Logic vs Intuition, Round 1

林语堂 (Lín YÇ”táng) became famous as one of the first Chinese scholars to write about Chinese culture for Westerners in a way that Westerners could easily embrace. My Country and My People (1935) is considered a classic, and not his only one. It’s an easy and informative read, and his sly sense of humour makes it a lot of fun.

Here are some excerpts from a longer section, regarding a more traditional Chinese view of Western logic:

It is easy to see why the Chinese mind cannot develop a scientific method; for the scientific method, besides being analytical, always involves an amount of stupid drudgery, while the Chinese believe in flashes of common sense and insight. And inductive reasoning, carried over to human relationships (in which the Chinese are primarily interested) often results in a form of stupidity not so rare in the American universities. There are today doctorate dissertations on ice-cream, and after a series of careful observations, announce the staggering conclusion that “the primary function of sugar [in the manufacture of ice-cream] is to sweeten it”; or after a methodical study in “Time and Motion Comparison on Four Methods of Dishwashing” happily perceive that “stooping and lifting are fatiguing”… a University of Chicago student, after making a “comparative study” of the impressional power of various types of lettering, found that the blacker the lines, the more striking they are to the eye.

This sort of stupidity, although useful to business advertisement, could really be arrived at, I think, just as correctly by a moment of Chinese common sense and “intuition.”
…we see an opposition to “logic” verses common sense, which takes the place of inductive and deductive reasoning in China. Common sense is often saner because the analytical reasoning looks at truth by cutting it up into various aspects, thus throwing them out of their natural bearings, while common sense seizes the situation as a living whole.
For a Westerner it is usually sufficient for a proposition to be logically sound. For a Chinese it is not sufficient that a proposition be logically correct, but it must be at the same time in accord with human nature. In fact, to be “in accord with human nature”… is a greater consideration than to be logical. For a theory could be so logical as to be totally devoid of common sense. The Chinese are willing to do anything against reason, but they will not accept anything that is not plausible in the light of human nature. This spirit of reasonableness and this religion of common sense have a most important bearing on the Chinese ideal life…
[From pages 85, 88, 89 in my 2002 edition.]

Tomorrow we’ll do the other side, where he humourously and historically illustrates some typical flaws in the Chinese preference for intuition and lack of interest in the scientific method.

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