Philosophy East and West, Pt III; “Dao Deh Jing” Ch. II

This is part 3 of a series, if this part does not make sense to you, the following links with take you to Parts One and Two

Chapter II.

A. “Yin, Yang and the Two Truths”

The whole world recognizes the beautiful as the beautiful, yet this is only the ugly; the whole world recognizes the good as the good, yet this is only the bad.

Thus Something and Nothing produce each other;

The difficult and easy complement each other;

The long and short off-set each other;

The high and low incline towards each other;

Note and sound harmonize with each other;

Before and after follow each other.” Dao Deh Jing II.4-6

 

In the first half of this chapter we see a list of pairs of opposites. According to conventional truth, the opposites are completely other from each other, but from the perspective of Ultimate truth, they are *the Same*.

Traditional Chinese origin myths always began with the mating of two original principles of Yin and Yang. What Classical Chinese philosophy adds to this myth is the idea that underlying the Yin Yang dualism there must be a common unified principle which they called the “Dao”. Both Daoists and Confucians used this term in this way, although their approaches were quite different. In any case, this relates to “Two Truths” theory from the previous post since we clearly see that we have preceded from a discussion of the Two Truths into a series of complementary opposites, each of which form an underlying unity. If you look at the Yin-Yang symbol above with this in mind, you see that this is exactly what is illustrated; within each opposite half is a core that belongs to the other. In each case it is said that the opposites define, produce, or complement each other. Thus it seems the the Yin and Yang pattern spans radically different levels of discourse:

  1. conceptual definitions – It is commonly noticed that many things cannot be defined without their opposites; e.g. odd and even, more and less, good and bad.
  2. production by nature of skill – “Thus Something and Nothing produce each other”; in which yin and yang are placed directly in the realm of form and matter, i.e. Aristotle’s hylomorphic theory of change, a theory of natural and artificial change. More on this later!
  3. value – “complement each other” refers to the fact that many things are worthless without a opposite counterpart. For example fuel is worthless without oxygen, a tool without material, building material without a location, the weather without land, etc.

In the next section, we see another version of the yin and yang, where the highest/best exemplar of a thing is alson the same as the highest exemplar of its opposite:

Therefore the sage keeps to the deed that consists in taking no action and practices the teaching that uses no words.” Dao Deh Jing II.6

The greatest action consisting laisez-faire, non-intervention, being fully present as an example, or some other small token action done at the right time. In Chinese this is called “Wei wu wei”, literally “doing not doing”. The greatest action is in simply being there and acting very little. The natural world is filled with these things: in biology, for example, the most intricate design appears with no designer.

In the last section, this trait is attributed to the lack of selfish motive or egoistical method in taking the action:

The myriad creatures rise from it yet it claims no authority; it gives them life yet claims no possession; it benefits them yet exacts no gratitude; it accomplishes its task yet claims to no merit. It is because it claims no merit that its merit never deserts it.” Dao Deh Jing II.7,7a

This gibes well with many findings of modern science; evolution is not so elegant in spite of the lack of a Intelligent Designer, but because of that lack. Guiding intelligence would ruin Nature. Likewise with society; a properly run nation does what it does not because of the ruler, but in spite of them; the best ruler will simply get out of the way.

What Lao Tzu shares with Greek thought is the idea that metaphysics’ proper task is a comprehensive theory of change that suits both the natural, the artificial and the political. In both China and Greece none of these realms can be reduced to another, but they are all subsumed to the highest form of knowledge with draws closest to the general principles underlying cosmic levels of both permanence and change. While Greek thought includes extended reflection on the logically necessary that is lacking in the Dao Deh Jing, However, Aristotle shares with Daosim the attitude that reflection on the natural is of higher dignity to the conceptual.

 

Philosophy East and West: Pt II: Introduction to the “Dao Deh Ching”

As stated in my previous post, in this series of blog posts I wish to highlight the common aspects of classical philosophy in India, China and Greece. Now we begin with the Dao Deh Ching by Lao Tsu. In this I will be guided by the agenda of seeing how the author is concerned with answering what I call (after Buddhas’ example) the “Four Noble Questions” of philosophy,.  Because Lao Tsu is a philosopher in the sense that we are using here, he has answers to all of the Four Noble Questions:

  1. What are the “Many Things“, that we find in this world? The Ten Thousand Things; Heaven and Earth.
  2. What is the main Problem with the many things? Life out of Balance/Ignorance of the Way.
  3. What is the “One Special Thing“? The Way (Tao).
  4. How is the One Special Thing from step three the Solution to the Problem of step two? True Power (Teh).

[Sorry about some of the formatting problems: I wrote this in LibreOffice and much of it completely messed up on cutting and pasting into WordPress.]

Chapter I.

A. The “Ten Thousand Things”

In this chapter, we shall look at Lao Tzu’s domain of discourse. He calls it “The Ten Thousand Things”. Of course there are more than 10.000 of these things; in Chinese, the phrase is slang for “everything”. But for those who are accustomed to reading Western philosophy, we notice that there is at least one type of thing conspicuously absent: ideal beings, known to the Greeks as “Forms” or “Ideas”. These sorts of beings are outside of time and space. Even geometric forms such as the Form of ‘Cube’ or that of the ‘Sphere’ are not in a particular place. The funny thing is that “Forms” and “Ideas” are not considered worthy of a full treatment in Chinese thought as they are in Greece. In this way, early Chinese thought is what we in the West call “naturalistic”, meaning that the domain of beings considered “real” and worthy of explanation all exist in space and time… except for perhaps the Tao itself, although even this is left for the reader to guess. 1

Such doubts aside, there is a sense in which Daoism is extremely naturalistic. 2But what we mean by this here is that the thinkers so called restrict themselves to those beings which exist in space, time, and physical causality. I assume that Old Lao believes in divine beings, but these beings are, like us, actors in space and time. They may be made of some exotic form of matter and perhaps they will last for eons, but they are not the sort of thing that exists outside of nature in the way that Aristotle’s “Prime Mover(s)” and Plato’s Forms. 3

Lao Tsu classifies  the weather, the seasons, animals, plants, medicine, families, villages, works of art, gardens, and kingdoms as among the “Ten Thousand Things”. So although they are all in space and time, even the artificial is ‘natural’ in this sense. In this it follows Greek thought; Aristotle’s “Physics”, which defines its primary subject matter as “nature” or “physis”, does this with the assumption that the ultimate principles of nature also govern the artificial (‘tekne“) as well. This is also true of modern science; physics is used to study both nature proper as well as engineered or artificial systems.

The Dao as Arkhe

The way that can be spoken of is not the constant way; the name that can be named is not the constant name. The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth; The named is the mother of the myriad creatures.”

The “Arkhe” is a Greek term which translates as “principle, basis, reason (for), cause, origin, ruler”. I have already dealt at lengths with it here. It is an untranslatable Greek word that includes the meanings of the English words “principle”, “origin”, “basis”,“leader”,“oldest”, “first” and others. Philosophy, science, and engineering all seek the arkhe behind everything, and every major scientific revolution in science seems to reduce the number of principles needed for explaining things while increasing predictive power. Defined at length in Metaphysics V.1 by Aristotle, where he defines it with the meanings given below; for the sake of the unGreeked reader, I have underlined all words that render some form of the Greek wordarkhe”. In the Dao Deh Ching, the word “Dao” is used in precisely the same ways asArche”, so after each sense given for “Arkhe”, I will place a synonymous usage of “Dao”.

“‘BEGINNING‘ [Gk.arkhe] means

  1. That part of a thing from which one would start first, e.g a line or a road has a beginning in either of the contrary directions.” (Aristotle, Metaphysics V.1)
    1. There is a thing confusedly formed, born before heaven and earth. Silent and void it stands alone and does not change, It is capable of bieng the mother o the world. I do not know its name so I style it ‘the way’.”4 Dao Deh Ching XXV.56
  2. That from which each thing would best be originated, e.g. even in learning we must sometimes begin not from the first point and the beginning of the subject, but from the point from which we should learn most easily.” (Aristotle, Metaphysics V.1)
    1. Woe unto him who wilfully innovates while ignorant of the constant [Dao], But should one act from knowledge of the constant [the Dao], one’s action will lead to impartiality, impartiality to kingliness, kingliness to heaven, heaven to the way the way to perpetuity, and to the end of one’s days one will meet with no danger.” Dao Deh Ching XVI.38
    2. In a home it is the site which matters… “ Ibid.VIII
    3. Hold fast to the way of antiquity..” Ibid. XIV.34
  3. That from which, as an immanent part, a thing first comes to be, e,g, as the keel of a ship and the foundation of a house, while in animals some suppose the heart, others the brain, others some other part, to be of this nature.” (Aristotle, Metaphysics V.1)
    1. The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth; The named is the mother of the myriad creatures.” Dao Deh Ching I
    2. The myriad creatures rise from it and yet it claims no authority; it gives them life and yet claims no possiession.” Dao Deh Ching II.7

I know that the above only hints at the full sense of Dao used by Lao Tzu, but for the time being we will leave it here to illustrate our general approach.

So we can see that the dao is a principle, but how is it that it is so mysterious? After all, it is “untellable” and “unsayable” in lines 3 and 4, so how is it that this can be a “philosophy” in the sense similar to that found in Plato and Aristotle? This is dealt with in the next section, where I deal with many of the things normally cited as evidence that Daoism is more mysticism that philosophy.

 

The “Two Truths”

Hence always rid yourself of desires in order to observe its secrets; But always allow yourself to have desires in order to observe its manifestations. These two are the same but diverge as they issue forth. Being the same they are called mysteries, mystery upon mystery, the gateway of the mainfold secrets.” (Dao Deh Ching I.3-3a)

 

What is Old Lao talking about here? The way I like to say it is that for him, there are “Two Truths”.5 The two truths are not like two different truths that contradict each other, but rather they are more like two different ways of using the same word “truth”. Each of these two truths operate on different levels, and they only conflict if this difference is ignored. Just as we reinterpret many common words for use in science, for purposes of philosophy it seems useful to stipulate two different senses of “truth”.6 In Buddhism the “Two Truths” are as follows:

  1. Conventional truth – this is the common sense view of the world
  2. Ulitmate Truth – The reality of the world according to knowledge.7

Normally, we think of ultimate truth as truth that has superceded conventional truth. Once that has happened, it seems more natural to think of the previous truth as being proven untrue. Why in the world would we retain it as being called “true” in any way at all?

Modern science requires its own ‘dialethisms’. For example, we know that humans and animals are not radically different but share a common ancestor. This is a good example of “Ultimate Truth”. However, in the course of out daily lives, we treat humans as being special compared to all other types of living creatures. (Pretty much all animals do this.) This is what we would call “Conventional Truth”. Conventional truth does not get replaced by ultimate truth; since it still it guides our actions in most cases. Ultimate Truth is only brought into play on special occasions when we are faced with deep paradoxes or exceptionally rare decisions.

Another example of the two truth distinction concerns atomism. We know that material objects are made of atoms and empty space, and yet in most cases we still deal with them on a common-sense level. This is a very accurate example because there were actually a couple of atomist schools of Mahayana Buddhism who defined the two truths thusly:

The Sarvāstivādin’s ontology[2] or the theory of the two truths makes two fundamental claims.

  1. the claim that the ultimate reality consists of irreducible spatial units (e.g., atoms of the material category) and irreducible temporal units (e.g., point-instant consciousnesses) of the five basic categories, and
  2. the claim that the conventional reality consists of reducible spatial wholes or temporal continua.

To put the matter straightforwardly, for the Sarvāstivādins, wholes and continua are only conventionally real, whereas the atoms and point-instant consciousness are only ultimately real.8

So what are the Daoist two truths? As with Buddhism, the difference lies with the intention of relating to beings from two different motivations:

  1. Knowledge – ““Hence always rid yourself of desires in order to observe its secrets; ”
  2. Desire – “But always allow yourself to have desires in order to observe its manifestations.”

It is pretty much the same in every philosophy; knowledge and desire denote two different ways of relating to beings, each of which has their own level of “truth”. In any case, the distinction underlies many paradoxical statements in the Dao Deh Ching, such as what we find in the next chapter.

 

Notes on Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” Book VII

[Preface]

[These are my notes on the seventh book of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, also called book “Z” or “Zeta”. It concerns the concept of “substance” (ousia), or in other words “the most real sort of thing that is”. It shows how Aristotle defends his views against both idealism and materialism. In my view, this can be well adapted to modern debates concerning reductionism and physicalism and I hope that it is clear how I think this is so.

One item that puzzled me at first and that paid off my inquiry was the variety of things that were claimed by Aristotle as being “substance”. From a modern perspective, it seems that atoms and molecules are not at all substantial in the way that an organism is. But the funny thing is that there is a really interesting reason why some substances can include as material constituents other substances, even though substances are not merely matter. In the end, I think that there is an explanation for this that includes both Kantian and evolutionary ideas, but this will have to wait for another blog post. I think that this will address many of the concerns raised by the fact that the creatures who implement the highest categories of reason evolved through a contingent process in time and space. If you really pay attention to my description of the relation of elemental and biological substances but below and in a previous post on the “Physics”, you will see it.

It requires some understanding of the following:

  • Aristotle’s “categories” described in his work Categories.  I have not yet posted notes for this, but you can read this for now.
  • Aristotle’s “Four Causes” from Physics Book II.]

Ch. 1 – Being as Substance

  • ” ‘Being’ has many senses. (See Book V.vii)
    • But “being” denotes first “what a thing is” (its individuality) and only after the other categories.
    • All that is is either substance or “a determination of a substance” (some other category).
    • Non-substances (other categories) cannot exist independently or separated from substance.
  • How is substance primary?
    • “In definition”
      • “If we say something is ‘good’, that is not really meaningful unless we know the substance of which is is said.”
    • “In knowledge”
      • We cannot know is something is “x” or “y” unless we know what sort of substance it is.
    • “In time”
      • Because actual substance is always temporally prior to all its other categories.

Ch. 2 – Opinions on substance.

  1. Things commonly accepted as substance.
    • Organisms
    • Parts of Organisms
    • Elements
    • ‘And their different species’
    • “and their parts and what is compounded of them, e.g. the physical universe and its parts (the stars, the Moon, and the Sun).”
  2.  Are all of these subsatnces? Are there any other substances?
  3. Pythagoras says that geometrical forms are more substantial than matter.
  4. The physiologoi reject nonsensible substances.
  5. Plato
    1. accepts geomentry and adds Forms;
    2. rejects material substances.

Ch. 3 – Substance as Substratum

  • There are four strong candidates for substance:
    • Substratum
    • Essence
    • Universal
    • Genus
  • Possible substrata:
    • Matter
    • Sensible Form
    • Hylomorph – the matter/form compound.
  • Any of these could be “that which has predicates but is not predicated of another.”
  • If we define it over-simply thus, it seems that matter is the most likely substance.

Ch. 4 – What has essence?

  1. “Essence” is :
    • What a thing is of itself
    • What a thing is in virtue of itself.
  2. Essence is NOT:
    • “A musical person” – accidental quality of substance.
    • “A white surface” – accidental quality of form.
    • “A white man” – accidental quality of substance.
    • “A cloak”
      • artificial product.
      • compound
        • of material elements
        • of matter and form by skill, not nature
  3. Essence belongs to:
    • Substance “primarily and simply”
    • secondarily to all other Categories, which are said to “be”
      • By equivocation
      • In a qualified sense
        • We know that something is unknown
        • In the sense that nothing “is”.
      • Analogically as in:
        • “Surgical” (tools, practitioners, patients, supplies, rooms, schools, books, techniques, data, terminology)

Ch. 5 – Have coupled terms essence of definition?

This chapter deals with the essences of coupled terms like “white man”, white surface”, “musical man”, or “female human”. It is clear that the separated terms have essences in some sense; what about the compound terms taken jointly?

Essential attributes.

  • Noses are either concave or snub (per se attributes).
  • Animals are either male or female.
  • Quantities are either equal or not.

But whiteness is a NONessential attribute of man.

“Essence” is said analogously or in a different sense in both substance and other categories.

“Thus in one sense there will be no definition or essence of of anything except substances, while in another sense the remaining categories also have them. And so it is manifest that definition is the formula of the essence, and that essence belongs only to substances or to them alone in the proper, primary, and unqualified sense.”

[It seems that nonsubstantial essences are merely classificatory, while substantial essences have other senses:

  • Living essences have their form as their essence.
    • The genotype is the essence, in the following sense:
      • the genotype is nonsensible
      • the genotype is the cause of being is and temporally prior to the phenotype.
  • Molecular essences are the the molecules interface with other molecules; in other words, those aspects of the molecule that make it a suitable substratum for biology.
  • Atomic essences are the properties of the atom (atomic weight, outer electron shell configuration) that determine its chemical behavior.

Notes about these essences:

  • Lower-level substances (e.g. atoms )are “subsumed” into the essences higher level substances. (e.g. molecules).
  • The essence of the living substances is their encoded genotype (informed matter).
  • The essence of non-living substances is their interface with living creatures.]

 

Ch. 6 – Is a thing the same as its essence?

Two questions:

  • Does “The being” = “The being’s substance”?
  • Does “the being’s substance” = “the being’s essence”?
  1. Q: Why would the essence of the subjects of accidental predication be identical on the view that “a thing = its essence”? After all, it is its essence.
    • A: In one sense, the essence of “white man” and “black man” are the same, since both are “men” and the color is non-essential.
  2. What about per se expressions?
    1. Assuming the (Platonic)? Forms:
      • IF – Essence = Form
      • AND – Form = “ontos on” (thing in itself ?).
      • THEN – Essence is the things themselves. [substance?]
    2. “That each individual thing is one and the same as its essence. … is clear … from the fact that to know the individual thing is to know its essence.”

 

Ch. 7 – Analysis of the Generation of Substance.

  1. Things Belonging to any of the categories may come into being in many ways.
    1. From many types of causes
      1. nature
      2. art
      3. spontanaeity
    2. Genesis is effected:
      1. BY something (efficient cause)
      2. FROM something (material cause)
      3. FOR something (final cause)
  2. “Some artificial, like some natural, products are also produced spontaneously and by chance; for sometimes, even in the natural sphere, the same things are generated both from seed and without it.” (from History of Animals (eels, fish, testaceans, insects) as well as(Physics?)”2.9″”
    1. Processes of production are analyzed in this section in two ways:
      1. By process:
        1. First the thought
        2. Then productive action
      2. Modes of speech
        1. “From sickness to health” – (not a health from sickness)
        2. “Statue made from stone” – (not from stone to statue)

Ch. 8 – What is generated? The “Hylomorph”

Q: When a substance comes into being, what is it that does so? Form, matter or both?

A: The “hylomorph” (compound of form and matter) comes into being.

“… We do however, cause a bronze sphere to ‘be’ inasmuch as we produce it from bronze andsphere; we put the form into a given lump of matter and the result is a bronze sphere. But if the essence of sphere were produced, it would have to be produced out of something; for what is produced must always be divisible and be partly one thing and partly another – partly matter and partly form.” … “Clearly, then the Forms (if there are such things) do nothing to explain generation or substances, and therefore cannot be considered self-subsistent substances.” Because substances cannot be predicated of another substance.

“Living creatures indeed are more truly substances than anything else, and in their case, if in any, we might expect to discover forms. But no, the begetter is adequate to generating the product, i.e. to putting the form into the matter. The completed whole, a certain form in a certain flesh and bones, is Callias or Socrates; but they are different by virtue of their matter, but the same in form, which is indivisible.” [Note the contradiction with Charlotte Witt’s thesis of individual essences.]

“If then we make the spherical form itself, clearly we should have to make it from some thing, and the process will go on like that ad infinitum.” [But given that the form is ‘made’ (by phylogeny or stellar nuclear synthesis) is it not made from existing “relative form” or ‘intelligible form’?]

Ch. 9 – Production: Autotmaton and non-substances.

“And here is a peculiarity of substance: there must pre-exist in actuality some other substance which produces it, e.g. an animal in the case of animal generation, but a quality or quatity need not necessarily pre-exist otherwise than potentially.” [On the modern view of cosmic and biological evolution, this is not true; nuclear synthesis and phylogeny both generate substances without actual pre-existence.]

Ch. 10 – Parts and Whole

Q: Does the definition of a whole contain that of its parts? What parts are prior to the whole?

Ch. 11 – Parts of the Form / Concrete Whole

Q: Essence seems to be mostly about form. Are there essences which “include” matter? Circles clearly are the former, but “animal” clearly includes matter in the definition.

A: Living creatures are essentially animate. meaning the are defined by movement of matter in space and time. A dead hand is only a ‘hand” equivocally, for it lacks the essentiall principles of change needed for a complete substantial hand.

“With regard to mathematical objects, why are they not the definitions of the parts included in those of the whole; e.g. why is not the definition of the semicircle contained in that of the circle? Not because they are sensible objects, for they are not … semicircles, then, are not part of the universal Circle, but of particular circles,”…

We have stated generally:

  1. What essence is and how it is self-subsistent. (ch. iv)
  2. What sorts of definitions include parts of do not. (ch. v, x, xi)
  3. That material parts have no part in the definition. (ch. v, x, xi)
  4. “That primary substances (ch. vi) e.g., crookedness, (??????????) are the same as their essences, while concrete things involving matter are the same as their essences.”
    1. Concrete things cannot be defined, and all parts of the thing are parts of the thing
    2. But the definition or essence can be defined, and the parts of the concrete thing are not the parts of the essence.

 

Ch. 12 – [Nothing here folks, move along.]

Ch. 13 – Universal is not substance.

  1. a) A thing’s substance is peculiar only to it and nothing else. b) Substance is not predicated of a thing; whereas universals are always predicated of another.
  2. Perhaps universal is merely included in the essence as “animal” in “man” or “horse”. In that case either:
    1. It must be definable. [And thus contain another universal as defining element.] OR
    2. If not all elements are definable, then some are and thus a) above must be true
    3. It is impossible that individual of substance, if composite, should be composed not of substance or individuals but of qualities. [The qualities are not prior to substance in definition or time.]
    4. If “animal” were substance, then the substance Socrates would contain another substance “animal”.
  3. No common predicate denotes a “so-and-so”, rather “such-and-such”.
  4. A substance cannot contain “other substances existing actually”. [But does not a living substance consist of elemental substances?]

“Substance is definable in one sense and not in another.”

Ch. 14 – Forms are not substances.

This chapter looks at further problems with Platonism:

  • Making Forms substances.
  • Making Forms separate from concrete individuals.\
  • Resolving species into genera and differentia.

Ch. 15 – Forms are not substances, continued.

“Substance” is twofold:

  1. The “concrete thing” – the “hylomorph” (form and matter compound)
    • capable of destruction.
    • NOT demonstratable by reason.
  2. The Form – The substance of the concrete thing.
    • NOT capable of destruction.
    • Demonstratable by reason.
  3. Can the Form be defined?
    1. Each Form is singular.
    2. Which is the overlap of other universals.
    3. But universals apply to many, as do any set of universals.
    4. Even collections of universals that happen to have only one existing examplar COULD have more. (For example, if you created a copy of the Sun, it could still never be the Sun).
    5. [So if the Form is substance, then how could it be many? Since substance has predicates but never is a predicate.]

Ch. 16 –

  1. Of the substances, most exist only “potentially”.
    1. Parts of animals.
      1. Do not exist separately.
      2. When separated are merely matter, losing their form.
    2. Earth, fire, air – “None are one, but they are like a heap.”
    3. One might suppose that parts of animals exist “in act” (i.e. are substances?), YET:
      1. Parts exist only potentially.
      2. For parts are connected “by nature”, not “by violence” (biai) or by growing together.
  2.  Universal not substance of a concrete thing.
    1. On ‘x’ = an ‘x’ thing/itself.
    2. The substance of one ‘x’ is one.
    3. No universal can be a substance or the substance of a thing.

Ch. 17 – “The True View of Substance”

There are two ways of asking “Why is ‘x’ a ‘y’?”:

  1. “Why is man an animal?” – Because the from of  animal is in the form of man.
  2. “Why is this matter a man?” – Because the matter has taken the form of man.

A compound which forms a unity (“hylomorph):

  1. is not merely an aggregate of material elements. (Gk. “hyle“)
  2. but also includes something destroyed by dissolution. (The Form, “morphe” or “eidos“, not the form itself, but the particular instance of the form that was in the particular bit of matter.)

Philosophy East and West: Pt.1 -Introduction

Introduction – The Four Noble Truths of Philosophy.

A lot is said about the differences between Eastern and Western philosophy. A great many people are of the opinion that if we gave equal time to Eastern thought in our education, it would revolutionize our science and/or culture. Of course, such a statement is hard to confirm or deny without waiting for time to pass, but I find that most people who make this claim have no special expertise in any sort of philosophy at all. There is a commonly expressed idealistic preconception of Eastern thought that sees it as being the next level up from Western ideas, such that it seems like foolishness to us Westerners, much like the way that philosophy or science seems like foolishness to the layman. In many cases, this is true, for example Descartes’ famous cogito is quite vulnerable to many Eastern criticisms. However, Descartes is not the last word from the West. Although Buddhism may have been the best challenge to Descartes in his time, there are now better approaches, although Buddhism is still worth a place in the conversation even today.

My approach is heavily influenced by both Eastern and Western thought, and I am not completely sure that I would have reached my current views without heavy exposure to Eastern theory and practice. However, I do think that Eastern thought is for sure not so very far ahead of Western. I do not want to bother with claiming one or the other is better in any unqualified sense, or that one of the two is optional for further progress on our most important questions.

I think that what they share is more fundamental than how they differ. In my view they all share the following four features:

  1. That there are “Many Things“, that we find in this world.
    1. Objects
    2. People
    3. Organisms
    4. Facts
    5. Data
    6. Occurrences
  2. The Many Things are Problematic in some way.
    1. They do not quite make sense.
    2. They are hard to predict.
    3. They suffer or cause suffering.
  3. There is a “One Special Thing
    1. behind,
    2. under or
    3. above all the Many Things.
    4. This One Thing is somehow intrinsically related to all the Many Things, much like God or Natural Law.
  4. The One Special Thing from step three might be the Solution to the Problem of step two.

As I was writing, the above, I noticed how similar the four points were to the Buddha’s “Four Noble Truths”. However, the steps could be filled out with values from numerous schools of thought from all over the world. In the following, we will look at the starting points of the three major sources of philosophy that the world has had in the past.

The Plan of the Treatise.

We shall start with the tradition of China and proceed to Greece and India and see how each of them compare. We shall choose for our examples three ckassic books and under each we list the four headings that we gave above: Many Things, The Problem, The One Special Thing, and the resulting Solution to the Problem:

  1.  The Tao Teh Ching. of China.
    1. The Ten Thousand Things; Heaven and Earth
    2. Life out of Balance/Ignorance of the Way
    3. The Way (Tao)
    4. True Power (Teh)
  2. The Bhagavad Gita of India.
    1. The nature of Maya.
      1. Complete Illusions
      2. Relative Delusion
    2. The Root of Ignorance – Confusion about your self.
    3. The Immortal Atman. – Your True Self
    4. The Science of Raja Yoga – Connecting with the True Self
      1. Study – Jnana Yoga
      2. Worship – Bhakti Yoga
      3. Morality – Panca Sila
      4. Yogic observances
      5. Meditation – Dhyana Yoga
      6. Service – Karma Yoga
  3. The Metaphysics by Aristotle.
    1. What are there? – Nature, Good, Forms
    2. What problems are there?
      1. Cosmological Decay
      2. “Frustration” of Nature
      3. Moral Vice
      4. Ignorance
    3. The Arche and the Four Causes.
    4. The Solution:
      1. Skill
      2. Virtue
        1. Moral Virtue
        2. Intellectual Virtue

There could be many other choices for these: in each of these traditions, there is a great variety of schools of thought that radically disagree with each other. I do not want to efface the differences with or between Greece, India and China, but I think that what is shared among all of them is something that is very useful to know no matter which tradition you call home.