу та інше.

Дана стаття має за мету зробити свій внесок до розуміння цих конфліктуючих концепцій і допомогти у створенні мосту взаєморозуміння між двома цивілізаційними сферами.
Ключові слова: конфуціанство, інкубатори західної і східної думки, ключові концепції взаємодії, "шукачі істини", "шлях шукачів", "людина етико-політична", "людина духовно-релігійна", схеми управління, наслідки для сучасного світу.

Part I


Conceptual differences in the perception of the world between East and West have historical roots. They are expressed in different hierarchies of value systems, different forms of human interaction with its surroundings, in divergent ideas about the organization of human relations, in a model of government approach to solving common problems, and in statesmanship. Some differences are so striking that we can talk about the different geography of thought.

General comparison of Eastern and Western culture includes many disciplines, such as philosophy, psychology, archeology, sociology, political science, history, economic structures, business practices, and more. Many differences between East and West can be traced through the various corridors of views, for example - how these differences developed, what were their thought incubators, what are the main tendencies in thinking and differences in key concepts of relationships, how these concepts are reflected in the schemes of governance and in practical approaches to solving the current problems facing the world today.

The main objective of the study is not to bring fully exhaustive comparison of Eastern and Western cultures, but to examine some of the important aspects of traditional Confucian values in modern societies of East Asia and to contribute to the understanding of thought inclinations of the current East Asian countries and their impact on the approaches to solving today's world problems.

1 Basic definition of the terms

The nature of the study needs to define the basic concepts of East and West and some terms that are relevant for understanding the work.

"East" and "Eastern" are the terms taken in this paper in a specific context and are referring, from a cultural point of view, to countries affected by Chinese Confucianism, namely China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam and with regard to business aspects also to strong Chinese communities in South East Asia. In other words, the East is defined as a summary of societies and social groups, sharing Confucian values. They are called "Confucian Asia."

"West" or "Western" are the terms referring to European and North American cultures that have been dominating international order in the modern history from the time of colonization. Their values ​​are based in the socio-economic sphere on democratic principles, rule of law, individual rights, market economy and in the field of philosophy on ontological approaches. The cultural orientation of the West is based on Judeo-Christian values ​​and on the Greco-Roman heritage.

"Confucianism" is a term denoting the essence of Chinese tradition. It is understood beneath current Chinese philosophy and associated with the person of Confucius (approximately 551-479 B.C.) and his followers - Mencius (approximately 371-289 B.C.) and Xun Zi (approximately 313-230 B.C.). Confucianism is not a religion, it does not possess belief in gods and avoids metaphysical and ontological questions. It is a code of ethics, fostering civic cult and scaling moralistic properties useful for the state. She creates a variety of legal and philosophical schools and has introduced a powerful formalism into a society, as well as rituals and model of government with a vertical structure of subordination. Each entity in this "social mechanism" is clearly earmarked by civil position and responsibilities that are crucial for the functioning of the whole. The individual has first and foremost the obligations and not the rights, individuals must sacrifice their interests for the benefit of the whole. Individual freedoms and interests are secondary. Confucianism with Taoism and Buddhism represent a harmonious unit of three basic teachings in Chinese history of thought. Within this "triangle" Confucianism and Taoism are syncretic and highly complementary.

2 Geography of thinking as one of determination factors

The development of early culture depends strongly on physical environment, such as climate, fauna, flora, water resources and topography.

Some of key contrasting characteristics between East and West can be traced back to the very beginning of Western and Chinese cultures, during the Ice Age and the following Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. While China was situated in low latitude with abundance of fauna and flora, Europe was covered by ice sheets throughout the Ice Age. Nature conditions started to form different modes relating to nature, family, community and different patterns of behavior and living in those relevant regions.

Geographic confinement was another important factor. Chinese culture essentially developed in isolation, thousands kilometers from the two cradles of Western civilization. Vast distance and difficult terrains separated China form the West and it has persisted until the Silk Road was opened two thousand years ago. This was in sharp contrast with the development of ancient civilization around the Mediterranean, where open communication and cross-cultural exchange were common. [1]

3 Thought incubators and thought inclinations

3.1 Greece: "Truth seekers" and tradition of public discussions

The Western thinking was born in the Greek thought incubator.[2] The Greeks were seeking truth via explicit knowledge. They thought deeply about thinking itself and pondered the "what" questions - what is the truth, what is world made of, what is real. The tradition of the debate itself acted as a key institute. Critical attitudes to authorities were common, loyalty of students to the teacher remained only while his reputation lasted. Open disagreements and questioning of teachings authorities were common practice. Reputation was obtained by reasoning with rivals and not through the position in the administration.

Early Greeks rejected empirical experience of non-casual character, non-rational way of thinking and recognized nothing less than rational, analytical, logical and explicit. The central question of the Greek philosophers was to find the durability and stability (the unity, the being, the whole), necessary for understanding of the universe with its ever ongoing changes (plurality, birth and termination of cases).

There is a strong ontological aspect in the Western thought. Greeks with their perseverance and insistence in search for truth through logical procedures adopted ultimately idealistic dualism as an important philosophy of life and the religion that has lasted thousands of years in various forms. As a result, the western approaches and preferences become more abstract, theoretical, atomic, rational, seeking substance of things. It was only after Enlightenment that more inclusive perspectives on thought were opened. Even then dualistic thinking continued to affect the Western attitudes.

In terms of methodological approach, western thinking is analytical with inherent reductionist procedures and anatomical analyzes on elements of the whole in order to understand the whole through its components while solely relying on logical procedures. The humanity must be highly grateful to early Greeks for their immense contribution in the field of mathematics, science, philosophy and political science.

The Roman Empire continued on the Greek civilization and further developed Greek arts, literature, philosophy, adapted the Jewish ethical system, the new Christian religion, absorbed Babel astronomy and astrology, the cultural elements of Persia, Egypt and other Eastern civilizations. The Romans created the Greco-Roman synthesis, a rich mix of cultural elements that formed two millennia Western tradition.

3.2 China: "Way seekers" and tradition of memorizing classic works

Institutional framework of the birth of Chinese thought was completely different. In China, the authority of Confucius was accepted as an axiom, as a Canon, as the eternal truth that can´t be questioned. Official Confucian classics prestige was enormous, although medicine, astronomy and mathematics deserved also considerable status. Education was in this context the issue of conservation, interpretation and appreciation of classical texts and in addition to that - the way to a career in the ranks of well-paid administrators and provincial councilors to the supreme ruler and ministers.[3] The authority was not achieved through the institution of public discussion, as in ancient Greece, but by the position in the administrative machinery, into which the scholar was positioned based on the results of state tests. These examenatiosn were based on memorizing Confucian Analects - the ability to reproduce, understand and to interpret the text - but not going into thinking beyond the content of the text.

The Chinese long accepted the fact that the only constant in the world is the change. This was for them the apparent reality and they were seeking the way to accommodate this phenomenon. The Chinese did not asked questions "what" is the essence of the world, They were not preoccupied with the goal of providing rational accounts of reality but raised "where" questions - where is the Way of the harmony with the Nature in order to get the effective functioning of the society.

Eastern thinkers considered the thinking not as a process of abstract reasoning, but more as an activity whose immediate result should yield into practical use to society. In contrast to the Greeks they sought to understand the world more through experience than seeking explanations of the world finding theories that stands behind it. For them the reality was a concept based on a concrete observation and an empirical knowledge of the world was a kind of experiential know-how.

There is absence of ontological imperatives in Chinese mind. Chinese thinkers do not perceive any "Being" or "One" behind the reality, only Universe - the phenomenon that is universal and omnipresent. Chinese wisdom has no need for the idea of God. There is only an ever-changing processional regularity. This inclination of considerations caused the Chinese approach and orientation of thoughts tend to practical solutions and correlations.

Chinese thought is neither analytically nor theoretically inclined but rather very pragmatic. Chinese mind has no tendency to theorize. What is typical for her are considerations in terms of respective analogies and she is prone to see things contextually, through more feminist than muscular eyes. It is avoiding abstract concepts, exclusive formal logic is not her stronghold, rather is synthetic than analytic and showing a lot of intuitive and instinctive aspects. Therefore Chinese attitudes and thought preferences tend to be practical and correlative.

In opposition to the western reductionism Eastern thought is a holistic, pays more attention to the context, to the connections and coherence. She is interested in understanding the whole complex in its context, not through its elements. The whole is in Chinese thinking more than a summary of its components while relationship among elements are so complex and complicated that even through the deepest analysis of these elements (reductionist method typical for the Western thinking) it is impossible to understand the complex whole.

Chinese thought manifests tolerance for contradictions and conflicts, and unlike prevailing majority of the Western philosophy schools it does not perceive the "opposites" (positive pole versus negative pole) as incompatible standing against each other, but as complementary and interdependent variables. In other words, he is looking for integrity and solutions in practical life in which two opposites can exist in symbiosis.

Based on thinking inclinations the study distinguishes Western philosophers as "Truth seekers" and Eastern thinkers as "Way seekers".[4] The contrast is significant. Different thinking approaches affected worldviews and key relationship concepts in both cultures.

4 Key concepts of interactions: Homo-Ethico-Politicus vs Homo-Spiritus-Religiosus

Understanding of the differences in thinking between East and West needs to be based primarily on the different system approaches of the man with his environment/nature and man's relationship with man. These differences manifest themselves in a variety of contradictory concepts, for instance holistic versus reductionist approach, perceptions of opposites in conflicted versus complementary way, consciousness factor versus face protection, communitarian versus individualistic approach, order versus revolt in society evolution, rule of law versus kinship relationship in public affairs, people´s obligations versus people´s rights, pragmatism versus ontological thinking, formalism versus straightforward behavior, high context versus low context perception, substance versus object as well as different role of the trust, justice, harmony in the governing schemes of society and some other differentiating principles.

4.1 Human - Nature relationship (ontological questions)

Relationship with Nature is foundational and acts as a backdrop for finite relationships for the civil society.

Western culture, in searching for answers to the most fundamental question of human existence and the relationship between man and nature, emphasized on the concept of "separation" of mind from body resulting in the separation of man from nature. Traditional western view of human nature was heavily influenced by the religion. Western warship of spirit has not paid enough critical attention to the interpretation of human nature and only Post - Enlightenment period brought the changes.

In contrast, the East considered the man as a whole, as an embodied microcosm of the universe, a part of the nature, instead of a spirit being. The fundamental was the endeavor for harmony of relationship in the nature as well as in the society. That is why the relationship between man and nature was conceptualized by "Tao" - "The Way". It serves a similar role as the Gods of the West in the sense of relationship between man and nature but the East focused on the question of human nature instead of ontological issues.

Harmony in the concept of Tao can be best explained the by the principle of polarity "Yin - Yang", which explains these two poles as two complementary factors, standing for all movements of the nature. Western culture, unlike the East, characterizes polarity not as two complementary, but as two separate opposing factors. Such vision of reality greatly influenced the Chinese conceptualization of values and determined the approach to many aspects of life, including social institutions. This makes the Confucian worldview more organic and harmonious, preferring ethics of social relations instead of seeking supernatural phenomena, spirituality and religion. Mankind is considered simply as an integral part of the nature.

In contrast to the East, transcendent questions in the Western thought are stretching almost through the entire Western history and the issues of the creation of the universe and search for "Creator" of nature were formalized in the institution of religion.

If to compare the difference between East and West approaches concerning the relationship of the man and nature, the difference is that Tao is a concept of harmonization of the man and nature while God is above nature and by this standing, in a certain sense, separates humans from nature.

The perception of these differences between East and West are of paramount importance for organizing the relationships in civil society in Chinese and Western cultures.

4.2 Human - Human relationships (interpersonal relationships)

4.2.1 Role of the ethics in Confucian society

Confucian people´s relations are totally different from the Western world. East seeks to instill ethics in human relations for the maintenance of the order in society without any institution of supernatural being and without religion. On the other hand, the West and

Christianity with the concept of the law of God and the faith in the afterlife bring to their civilization theological character. [5]

The centerpiece of the concept of human relations of the East is the role of ethics in Chinese society. The basis of this ethics is the moral integrity of every person, including the ruler of the country. The appeal to the concept of morality and the duties behavior of every individual in the vertically hierarchical social bonds is a control element management of public affairs. This provides the key to understanding the high objectives of Confucianism, relationships among people, between individuals and families, as well as between the individual and society. Each of these relationships mimics Regulations of Universe.

The basic unit in ancient Chinese society, in contrast to the West, was a family, rather than individual. The family is the most important aspect of a person´s life in the East, the foundation of one´s identity, one´s morality, and the source of the meaning of the life. The ideal Confucian "Six Relations" (ruler/subject, parent/child, husband/wife, older/younger brother, teacher/pupil and between friends) are considered the basis of all social connections. Three out of six are found within the family that is a kind of testament to the importance of family in Confucian society.

Confucian world, society and the state are modeled as an extension of the family. Governance of the state follows this model - the leader functions as the father, the head of the family, and all citizens as his children.

Suppression of individual interests to the interest of the group is the natural moral ethics of Confucianism. The Chinese do not understand the emphasis of individual freedoms, they understand only the interest which requires a functioning unit, to which everything should be subordinate. The society is seen as an analogy of the human body. This works only if every human body-organ performs its duties properly. Once the body organs begin to function without control (analogy of expression of individual freedom) the human body as a whole will collapse. Therefore the first and foremost duty in Confucian society is to harmonize relations by implementation of the obligations of all individuals and groups within the established hierarchy relations. The interests of individuals have no place in such society, only the interests of groups and higher units. This is the essence of ethical principles of Confucianism. Therefore, the concept of individual human rights in Chinese society is considered by Chinese as a foreign element, "imported" from the West and despite the gradual modernization of China it is still considered that it "does not fit" the so-called Confucian tradition.

4.2.2 Role of the consciousness in the Western culture

Code of Ethics in the Confucian society was the determining factor, and the adherence to prescribed rituals fulfill in this regard an important function. Society life represents a set of rules and expectations of behavior of each subject according to established rules. Who swerved from this prescribed model of social interaction, was losing his face in front of others. Confucian society can therefore be described as "a culture of saving face" or as a "culture of shame" because the general pressure to comply with the Code of Ethics was so large that its failure to respect amount to shame.

The West, whose civilization values are based on Judeo-Christian traditions, was long-term building spiritual Institution and within this institution the "culture of conscience" based on spiritual approaches. Moral and ethical code of society was based on responsibility of the conduct in the sight of God, who controls everything and sees everything. It meant the appeal to the observance of morality institution in front of the Supreme Creator who will judge the actions of individuals in the end, and not the appeal to respect moral code measured by other members of society. No shame in front of others, but conscience before God has become a determining factor in the behavior of the individual and the religion became an institution that had this man's relationship with God to cultivate and to guard. Regardless of whether one is alone or in the eyes of others, in both normal and problematic situations, this spiritual approach preached the man always to appeal to his/her conscience and to ask whether it is right what he conducts. His conscience as a God's hand is a communication tool with an invisible God to whom the man will confess his/her acts.

History shows that despite these concepts proclaimed by East and West, their ideals passed through periods of deep crisis and both cultures in implementation of their ideals they slipped into deformation scales. What is important, however, is that thought preferences of both cultures resulted in two very important and highly topical issues that East and West still perceive in cardinal difference way.

The first is the relationship to freedoms and rights of the individual, the other issue relates to questions of correlations.

The essence of the difference in respect of individual freedoms is that Chinese society in general emphasizes the obligations of individuals, while the West emphasizes his rights.

In matters of correlations the Western culture is looking for differences between the body and mind, the existence and non-existence, the individual and society, the society and state, the man and nature. The Chinese culture strives to seek coexistence, integrity, unity, harmony, mutual respect of all things in nature and finding connectivity between the past, present and future.

Chinese mind along the way tended to look for the ideal in the past, so for example, its architecture, in principle, copies the past buildings and is not as diverse as architecture of Western culture, which is highly diverse and rich in architectural styles, reflecting the future oriented mind through innovation attitude. One can also see beyond that a kind of Confucian effort of Chinese society for the preservation of society and stability and rejection of social changes, while in Western culture there were in opposite way, the social movements that have become the driving force of progress.

Taking into account the characteristics of the intellectual orientations, Confucian society can be described as a community of Homo Ethico-Politicus and Western societies as Homo Spiritus-Religiosus.[6]

The end of the article in the next issue of the "UA Foreign Affairs "


1. G.E.R. Lloyd: Disciplines in the making. Oxford University Press 2009.

2. G.E.R. Lloyd: The Ambitions of Curiosity, Understanding the World in Ancient Greece and China. Cambridge University Press, 2002.

3. G.E.R. Lloyd: Polarity and Analogy. Bristol Classical Press, 1992.

4. David Harvey: Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference. Blackwell Publishng 1996.

5. WM. Theodore De Bary: Asian Values and Human Rights. Harvard University Press, 1998.

6. René Guénon: East and West. Sophia Perennis, 2001.

7. WM. Theodore Bary and Tu Wei Ming: Confucianism and Human Rights. Columbia University Press, 1997.

8. Wayne Christuado, Heung Wah Wong, Sun Youzhong: Order and Revolt, Bridge21 Publications, 2014.

9. Joseph Chan: Confucian Perfectionism. Princeton University Press, 2014

10. Jeffrey L. Richey: Teaching Confucianism, Oxford University Press, 2008.

11. Richard E. Nisbett: The Geography of Thought, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2005.


Закінчення у наступному номері.

[1] Tai P. Ng, Ph.D: Chinese Culture, Western Culture, Why we must leanr from each other?, p. 35

[2] G.E.R.Lloyd: Two types of argumentation in early Greek thought, p. 1

[3] G.E.R.Lloyd: The Ambitiouns of Curiosity, Understanding the World in Ancient Greece and China, p. 133-135

[4] Tai P. Ng, PhD: Chinese Culture, Western Culture, Why we must leanr from each other?, p. 14

[5] Y.J.Choi: East and West: Confucianism and Christianity, p. 31

[6] Y.J.Choi: East and West: Man vs Spirit, p. 114