Chapter 2 – Induction and Deduction

The East-West Dichotomy was re-published in 2013 by China’s Foreign Language Press and available in bookshops, academic libraries, and from intl. online retailers, including Amazon.

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西方文化注重分析,一分为二;而东方文化注重综合,合二为一.

The West is deductive, from the universal to the particular; the East is inductive, from the particular to the universal.

(Ji Xianlin, 2006 [1])

According to the universal historians Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975) Samuel P. Huntington (1927-) and Ji Xianlin (1911-2009), the world’s states form 21, 23 or 25 spheres, nine civilizations, and fall into four cultural systems: Arabic/Islam, Confucian, Hindi/Brahmin, and Western/Christian, with the former three forming the Oriental cultural system, and the latter one the Occidental cultural system (Toynbee, 1961; Huntington, 1993; Ji, 2006). The main difference between the Orient and the Occident, so people say, lies in their different mode of thinking: The East is inductive, the West is deductive.

Henceforth, the Orient’s search for universal formulas describing balance, harmony or equilibrium: for example, in Chinese philosophy, the two lines in Chinese 二 (er, two) meaning weight and counterpoise. Similarly, we find 入入 (ru-ru, enter-enter) meaning equal weight on both sides, 巾 (liang, equilibrium) representing scales in equilibrium (Wieger, 1965), or 阴阳 (yin and yang) meaning two primal opposing but complementary forces. There are also Japanese ぜん (禅, Zen) and 空 (śūnyata, emptiness) meaning everything is inter-related; inIndiawe find seva-nagri (the universe and I are one and the same) and tat tvam asi (thou art that) meaning that the soul is part of the universal reality.

By means of continuously inducing the universal, Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto, Hinduism and Buddhism – as a rough guide – all ultimately arrive at the universal concept of ‘the One’, ‘Oneness of heaven and men’ (tian ren he yi,  天人合一), the ‘divine law’ behind the Vedas, the ‘merger of Brahman and atma’ (Brahmatmaikyam) or ‘ultimate reality’ (Ayam atma bhrama), the underlying inductive principle being that:

“All observed things are connected, therefore all things are one.”

In inductive reasoning, one induces the universal “all things are one” from the particular “all things” that are “observed”.  The conclusion may be sound, but cannot be certain.

In the Bodhicaryavatar, a key text of Mahayana Buddhism, Santideva (c. 650 AD) teaches us that the fate of the individual is linked to the fate of others (Williams et. al, 1998): “Hastadirbhadeva bahuprakarah yathaikah parinatyaniyah tatha jagad bhinnamabhinna duhkh-sukhanmakam sarvamidam tartheva.” [Although our human body is made of various parts we do not feel them as separated. Likewise this world is made of various elements but it is inseparable – it is one] (Santideva, 650).

In the Abhidarma Sutra (The Higher Teachings of Buddha) of the Tipitaka (c. 100 BC), Lord Buddha’s says there is no ‘person’, ‘individual’ or ‘I’ in reality – it is all but one ‘Ultimate Truth’ (Tipitaka, 2008). Nagarjuna (c. 200 AD), writer of the Madhyamika-karika, adds: To attain Nirvana is to achieve ‘absolute emptiness’ (Bapat, 1956); For D. T. Suzuki [鈴木 大拙] (1870-1966) ‘Zen’ is about the ‘Ultimate Nothingness’ (Suzuki, 1994). In Hinduism, the great epic Mahabharata (c. 600 BC-400 AD) reads: “Yad ihasti tad anyatra yan nehasti na tat kvachit” or “What is found here, can be found elsewhere. What is not found here, will not be found elsewhere” (Mahabharata, 2008). In the Bhagavadgita (ca. 150 BC),Krishna says to Arjuna: “Mamaivamsho jiva-loke jiva-bhutah sanatanah” (The living entities in this conditional world are My fragmental parts, and they are eternal) (Bhagavadgita, 2008).

In the Book of Changes (I Ching, 易经; c. 1050-256 BC) ‘One’ is the supreme ultimate. In the Dao De Jing (道德经, c. 600 BC), Laozi [老子] says “一生二,二生三,三生万物” (One gives birth to two, two gives birth to three, three gives birth to all things) (Laozi, 42). Confucius, too, discovered the oneness of heaven (天, tian) and man (人, ren) and rejoiced: “五十而知天命” (At fifty I understood the decrees of heaven), and later: “天生德于予” (Heaven produced that virtue in me) (Confucius, Lun Yu, 2;4, 7;23) We find similar notions in The Book of Mencius: “尽其心者,知其性也; 知其性则知天矣” (If you fully explore your mind, you will know your nature. If you know your nature, you know heaven) (Mencius, 7A.1), Dong Zhongshu: ”天人之际,合而为一“ (Heaven and men are a unit, they form the one) (Dong, 13;56) and Laozi again: “人法也,地法天,天法道,道法自然” (Man takes his law from the Earth; the Earth takes its law from Heaven; Heaven takes its law from the Tao. The law of the Tao is its being what it is) (Laozi, 25).

Note the implied universality: In the search for absolute interconnectedness, induction does not rely on categorical (formal) logic, hence the ‘particular West’, by inductive inference, is included in this universal ‘oneness’, or, as Nishitani Keiji (1900-1990) once nicely put it (Sueki, 2004):

Western modernity is to be overcome by the Eastern religious mind. (N. Keiji)

While the vigorous deductive West had to occupy foreign terrain, build churches and spread the Gospel, the inductive East entertained certain passivity, albeit with a long-term holistic world view:

We firmly believe, no matter how long it requires, the day will be with us when universal peace and the world of oneness will finally come true. (Ji Xianlin, 1996)

The West, on the other hand, separates God and the world. After all, we are not Him, but created by Him:

Then God said, Let us make man in our image; in the image of God he created him”. (Old Testament, Gen 1;31).

Accordingly, in Western classrooms we teach an analytic ‘concrete reality’ based on conditioned textual analysis and interpretation of the world, rather than a holistic ‘absolute reality’. Some examples of major works of analytical reasoning are Euclid’s Elements (c. 300 BC), Kant’s Copernican revolution (1787), Darwin’s Theory of Evolution (1859), Einstein’s  Logic of continuity (1905), or Smith’s The Wealth of the Nations (1776), the underlying deductive principle (as old as the Greeks themselves) being that:

“All observed men are unique, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is unique.”

In deductive reasoning, one deduces the particular “Socrates is unique” from universal “all men are unique”, relying on the premises “Socrates is a man” and “All men are unique”. The conclusion is sound and valid.

A world thus described by deductive reasoning reaches new conclusions from previously known facts ad infinitum. A world by inductive reasoning on the other hand allocates relations to recurring phenomenal patterns. We may call the former a “string of cause and effect”, whereas in the latter we see a “puzzle made of its parts”.

Accordingly, in the same way as some cultures hold belief in one, many, or no gods at all, they also have different ways of perceiving the world and reasoning about it: Western civilization became analysis-based while the Orient became integration-based.

I believe in this peculiar difference, and I suppose that most of those acquainted with Oriental thought do too. Yet, I do not believe in some ideas of two mysterious forces bound for confrontation as in Clash of civilizations by Samuel P. Huntington (1993), nor do I believe that one is inevitably superior and the other necessarily inferior in accumulating either wealth or wisdom as in The Protestant Ethic by Max Weber (1930) or in The Eastern Religious Mind by Nishitani Keiji (1942). There has been a difference in the independent development of the two great cultural systems, deeply embedded from their earliest history, in symbiosis with their people, and arranged according to their cultural outlooks – deduction and induction. This is what I believe.

In ‘La Route de la Soie’ Aly Mazahéri quoted this ancient Persian and Arab saying from the Sassanian Dynasty (226-c. 640 AD):

The Greeks never invented anything except some theories. They never taught any art. But the Chinese were different. They did teach all their arts, but indeed had no scientific theories whatever. (Aly Mazahéri, 1983; Ji, 1996)

I will not go so far as Mazahéri to say they do only this and we do only that, nor will I claim that someone is definitely deductive in outlook just because he was born in London. It is not that easy. The making of every civilization’s treasures and contributions towards history is determined by its methodology for explaining the world’s phenomena according to its own experience and mode of rational interpretation: The East became more inductive while the West become more deductive – this appears to be born out by all the evidence.

Let us next discuss how there has been an imbalance in the equilibrium and how Asia-centrism, after 1950, has been played its role in correcting this imbalance, and the history that led to it.

2 Comments on Chapter 2 – Induction and Deduction

  1. Just a heads-up, there is typo in your 道德经 citation: “人法也,地法天,天法道,道法自然”。

    (you wrote 也 instead of 地)

  2. Thanks for the discussion–nicely developed.

    I was reading about an imagined debate between Aristotle and Plato about ‘the good.’ Plato felt the good to be an absolute determinative force, while Aristotle felt this force to be relative in its efficacy, to be subject to contingency or fate. I asked a Buddhist friend how he felt Buddha would respond to the dilemma of contingency and he responded, ‘luminous contingency.’ Now, both in the moral and practical spheres the Greeks preferred to rely on what they called ‘techne’ or skill, as opposed to ‘tuche’ or luck. And with the development of the cerebral cortex, this naked ape looked about and began to develop skills to make life a bit easier, less at the mercy of fate. I wonder if the real distinction between east and west in this regard is that the eastern way developed this skill in regard to the inner world of the psyche, but eschewed it in the outer world. Here’s a Taoist quote:

    A man anxious for knowledge adds more to himself every minute;
    A man acquiring himself loses himself in it,
    Has less and less to bear in mind,
    Less and less to do,
    Because life, he finds, is well inclined,
    Including himself too.

    There’s a tendency in the west to demonize nature, and a tendency in the east to deify it. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between. Take the book “Buddha’s Brain, The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom.” The book examines mindfulness from the perspective of the neuroscience of the reactive or reflexive evolutionary brain. From this perspective ‘nature’ provides both the problem and the solution; the problems by way of instinctive, reflexive urges and patterns of behavior, and solutions by way of insight into the nature of those problems.

    Just a thought.

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