It is hard to compare Eastern and Western philosophy and philosophers because the standard way of life was so very different from each area due to climate and regional differences. It is also hard to pick one from each region to compare since both areas had dozens upon dozens of philosophers from every school of thought. Not all were worth ‘their salt’ as it were, but many were great thinkers with ideas and ideals that stretched beyond their lifetime and affect us still to this day.
As I have considered all the philosophers that I have since read about I have chosen St. Thomas Aquinas and Lao Tzu to use in my comparison of Eastern and Western philosophies. My choices are based more on the enjoyment I gained while reading about each character than on any one principle of either’s philosophy. However, my enjoyment did stem from the fact that each person elaborated their points of views in ways that I was able to understand and therefore their words held more power for me than many of the others that I have read about.
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) Christianized the philosophy of Aristotle by blending Aristotle’s philosophies, which he had translated from the original Greek, and Christianity. Each school of thought had vast similarities and St. Aquinas understood each so well he was able to merge them into a philosophy that was deemed by Pope Leo XIII in 1879 to be the official Catholic philosophy. This philosophy is still taught in Catholic schools to this day.
St. Aquinas’ philosophies offered discourses on metaphysics, ethical and political philosophies and theories of knowledge. Each area was covered and explained from beginning to end and offered plausible reasons for the existence of everything. He also held that philosophy is based on precepts of reason and theology on truths of revelation held on faith. This distinction cleverly breaks religion away from philosophy and turns it over to pure thought without demeaning religion in any way.
St. Aquinas believed that the task of the wise person is to find both order and reason in the natural world. When this is found and held in balance then human greatness can be found. Human greatness as measured in human terms equates happiness to wealth, prestige, comfort. The decisions that humans make to achieve greatness are dictated by our conscience and practical reasoning, which guide us to our natural goal, happiness on earth.
St Aquinas saw this decision making process as the natural law of reason, handed to us by God. Therefore, the wise person would be able to achieve worldly happiness through the divine word of God. In this sentence alone you can see the clever way sound reasoning and belief in God were combined to make the two seem indivisible.
Lao Tzu (c. sixth century B.C.E.) was one of the founding fathers of Taoism as we know it today and his views on life created whole new areas of philosophy for Eastern thinkers. Taoism does not embrace a ‘god’ or a supreme being, the Tao is simply one, natural, and…