I am aware of the way Western philosophers define rationality but I do not know whether Eastern philosophers define it.

Are there any differences between the Eastern and Western philosophical traditions on what constitutes rationality? And if so, what exactly are those differences?

If it is too much to ask for what Eastern Philosophy defines as rationality, Buddhism or Hinduism would also be acceptable.

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    do easterners believe in the concept of what the west calls rationality?
    – YUASK
    Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 4:20
  • I believe the universal language of mathematics defines rationality as a proportion, if you accept the universality of mathematics in arbitrary ratios. Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 4:05
  • Is there any way you can specify or contextualize this concern? As some have indicated below this is a huge question-- can you tell us about what you might be reading or studying that has made this an interesting or urgent issue for you? What might you have found out about this problem so far?
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 6:04
  • I was reading a feminist critique on deliberative deliberative democracy and how she thinks that the deliberative model excludes non-rational modes of communication. I realized she was criticizing the western conception of rationality and so I wondered of the eastern conception of rationality is seen as speech that is formal, general, disembodied, and dispassionate.
    – Elizabeth
    Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 6:34
  • Eastern philosophy is a bosonic philosophy (fluid, coexistence). Western philosophy is fermionic philosophy (solid, separation). May be Einstien had taken into account Bose's thought of toss and ocean in a jar possibility.
    – user5582
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 16:38

5 Answers 5


Amartya Sen addresses this question in good depth in his July 2010 essay for the New York Review of Books. Specifically, one of the notions he challenges is the insidious notion, brought up by well-meaning proponents (both Eastern and Western), that rationality is somehow a product of the West -- the corollary often being that it's not fair to impose Western standards of human rights and morality based on reason to societies where rationality is not the highest value (perhaps other values take precedence in these society, such as community, they claim). Sen shows that this conception of rationality is flawed and illustrates that rationality is a universal concept that transcends culture. He also illustrates rational traditions in non-Western cultures that are rooted in times before great strides were made in the idea during the Enlightenment.

  • Since your answer is essentially the same as mine (minus my hypothesis in the last sentence), you may as well see if you can answer Elizabeth's question she posed me: Does Eastern philosophy separate emotion from justification in the way that Western philosophy does? I figure since you're the one who did the reading in the area you might be more equipped to know. :P
    – stoicfury
    Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 8:13
  • I don’t think the question of separation of emotion from justification can be answered categorically. Buddhists practice Samadhi which seeks to purge emotions, is this dispassionate philosophizing? Islamic philosophers engaged in philosophy in the manner of ancient Greek philosophers. In contrast, less argumentative Eastern philosophical traditions, e.g. Taoism, don't necessarily rely on emotion in their reasoning but appeal to things like “family” and “community” in their justifications. Perhaps it is these philosophical traditions can be said to fail to “separate emotion from justification”?
    – ruminator
    Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 18:34

Rationality in philosophy is the exercise of reason, reason being sound judgment (having some basis or justification for a belief). In all philosophies east or west, north or south, the basic concept of rationality is the same — everyone wants to be confident that there is some justification for their beliefs, otherwise in any society we would be cast out as madmen (insanity being exactly that - irrationality, senselessness). What truly varies from culture to culture and philosophy to philosophy is not the notion of rationality so much as the notion of what makes a belief justified.

  • 1
    Yes, but does Eastern philosophy separate emotion from justification in the way that Western philosophy does? Rationality is sometimes seen as formal and dispassionate and I was wondering whether other philosophies defined rationality to be that way?
    – Elizabeth
    Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 5:16
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    I don't feel comfortable answering for "all of Eastern philosophy", as it covers a wide range of notions in terms of belief justification, perhaps even more so than Western philosophy. I'm not sure I know enough about even the majority of Eastern philosophies to be able to find the common thread of "rationality" between them. If you could narrow it down to Buddhism, Hinduism, or Taoism, I could be more helpful...
    – stoicfury
    Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 15:42
  • I think a fair response is to point out that not all Western philosophy (in fact very little contemporary philosophy) engages in a strict separation of emotion and reason. particular Western and Eastern accounts differ but not in this respect.
    – virmaior
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 5:19

This is a large question, and can be approached several ways.

First, at the broad level-- there is a widespread misconception that Western philosophy is rational and Eastern philosophy is mystical. This is false, but it is false in an interesting way: there is a fascinating book on the subject by Thomas McEvilley called The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies. For a taste of the contents, McEvilley has made a video describing his research here. Suffice it to say that both the Western and Eastern philosophical traditions contain both rational and mystical elements.

Now, more specifically: although the basic principles of Indian logic (for example) are largely identical to classical logic, the formulation of the details are somewhat different-- such as the 3-step syllogism familiar to us being replaced with a 5-step variant.

Of course, there are deviant logics in both the Western and Eastern tradition, but these are special cases.


Zhuang Zi is a chinese daoist philosopher who discussed rationality and the "adjustment of controversies" in the second part of his book of seven parts: http://ctext.org/zhuangzi/adjustment-of-controversies

Though he is not easy to understand, less yet to translate!


The best know classical Indian school which enforces a concept of rationality is the school of Nyāya.

Its main method is critical question and argumentation on the basis of logic, the Sanskrit word is ānvikṣikī. The canonical source is the nyāya sūtra. Different sections of the nyāya sūtra deal with

Knowledge sources, Doubt and the philosophical Method, In Defense of the Real, Self, Substance and Causation, God, Word and Object, The Right and the God, Debate.

This list is taken from the book The Nyāya sūtra. Selections with Early Commentaries by Matthew Dasti and Stephen Phillips. This book gives an introduction on the level of an undergraduate course.

A monography written on graduate and research level is Philosophy in Classical India. The proper work of reason by Jonardon Ganeri.

A good textbook with a broad scope is An Introduction to Indian Philosophy by Roy Perrett. The book follows the work of Ganeri.

I do not see important differences between the epistemology developed in the Nyāya school and e.g. the main chapters of the Metaphysics by Aristotle. Both works follow consequently a rational methodology.

But I do not find in Indian texts on epistemology any analogoue to analytic philosophy or to Popper's fallibilism.

  • I was just listening to a podcast about that: newbooksnetwork.com/vatsyayanas-commentary-on-the-nyaya-sutra Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 12:42
  • Thanks for pointing out. - Possibly the small book from my answer can be considered a teaser for the volume from the podcast. The latter considers all nyaya sutra, 528 in number. The teaser book is a selection, also from the commentaries of Uddyotakra and Vacaspatimisra, who are subcommentators of Vatsyayana.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 16:32

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