Life Studies Blog (Old)

September 06, 2005

East-West dichotomy and its criticism (by M)


Today I retyped the whole text of my paper "Cross-cultural Approaches to the Philosophy of Life in the Contemporary World" and uploaded to the website. This paper was written and presented at a conference at Leiden University, Netherland, 2002, and published in 2004. Because it was presented three years ago, I don't totally agree now with what I said in the paper, especially the second half of it, but anyway this might be helpful to those who are frustrated with current "bioethics" and philosophy.

In the first part of the paper, I discussed the East/West dichotomy frequently found in the litereture of bioethics, especially written by scholars in Japan, China, Korea and other Asian countries. They stress the importance of their own cultural and religious traditions, and sometimes even go on to say that their own tradition IS superior to the European/American one. Others say that they need special values different from Western values in bioethics. I heard the words "Asian values" many times in international conferences held in Japan.


I criticized their East/West dichotomy as follows.

"In the bioethics literature, there are many examples of the East/West dichotomy and its variations, but this is the trap we sometimes falls into when discussing the cultural dimensions of bioethics." (p.183)

"One of the biggest problems with this kind of dichotomy is that it ignores a variety of values, ideas, and movements inside a culture or an area." (p.184)

"As is evident here, there are a variety of values and ideas in a culture or an area, and in addition, it becomes clear that “Asia” and “the West” share lots of ideas and values on life and death. The East/West dichotomy oversimplifies this internal variation and neglects the common cultural heritage that many people share in various areas around the world."
(p.185)

If you want to know the detailed discussion please read the first half of
my paper. I thought what I said was a kind of common sense among scholars, hence my discussion contained nothing new, however this was not the case at least in Japan. I don't know whether similar discussions can be found in Europe or America.

Of course, in the recent post-colonial context, the "universal" approach, which looks contrary to the East/West dichotomy, is also considered to be dubious and arrogant because such "universality" itself has been historically created by Western colonialism. Here we come back to the starting point. Probably there are no static conclusions about this problem. Very difficult.

(To be continued...)

Photo: Night at Kyoto

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