Holistic Cognitive Style, Chinese Culture, and the Sinification of Buddhism

Res Philosophica 100 (1):93-120 (2023)
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Abstract

According to many experiments in cross-cultural psychology, East Asians exhibit holistic cognitive style typified by use of resemblance heuristics, field dependence, external sources of causation, intuitive forms of reasoning, and interdependent forms of social thinking. Holistic cognitive style contrasts with analytic cognitive style, which is common to Westerners. Section 1 presents information on the background of Buddhism’s entry into and treatment by China. Section 2 discusses experimental evidence for the representation of holistic cognitive style in contemporary East Asians. Section 3 presents preliminary evidence for the interaction between holistic cognitive style and the history of ideas in China at large. Section 4 analyzes two discussions of the same philosophical problem conducted by Chinese Buddhist philosopher Fazang and Indian Vedic philosopher Shankara. It is provisionally argued that the interpretive strategies displayed by Fazang interact with several components of holistic cognitive style, in contrast with Shankara. Implications are discussed.

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Ryan Nichols
California State University, Fullerton
Nicholaos Jones
University of Alabama, Huntsville

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