East Asian philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-G218-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

Sinitic civilization, which includes the Chinese-influenced cultures of Japan and Korea, established an early lead over the rest of the world in the development of its material culture – textiles, iron casting, paper, maritime arts, pottery, soil sciences, agricultural and water technologies, and so on. For centuries after the first sustained incursions of Europe into East Asia, there were more books printed in the classical Chinese language – the ‘Latin’ of East Asia – than in all of the rest of the world’s languages combined. As recently as the beginning of the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century, it was China rather than Europe which, by most standards, was the arbiter of science and civilization on this planet.

If ‘philosophy’– the pursuit of wisdom – is an aspiration of high cultures generally, why then was it not until the late nineteenth century, in response to a growing relationship with Western learning, that an East Asian term for ‘philosophy’ was coined, first by the Japanese (tetsugaku), and then introduced into Chinese (zhexue) and Korean (ch’ôlhak)? If it would be absurd to suggest that East Asian cultures have no history, no sociology, no economics, then how do we explain the fact that Asian philosophy is a subject neither researched nor taught in most Anglo-European seats of higher learning?

Citing this article:
Ames, Roger T.. East Asian philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-G218-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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