New Philosophy

Buddhism and Confucianism

How have Japanese, Chinese, and Indian philosophy recently entered Anglo-American philosophy?

Contemporary philosophical sources for African philosophy include Kwame Anthony Appiah, In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (1992); Kwame Gyeke, Tradition and Modernity (1997); Emmanuel Eze, editor, Postcolonial African Philosophy (1970); Paulin J. Hountondji, African Philosophy: Myth and Reality (1983); John Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (1970); Albert Mosley, editor, African Philosophy: Selected Readings (1995); H. Odera Oruka, editor, Sage Philosophy (1990); Tsenay Serequeberhan, editor, African Philosophy: The Essential Readings (1991); Kwasi Wiredu, editor, A Companion to African Philosophy (2004); and Richard Wright, editor, African Philosophy: An Introduction (1984).

Asian philosophy came to the West as Buddhism from Japanese, Chinese and Indian philosophy, and Neo-Confucianism from Chinese philosophy. Given the common thread of Buddhism throughout Asia, many might be tempted to designate all philosophy from Japan, China, and India as “Asian philosophy” or “Eastern philosophy,” but there are other systems of thought and religion just as diverse as Buddhist traditions.

Also, the different Buddhist traditions derive from cultures that have very distinctive histories, as well as very different current political and economic situations and ties to the West. That their theological dimensions are not Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, is probably all that the philosophies of these areas—broadly understood to be more than Buddhism and Confucianism—have in common.

Although Euro-American intellectuals in other fields have well-developed scholarly traditions based on Eastern texts, it should be noted that philosophers, as a profession, are relative latecomers to Eastern philosophy. For instance: the British biochemist Joseph Needham (1900–1995) wrote extensively on technology and science in the history of China; the nineteenth century German novelist Herman Hesse introduced an international readership to Indian thought and Buddhism in his 1922 novel, Siddhartha; and philosophy’s own Gottfried Leibniz (1646–1716) was fascinated by Chinese thought. The question is what do philosophers put on their curricula from Eastern thought in new ways that emphasize a commonality of philosophical interests? Again, the answer is Buddhism, on account of its resonance with Western metaphysics and epistemology, and Confucianism for what it teaches about virtue ethics.


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