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Extended Essay

EXTENDED ESSAY Asian Philosophies of Critical Thinking: divergent or convergent to western establishments? By Clement Ng SCHOOL CODE: 1206 (Sha Tin College) CANDIDATE CODE: MAY 2003 1206 038 Abstract The research question of this extended essay came across at a very early stage in my life. Having been born and developed from a family with all its members being University instructors and professors, I was often involved in arguments related to the lack of critical thinking in Asian cultures. As I got older, having had the chance to emerge in different cultures, I started to develop my own viewpoints and answers. I started to wonder about the truth between the real differences of Asian and Western philosophies of critical thinking. This extended essay, intended to be a research and investigation, bearing the title “Asian Philosophies of Critical Thinking: divergent or convergent to Western establishments?” is in fact however merely just a summary of my viewpoints and answers which I have developed throughout the years. In the first section of the essay, “Logical Tradition in India and China” I will attempt to give evidence of critical thinking in two Asian cultures that I have chosen; namely India and China.

In India, I will argue that critical thinking is clearly visible in historical texts such as the Caraka and Nyayasutra. This is presented as the well-known five-membered argument, a system of logical deduction, similar to the Aristotelian syllogism found in the west. In China I would focus mainly on the two schools of logical thought, the Mohists and the Logicians. For the Mohists I would argue that critical thinking is a vital element in the building of what they call “mental models.” For the Logicians, I would study deeply the writings of Hui Shih and Kungsun Lung, I would show that in fact both of them developed systems of logical and paradoxical thinking that could well serve as the foundations of modern science. If critical thinking is clearly presentable in these Asian cultures then why are there still concerns for introducing it to them? This is the question I intend to answer in the latter section “Needham’s Grand Question and Fuller’s Interpretation.” During this section, I would also show that discussions of modern science seem to enable us to see how the tradition of critical thinking arose and how they were promoted or discouraged.

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I would cover how Asian historical, economic, social and cultural factors have a big influence on their development of critical thinking. Lastly I would show how the prioritization of a civilization has a devastating effect on deciding the future road they intend to walk. In conclusion, I would argue that since the philosophy of a culture is but an abstract and theoretical expression and justification of the cultures decision to choose one set of priorities over another, Asian philosophy and critical thinking are neither necessarily divergent nor necessarily convergent to western establishments. Contents Introduction 4 Logical Tradition in India and China 4 Needhams Grand Question and Fullers Interpretation 7 Asian Philosophy and Critical Thinking: Divergence or Convergence? 8 Conclusion 9 Bibliography 10 References 11 Asian Philosophies of Critical Thinking: divergent or convergent to western establishments? By Clement Ng Introduction It is widely recognized nowadays that critical thinking has become a necessary ingredient in all levels of education. Educators and educational policy makers agree that one of the desirable goals of education is that students are able to think critically. Throughout the past few years, many have felt the need to consider critical thinking more seriously in educational programs.

At the moment several different acts are being considered around the world by various factors and agencies. The core of these proposed acts is the idea that the students are able to think critically and independently. Although there are widespread disagreements on what critical thinking actually is,[1] there is an agreement that it has become very important in the world overwhelmed by huge amounts of information. Some Western educators who teach at schools or universities in a number of Asian countries have voiced their difficulties and problems they encounter while trying to teach critical thinking and other related skills to Asian students. Bruce Davidson (1998) argues that a set of Japanese cultural factors act as a kind of barrier against teaching critical thinking to students. Atkinson (1999) goes so far as to argue that critical thinking is culturally specific, and is a part of the social practices of the West having no place within Asian cultures, which do not adopt such practices. What these educators have in common is the feeling that some elements in Asian cultures do prevent the full realization of critical thinking skills in the students.

Most of these elements perceived by Western educators in Asia are quite well known–the beliefs that teachers are superior and always right, that knowledge is not to be made here and now, but exists eternally, so to speak, to be handed down by teachers, that social harmony is to be preferred rather than asking probing questions–to mention just a few. Is critical thinking really culture specific? Can the traditional belief systems of Asia respond to the challenge of the modern world while still retaining their distinctive identities? Are Asian philosophy and critical thinking necessary divergent or possibly convergent? These are very significant question not just for Asian cultures, but for understanding how cultures of the world respond to globalization. In addition the question also has a bearing on the problematic relation between critical thinking and the cultural environment in which it happens to be embedded. In this essay, I attempt to argue that critical thinking is not necessarily incompatible with Asian traditional belief systems. In fact I will show that both India and China do have their own indigenous traditions of logical and argumentative thinking; it is just because of certain barriers that prevent them from further developing such establishments. I will further try to show that these traditions can and should be reexamined, reinterpreted and adapted to the contemporary situation.

By doing this I would seek acknowledgement to the essay question and would provide an answer to the Western educators who have found no such critical traditions in the East. Logical Tradition in India and China It is widely known that India had a highly advanced logical tradition, spanning more than two thousand years. The successes of Indian mathematicians and computer programmers are perhaps due to the fact that logic and critical thinking have been integral to the Indian way of thinking since time immemorial. Such integration can also be witnessed in the fondness of Indians for talking and debating. Tscherbatsky (1962: 31-34) tells us that in the times of Dignaga and Dharmakirti, two of the greatest Buddhist logicians, the fate of entire monasteries depended on public debates. According to Tscherbatsky, Dignaga won his fame and royal support through his defeat of the brahmin Sudurjaya at Nalanda Monastery (31-34).

In another vein, Matilal (1990: 1-8) argues that the Indian logical tradition is entirely home grown, since there is no evidence of India being influenced by Aristotelian ideas. Matilal also shows that many topics, which are of interest by contemporary logicians and philosophers today, were discussed and researched into with sophistication by Indian scholars. Such topics include theory of inference, empty names, reference and existence, perception, knowledge of the external world, substance, causality, and many others (Matilal 1990). Moreover, Tscherbatsky’s (1962) work, dealing mainly with the works of Dignaga and Dharmakirti illustrates that India is one of the great logical and philosophical civilizations of the world. There are a number of topics that both traditions discovered independently of each other.

For example, Matilal notes that the counterpart of the Aristotelian syllogism is the “five-membered argument” found in such texts as Caraka and Nyayasutra. Instead of the three propositions found in Aristotelian syllogism, the five-membered argument consists of five propositions, the first of which is the conclusion, and the last repeating what is already stated in the first. The remaining three propositions in between are the premises. Here is one example of the five-membered argument cited by Matilal (1990: 5): 1. There is fire on this mountain.

2. For, there is smoke there. 3. Smoke goes with fire always (or, in all cases, or in all places): witness, kitchen. 4.

This is also a case of smoke. 5. Therefore, there is fire there (on the mountain). Logicians will immediately be able to reconstruct this argument in the familiar Aristotelian form as follows: The place on the mountain is a place where there is smoke. A place where there is smoke is a place where there is fire.

Therefore, the place on the mountain is a place where there is fire. Matilal, however, notes that there is at least some dissimilarity between the Indian and the Aristotelian argument forms presented here. For instance, he says that the conclusion of the Indian argument form is in the form of singular proposition, (i.e., modified by demonstratives like this or that) whereas that of the Aristotelian syllogism is either universal or particular (i.e., modified by quantifiers like all or some). But the dissimilarity here could be amended, as indexicals (terms like this or that which relies on the context of utterance for their full meaning) could be dispensed with by supplying the required information on the context in which they are uttered. Thus it could be safely stated that the Indian logical tradition fully comprehended the essence, so to speak, of logic, which is the concept of validity and the basic valid argument form.

Another of the world’s great civilizations, China, also had its own indigenous and independent logical tradition. Two of China’s logical schools of thought are the Mohists and the Logicians. The former was founded by Mo Ti, who lived between 479 to 381 B.C., during the Warring States period of Chinese history (Ronan 1978: 114). Among the typical Chinese scholars the Mohists are better known for their doctrine of universal love and the condemnation of offensive war rather than their interests and achievements in the physical sciences. In the latter Needham reports that the Mohists went very far towards realizing that the thought system was in fact a prerequisite for modern science.

Most significantly, the Mohists appeared to be in grasp of the concepts of deduction and induction. They viewed the former as a way of thinking which follows a mental model, which guarantees that whoever follows it will never fail to be right in their thinking. Here is an example of reasoning based on following such mental model: Model thinking consists in following the methods [of Nature]. What are followed in “model-thinking” are the methods. Therefore if the methods are truly followed by the “model-thinking” [literally: hit in the middle], the reasoning will be correct.

But if the methods are not truly followed by the “model-thinking,” the reasoning will be wrong (Ronan 1978: 119). On the other hand, the Mohists also recognized the value of extension which is a kind of reasoning from the known examples and extend it to unknown cases similar to them: Extension is considering that that which one has not yet received [i.e. a new phenomenon] is identical [from the point of view of classification] with those which one has already received, and admitting it (Ronan 1978: 119). It is clear then that the former is an instance of deductive thinking, while the latter represents the basic idea of inductive thinking. The two most well known representatives of the Logicians are Hui Shih and Kungsun Lung.

The former is known for his paradoxes resembling that of Zeno, and his writings were designed to shock and to illustrate deep logical point. For example, Hui Shih’s writing that “The Heavens are as low as the Earth; mountains are on the same level as marshes” (Ronan 1978: 122) could be regarded as a way of illustrating the fact that, viewed from the cosmic perspective, the sentence written by Hui Shih here is actually true. Other pieces of his writings concern what and how we perceive: Fire is not hot. Eyes do not see (Ronan 1978: 122). These are designed to lead one to think that what is hot in fire may well not be in the fire at all, but is located within our tactile perception of it. And the factor that actually does the seeing is not the eyes themselves, but the consciousness or whatever that gives rise to the perception. Similarly, according to Needham, Kungsun Lung had a system of logical and paradoxical thinking that could well serve as the foundation of modern science.

The following excerpts show that Kungsun Lung grasped such concepts as the universality and unlocalizability of number and universals and their contrasts with particulars that are their instances. Most interestingly, Kungsun Lung’s discussion of changes in Nature could well point to modern scientific way of thought: Q: Is it permissible to say that a change is not a change? A: It is. Q: Can “right” associating itself [with something] be called change? A: It can. Q: What is it that changes? A: It is “right.”.. Q: If “right” has changed, how can you still call it “right”? And if it has not changed, how can you speak of a change? A: “Two” would have no right if there were no left.

Two contains `left-and-right.’ A ram added to an ox is not a horse. An ox added to a ram is not a fowl (Ronan 1978: 121-122). Here one finds a discussion of the unchangeability of universals and their distinction from particulars. One thing, A, located to the right of another thing, B, would form two things, A-and-B. This thing, A-and-B would undergo a change if A happens to move to the left of B. What are changed here are the relation between A and B.

However, the Right itself is changeless, even though the particulars forming right or left relation to each other do. Thus, a ram added to an ox would still be two animals, and won’t become either a horse or a fowl. The changelessness of universals is a different matter altogether from the mutability of particular things. Kungsun Lung’s writing here reminds us of Western medieval treatises on logic and the problem of universals, such as those of Abelard or Duns Scotus. No matter how similar or different these Asian writings on logic and philosophy are from those of Europe, it is certain that both India and China do indeed have rigorous and profound systems of logic and critical thinking, systems which could well form a launching pad for advanced scientific research and innovation that actually took place in the West. Thus Atkinson’s argument that critical thinking is culturally specific to the West is clearly not borne out by historical facts and thus is mistaken.

However, when we look at the situations in the Asian countries today, especially in Thailand whose cultural tradition is mostly influenced by Buddhism, which originated within the Indian philosophical and religious milieu, Atkinson seems to be right in that there is a felt need for teaching Thai students to be able to think critically. McGuire (2000) argues that there is a need to teach critical thinking and that critical thinking can be taught to Asian students because it does not necessarily go against the grain of local cultures and contains universal elements that any local culture can find acceptable. If critical thinking is already there in these cultural traditions, then why are there concerns for introducing it to them? Something must have happened to these cultural traditions so that there feels a need to bring in the skills and practices of critical thinking from outside. Or is it really the need to reintroduce and to reestablish these traditions with something which is clearly their own, but is somehow lost? 1901 Needham’s Grand Question and Fuller’s Interpretation An adequate investigation into what actually may have caused the decline of the logical traditions in India or China would comprise one thick book. However, I believe that a glimpse toward an answer could be found if we compare the dominant positions in the two civilizations with the logical traditions.

In India, the logical schools, Nyaya, Mimamsa, together with the Buddhist logic and dialectic schools of Dignaga, Dharmakirti and Nagarjuna never gained the supreme control when compared to the other traditions such as the Vedanta. Personally, I think that this may be due to the fact that the teachings of the logical schools were limited to the monks or brahmins who practiced them. And when the logical tradition had to compete with other traditions that could garner more popular appeal, it is quite conceivable that the remote logical schools would lose support. Perhaps in India the tradition of logical and critical thinking was limited to the highly educated class in such a way that the general population knew nothing of it, and this could be one explanation, as to why modern scientific thinking did not develop …


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