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  • Rethinking Comparative Philosophical Methodology:In Response to Weber's Criticism
  • Xiao Ouyang (bio)

I. Comparative Philosophy as Intercultural Philosophy

More than half a century ago Charles A. Moore, the founder and editor of Philosophy East and West, foresaw in its first issue a new stage in the development of philosophy "characterized by transcultural co-operation and world perspective" (Moore 1951, pp. 67–70). Although Moore's enthusiastic vision of "a synthesis between Eastern and Western philosophy" was questioned by other leading philosophers regarding its validity and possibility,1 "the important area of East-West Philosophy" and the comparative approach have been recognized by an increasing number of philosophers worldwide. Convinced by the mutual complementarity and significant enrichment of research by this emerging sub-discipline, Masson-Oursel and McCarthy held the strong opinion that "true philosophy is comparative philosophy" (1951, p. 6).2 From the point of view of the individual participants, Devaraja (1967, p. 57) believed that "one great benefit" is the potential emancipation from the uncritical assumptions lying behind one's "cultural tradition," an increased awareness of alternatives and the development of one's critical thinking. Similarly, Robert L. Rein'I (1953, p. 339) argues for comparative philosophy to be understood as a means of achieving "intellectual tolerance"—"the moral life of reason," which might be desirable for any "reasonable beings."

Besides debate on the pros and cons, constructive reflection on the methodology has been a major concern and has contributed to further establishment of this sub-discipline of philosophy. With an awareness of the superficial idealization of comparative philosophy as a "new salvation from the East" for the West "to heal the vital illness of Western man," Kwee Swan Liat (1951, p. 12)3 advocates that the goal of the comparative approach is indeed "towards a universal philosophy"—necessarily "a philosophy of life" in his terms—wherein priority has to be given to a "conscious, methodic evaluation" before "a true meeting" of West and East "through comparative philosophy" is even possible. He therefore emphasizes that "comparative philosophy is a multiple and integral approach to the common issues of philosophy."

The methodological discussion continued with Laurence Rosán's (1952, pp. 56–65) questioning of the validity of the "West–East comparison" as a necessary agenda of comparative philosophy and his rethinking of the postulate of the association [End Page 242] between geographical/cultural relevance and philosophical relevance. Rosán argues that "a mere geographical or even linguistic separation" or "the contrast of cultures" is not sufficient for the comparative study of philosophy. The distinctiveness or uniqueness of a philosophical tradition is "not because of any inherent linguistic, racial, or geographical characteristics." Rosán believes that "the key to comparative philosophy" lies in "the contrast of basic philosophical attitudes or types of philosophy." Therefore, "West–East comparison" manifests a methodological misguidance and might be after all a fruitless task. According to him, comparative philosophy is to be steered toward identification and systematic classification of the heterogeneous, basic, universal and perennial doctrines of philosophy—such as "Naturalism," "Moralism," and "Idealism"—and thus in a sense to a typology of philosophies.

Moore (1952, pp. 76–78) rejects Rosán's proposal, which he believes aims at a synthesis based on "a monistic concept of method" and "interpret[s] a diversity of similar systems as constituting 'expressions' of a single consistent system" at the cost of each similar system's uniqueness. Moore argues that the idea of comparative study itself suggests a diversity in methods as well as the so-called "transcultural co-operation and world perspective." For a sufficient methodological evaluation, the "crucial task" is that pluralistic methods must be conceived "in the progressive investigation of the multiplicity of problems which inevitably arise in the study of comparative philosophy," rather than as "a key of universal applicability" suggested by Rosán's article. Moore also argues that the East-West or West-East comparison does not imply any "easy and shortsighted dichotomization" that assumes East and West "at opposite poles in every respect philosophically." It seems Moore approved the association between geographical/cultural relevance and philosophical relevance—although with a rather prudent attitude. Rosán (1962, p. 242) later comes to...


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