It’s really hard to distinguish these two worlds of philosophy. But we’ll try. There are lots of distinctions on their fields and materials. I’m going to distinguish them with their main focuses, methods, terms and in addition to these, individual and social outcomes will also be addressed.
First of all, this is a kind of simplification and it consists some rudimentary labeling of two broad, diverse traditions in order to make them understandable. So that they become digestible for the average individual who doesn’t have any background on the details. Trying to distinguish these two traditions of thought is always an underdeveloped aim. They’re not easily definable nor they’re comprehensible with exchanging some sentences on them. Yet, we want to know about them in an easy way. Here are some opinions on the dichotomy of east versus west.
My references for this distinction come from Alan Watts’ works who authored influential books on eastern philosophy and comparative religious study. My understanding for eastern philosophy is mainly classical Chinese and classical Indian, mostly Chinese as it’s more isolated from the west. West will be understood as schools of philosophy originating from ancient Greece. Of course this distinction only works for historical contexts. It’s now a global world, who embraced western lifestyle and western philosophy became dominant throughout the world.
1. MAIN FOCUS
What I mean by main focus is the main function of philosophy in these hemispheres. Eastern wisdom concentrates on the actions, behaviours, deeds of men; on the contrary western philosophy is more concerned on the facts, reality, external events. Take the origins of these philosophies. Greek natural philosophers in western Anatolia were concentrated on finding a factual, external explanation for the arkhe, the beginning and origin of the universe. Meanwhile Confucius, Lao Tzu and other eastern schools were more about actions of humans and their ethics. In this way, eastern philosophy has become more tacit and implicit; while western philosophy became more certain and explicit through extended use of definitions and measurement of the external reality and translation of events to subject specific fields.
The main tool of philosophy is language, it uses comparison and contrast between opinions and claims. Western currents of thought are more available for criticism than their eastern counterparts. As a result western politics and schools are more prone to divide, disintegrate through heavy criticism whilst the eastern schools are more cooperative in their methods. Take Socrates and his pupils, Thales and his friends, they all opposed to each other, While Confucius, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu are followed with faith by their disciples. Their methods also diverge. Analytical style of western schools contrasts the therapeutic approach of eastern schools. Western schools tend to break up, unpack, analyse the concepts, therefore they’re descriptive and diagnostics in contrast to prescriptive eastern schools making use of thinking for the common good.
Western terminology is clear, definite, logical; nevertheless eastern terminology is more dynamic, indefinite and open for change. Eastern traditions tend to be oral and writing the basic tenets are not upfront as it’s in the western circles. Logic as the study of reasoning is invented in Greece and carried out to India. Indian philosophy has some sense of western concepts in this way. But China doesn’t really include any formal study of logic. Maybe it’s because of the linguistic differences. Indian and Greek are from Indo European language family. Chinese is completely different in its writing and grammatical properties. The origins and definitions of the terms like idea, metaphysics, epistemology is more clear than eastern examples like karma, nirvana, tao.
4. EFFECTS ON INDIVIDUAL
Western philosophy made it easier to focus on the nature with constant investigation and efforts on clarification of the propositions. Meanwhile, eastern philosophy made it easier to cope with life and the problems of existence. Western philosophy made it easier to control the nature, eastern philosophy is more focused on being content. Western methods required explicit, factual arguments; eastern philosophy is more personal, tacit, implicit and in this way more helpful in terms of personal problems instead of epistemological problems.
5. EFFECTS ON SOCIETY
Western people are always divided in their thinking in opposition to eastern people who are more submissive when it comes to their world-view. Western thinking gave birth to modern science, which is a breed of philosophical investigation mixed with measurement and empirical materials. Eastern philosophy did not end up with a scientific progress, but it made its people more collaborative and more peaceful. It’s more psychological and sedative as opposed to western doubt and criticism.
Some of these labels are not in complete contrast because of the differences in the understanding. Eastern schools of thought are also religious and psychological institutions while western schools are concentrated on the knowledge and external reality. All in all, this is a rudimentary approach for the people who doesn’t know where to start when it comes to eastern thoughts and western thoughts. These are not easily identifiable, and usually underdeveloped classifications. You’ll see it when you go deep into the classical works of these grand categories of thought.