Asian/Eastern philosophy includes the various philosophies of Asia, including Chinese philosophy, Iranian/Persian philosophy, Japanese philosophy, Indian philosophy and Korean philosophy. The term can also sometimes include Babylonian philosophy and Islamic philosophy, though these may also be considered Western philosophies.
Contrary to the stereotype of Indian philosophy as largely being concerned with personal salvation and mystical formulae, it was fascinated with issues of what constitutes valid reasoning, and how we can repose confidence in conclusions which can be derived from initial propositions. A similar point can be made about Buddhism, which often went in for elaborate analytical construction. One of the interesting areas of controversy in Buddhist logic lay with the law of excluded middle, the rule that a proposition must be either true or false.
Classical Indian philosophy is an unbroken tradition of reflection expressed in the pan-Subcontinent intellectual language of Sanskrit. Or, we should say it is comprised of interlocking traditions since there are the distinct schools, all nevertheless using Sanskrit and engaging with the other schools.
The term “Hindu philosophy” is often used loosely in this philosophical or doctrinal sense, but this usage is misleading. There is no single, comprehensive philosophical doctrine shared by all Hindus that distinguishes their view from contrary philosophical views associated with other Indian religious movements such as Buddhism or Jainism on issues of epistemology, metaphysics, logic, ethics or cosmology. Hence, historians of Indian philosophy typically understand the term “Hindu philosophy” as standing for the collection of philosophical views that share a textual connection to certain core Hindu religious texts (the Vedas), and they do not identify “Hindu philosophy” with a particular comprehensive philosophical doctrine.
The compound “Hindu philosophy” is ambiguous. Minimally it stands for a tradition of Indian philosophical thinking. However, it could be interpreted as designating one comprehensive philosophical doctrine, shared by all Hindu thinkers.
From a mystical perspective, all later developments and interactions between Islamic philosophy and other intellectual traditions should therefore be seen as rational expressions of the mystical elements within an Islamic milieu. Mystical elements exist in Islam in two different and independent ways. Practically, Sufism represents the esoteric dimension of Islam in its purest form, while theoretically salient features of Islamic mysticism were gradually incorporated into the Islamic philosophical tradition.
The philosophy of Confucius begins from some basic assumptions, several of which can be derived from the following passage from the Analects:
The Master said: ‘Lead the people with administrative injunctions and put them in their place with penal law, and they will avoid punishments but will be without a sense of shame. Lead them with excellence and put them in their place through roles and ritual practices, and in addition to developing a sense of shame, will order themselves harmoniously.’
First, Confucius believed in the radical malleability of the nascent human being through education and cultivation (see Self-cultivation in Chinese philosophy). Humanity for Confucius is not defined by anything ‘given’; there is no essential human nature.
A decisive figure in both the emergence and ultimate decline of rationalism in early China was the Confucian philosopher Xunzi. Xunzi is often touted as the most ‘rationalistic’ of the classical Confucians, and in one sense he deserves to be so described. However, because his so-called rationalism is grounded in history and culture without appeal to metaphysical, grammatical or sociological determinants, he is rationalistic in a rather Pickwickian sense.
Since ancient times, Japanese philosophers have pondered basic, unanswerable questions about their natural environment. The early Japanese believed that the world around them was inhabited by gods and spirits, from streaks of mist obscuring jagged mountain peaks to water cascading over secluded waterfalls. Almost every aspect of Japan's stunning natural beauty evoked a sense of awe and wonder among its people.
Shinto was already well established as the national religion when Buddhism was transmitted from China (via Korea) to Japan in the 6th century C.E. As Buddhism gained popularity, it occasionally clashed with Shinto, but it did not displace the pre-existing religion. Rather, the two overlapped and complemented each other.
For a long time, Asian philosophy inhabited a rather ambiguous role in philosophy. It was clearly a fringe activity in most of the Anglo-Saxon and continental philosophical worlds, regarded often more as a scholarly pursuit for philologists and cultural historians than as serious philosophy. Sometimes Asian philosophy was not even regarded this positive but has been identified with mystical rambling and vague personal advice, not really part of 'serious' philosophy at all.