Studies In Comparative Philosophy
by Swami Krishnananda


Introduction

It has been said that there is a radical difference between the Western and the Eastern methods of approach in the pursuit of philosophy. Western philosophers are generally distinguished from the Eastern by their exclusively rational approach to the ultimate reality of the universe, and in their paying not much attention to or being totally indifferent to the method of intuition. Some historians of Western philosophy have gone even to the extent of dubbing all Eastern thought as shot through with 'faith' and not deserving of inclusion in such a chronicle. No doubt, there were some exceptionally great mystics in the West too, who proclaimed the possibility of an intuitional approach to Truth by transcending the realms of sense, understanding and reason. But they were mostly the targets of suspicion and a superior attitude on the part of the logical thinkers. On a study of the history of philosophy in the West we come across variegated types of philosophers who made diverse approaches to the problems of life and established several schools of philosophy which generally comprehend vast fields of observation, investigation and research, such as logic, epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, ethics, psychology and mysticism. In modern times, however, the implications of the discoveries in physical science have practically become a part of the study of philosophy. There are those in India, however, who think that an attempt to study and understand the methods and conclusions of these thinkers in the West is just energy misspent, holding, as they do, the view that the method of faith and intuition in philosophy mostly followed in India is the only practicable, useful and trustworthy way. We need not take any one side of these extreme views of the traditional conservatives of either the West or the East. Knowledge is neither Western nor Eastern, but universal. It is also not true that the Indian philosophers abrogated reason as absolutely futile, though they emphasised its natural limits. There are certain schools in India which establish their systems exclusively on rational grounds without discrediting the value and need of intuition in any way. The philosopher Shankara, who was an ardent adherent to authority and revelation, made full use of the powers of reason in founding his stupendous system and said that the Vedanta is ornamented by the fact that its strength lies not merely in appealing to revelation but reason and experience also, adding, however, a note that reason unbridled which goes counter to revelation should be rejected as misleading. In our study of philosophy, we may make use of methods and conclusions of the systems of the West in gaining mastery over the philosophies of Indian seers and sages. The philosophy of the Vedanta is characterised by integrality in its meaning, method and scope, built on the foundations of the most incisive logical analysis, and it rejects nothing as totally useless, though it accepts nothing without sifting it through the sieve of direct experience in super-sensuous intuition. It would certainly add to our knowledge to make a comparative study of the philosophies of some of the great Western thinkers and of the philosophy of the Vedanta, which is the culmination of Indian Thought. We may begin with the great Greek sage, Socrates.