Tuesday, November 20, 2007

If Western values stand for liberalism and individualism, Eastern values are closer to collectivism and communalism

Home > Newszone > Opinion > Thoughts of the Times > 11-16-2007 17:09
Philosophy of Universality By Kee Woo-tak
In the world's spiritual history, what era could have made philosophers agonize as much over the issue of human nature as the current one? Various crimes caused by the contempt for human life throughout the world ― the 9/11 terrorist attack of 2001, a massacre at Virginia Tech, threats from nuclear weapons and the almost daily occurrences of carnage in Iraq ― are calamities brought upon humans by other humans. They should have been inconceivable in the civilized society of the 21st century, so in the face of these tragedies, philosophers must provide a solution. Life, whether it is your own or another's, is equally precious. Murder is the worst case of obliterating human nature and an extreme rejection of peace. We can't help but search for the cause of this destruction of humanity in the innate duplicity of human nature. This duplicity, while it gives humans an unflagging will for good, also gives way to their weakness when tempted to seek "the radical evil" tenaciously lurking within. Therefore, there can be few, if any, objections to the assertion that a key proposition of this era should be the "recovery of human nature."
Confucius, a famous ancient Chinese philosopher, said:
"What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others."
And the German philosopher Immanuel Kant said:
"Always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end."
According to these teachings, human nature is noble and subject to reverence.The secret in the recovery of human nature is evasive, as humanity stands somewhere between divinity (morality) and bestiality. It is thus an important task of today's men and women to cast away their bestial (carnal) inclinations, and to elevate themselves to moral characters to maintain balanced personalities by encouraging their reflection on human nature. The philosophy of "recovering humanity" through nurturing morality should lead toward the road to global peace. Should the logic of a "World Citizens' Community" that Kant advocated in "Perpetual Peace" about 200 years ago remain just an ideal, an eternal dream? There is a limit to the role that religion and politics can play in resolving conflicts among human cultures. So its' the philosophers' role to provide solutions. They should elaborate a philosophy of universality for global villagers to prevent war and to serve as the basis for individuals' rights. Therefore, the creation of world philosophy is more urgent than anything else. It implies first of all breaking the wall between Eastern and Western philosophical traditions and facilitating mutual understanding and communication between the two heterogeneous cultures.
To give shape to "World Philosophy," a proper fusion of Western and Eastern values is necessary. In other words, if Western values stand for liberalism and individualism, Eastern values are closer to collectivism and communalism. Still, this dichotomous analysis can never be absolute, as Western values contain elements of Eastern values and there can be Western characteristics, too, within the components of Eastern values.
To resolve such cultural conflicts, it is first necessary to form a pan-Asian philosophy as the premise for establishing a World Philosophy, and for this purpose, I think it very important for the three East Asian nations of China, Japan and Korea to pursue the integration of a common cultural sphere and jointly examine how to evaluate modern values contained in the heritage of Confucian culture, as represented by the teachings of Confucius and Mencius. The discussion of the Universality of Philosophy is based on the global village theory to form a global community.
The progress in today's information and transportation technology sector, and the sweeping wave of globalization have made the fences of nationalism and regionalism no longer tenable. Philosophy must adapt to the new information society and the pursuit of cultural globalization, and universality should emerge as the grand proposition that brings together today's philosophies, a prerequisite for the birth of the Universality of Philosophy. The role of the Universality of Philosophy will be to seek, above all, harmony and unity that enable humans to escape from cultural antagonism and conflicts as well as to avoid philosophical, religious and cultural exclusiveness in their search for universality amid cultural diversity.
Kee Woo-tak is a former philosophy professor at Hongik University in Seoul. He is now a researcher at Sungkyunkwan University. He contributed the above article on the occasion of World Philosophy Day, which fell on Nov. 15. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) introduced the day in 2002 to promote philosophical reflection.

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