Dialectical philosophy and the Chinese language: what I learned today

space-wallpaper-29A connection between dialectics, in which everything is considered to be in the process of becoming (something else), and Chinese language and Daoist philosophy. This is a helpful way of thinking when analysing economic growth and development, drawing on Marx’s method, which in turn drew on Hegelian thinking.

“In Chinese, properties take a processual or verbal form. One cannot say that the grass is green but must say that the grass is greening…there is no absolute or simple distinction between noun and verb in Chinese. Metaphysically…in their thought one thing is always passing into something else.”

Roy Bhaskar (2016), From East to West, Odyssey of a soul, Second Edition

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2 thoughts on “Dialectical philosophy and the Chinese language: what I learned today

  1. Good observation. Understanding East and West is becoming increasingly important.

    There are several aspects of Chinese thinking that different from Western thinking, These ways are not contradictory but complementary.

    1. Chinese thinking is process-oriented. Western thinking is result-oriented.

    2. Chinese thinking emphasizes function. Western thinking emphasizes structure.

    3. Chinese thinking is vertical (the writing is vertical, top down), beginning with the unchanging source and radiating outward at the surface level of perception and behavior (sun and rays, hub and spokes). Western thinking is horizontal (writing is horizontal) and emphasizes surface level perception and behavior (“show me”).

    4. Chinese thinking is expressed as ideographic and pictorial (brush strokes, characters, ideograms). Western thinking is expressed as cursive and conceptual (letters, syllables, words, sentences, paragraphs).

    5. Chinese thinking is synthetic and comparative. Western thinking is analytic and contrastive.
    For example, shown a picture of a landscape with a person in the foreground and asked to describe it, Chinese report seeing the picture in term of host (environment, background) and guest (person, foreground). Westerners report seeing the scene in terms of the person and foreground.

    6. Chinese thinking is predominantly in terms of open systems and nested networks. Western thinking is in terns of closed systems and individual elements.

    7. Chinese thinking is dialectical, based on complementarity and paradox. Western thinking is categorical, based on the principal of non-contradiction and mutual exclusion of opposites.

    This is a bit of a generalization and emphasizes some predominant tendencies. There are many others. Both Asian and Western thinkers can and do use the complementary types of thinking but they remain sub-dominant culturally. This is reflected not only in thinking descriptively but also in valuation and prioritizing.

    East and West have a great deal to contribute to each other, but the greatest contribution would be the realization that the different ways of approach are complementary rather than conflicting. Owing to the Chinese way of thinking, they are likely to grasp this first.

    Western thinking is also hindered in this regard owing to the cultural belief in Western exceptionalism, reinforced by recent centuries. Not that there is no corresponding Chinese belief in Chinese exceptionalism, too, reinforced by millennia. These exceptionalisms could lead to conflict, with both sides viewing the other as inferior. The Chinese style of thinking may be better equipped to get a handle on it and avoid rash action. Moreover, Chinese thinking tends to be long-run while Western thinking is more short-run.

    • Thanks for this useful comment, which expands very well on my brief post and offers some further hope for social transformation and evolution, even though this is likely to continue to be an uneven process.

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