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Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy Monographs

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Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy Monographs

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Compassion and Moral Guidance

Steve Bein

Compassion is a word we use frequently but rarely precisely. One reason we lack a philosophically precise understanding of compassion is that moral philosophers today give it virtually no attention. Indeed, in the predominant ethical traditions of the West (deontology, consequentialism, virtue ethics), compassion tends to be either passed over without remark or explicitly dismissed as irrelevant. And yet in the predominant ethical traditions of Asia, compassion is centrally important: All else revolves around it. This is clearly the case in Buddhist ethics, and compassion plays a similarly indispensable role in Confucian and Daoist ethics.

In Compassion and Moral Guidance, Steve Bein seeks to explain why compassion plays such a substantial role in the moral philosophies of East Asia and an insignificant one in those of Europe and the West. The book opens with detailed surveys of compassion’s position in the philosophical works of both traditions. The surveys culminate in an analysis of the conceptions of self and why the differences between these conceptions serve either to celebrate or marginalize the importance of compassion.

Bein moves on to develop a model for the ethics of compassion, including a chapter on applied ethics seen from the perspective of the ethics of compassion. The result is a new approach to ethics, one that addresses the Rawlsian and Kantian concern for fairness, the utilitarian concern for satisfactory consequences, and the concern in care ethics for the proper treatment of marginalized groups. Bein argues that compassion’s capacity to address all of these makes it a primary tool for ethical decision-making.

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One and Many

A Comparative Study of Plato's Philosophy and Daoism Represented by Ge Hong

Ji Zhang

Is the world one or many? Ji Zhang revisits this ancient philosophical question from the modern perspective of comparative studies. His investigation stages an intellectual exchange between Plato, founder of the Academy, and Ge Hong, who systematized Daoist belief and praxis. Zhang not only captures the tension between rational Platonism and abstruse Daoism, but also creates a bridge between the two.

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Schopenhauer's Encounter with Indian Thought

Representation and Will and Their Indian Parallels

Stephen Cross

Schopenhauer is widely recognized as the Western philosopher who has shown the greatest openness to Indian thought and whose own ideas approach most closely to it. This book examines his encounter with important schools of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy and subjects the principal apparent affinities to a careful analysis. Initial chapters describe Schopenhauer’s encounter with Indian thought in the context of the intellectual climate of early nineteenth-century Europe. For the first time, Indian texts and ideas were becoming available and the belief that they could bring about a second Renaissance—an “Oriental Renaissance”—was widespread. Schopenhauer shared in this enthusiasm and for the rest of his life assiduously kept abreast of the new knowledge of India.

Principal sections of the book consider the two main pillars of Schopenhauer’s system in relation to broadly comparable ideas found, in the case of Hindu thought, in Advaita Vedanta, and within Buddhism in the Madhyamika and Yogacara schools. Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the world as representation, or a flow of impressions appearing in the consciousness of living beings, is first considered. The convergence between this teaching and Indian idealism, especially the doctrine of illusory appearance (maya), has long been recognized. Schopenhauer himself was aware of it, emphasizing that it was the result not of influence but of a remarkable convergence between Eastern and Western thought. This convergence is subjected to a much more detailed examination than has previously been carried out, undertaken in the light of twentieth-century Indology and recent studies of Schopenhauer.

The second main pillar of Schopenhauer’s system, the doctrine of the world as will, is then examined and its relationship to Indian thought explored. This section of the work breaks new ground in the study of Schopenhauer, for although the similarity of his ethical and soteriological teaching to that of Indian religions (particularly Buddhism) has long been noted the underlying reasons for this have not been grasped. It is demonstrated that they are to be found in hitherto unrecognized affinities, of which Schopenhauer himself was largely unaware, between the metaphysics of the will and Indian ideas relating to karmic impressions (vasanas), the store-consciousness, the causal body, and sakti as the “force” or “energy” that maintains the existence of the world.

Final chapters discuss the controversial and difficult question of the relation of the will to final reality in Schopenhauer’s thought in the light of Indian conceptions, and suggest that the two central pillars of his philosophy may be seen, to a greater extent than previously supposed, as a bridge by which the Eastern and Western traditions of philosophical thought may be brought into a closer and more creative relationship.

Stephen Cross is a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society and the Temenos Academy (London), and serves on the Academic Board of the latter.

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