(A Lecture Given to Ph.D. Students, Nursing Science Program, Thammasat University, August 24, 2019)



In the invitation letter sent to me, I must talk about philosophy with you. And the letter says that the philosophy which is the subject of our conversation includes both Western and Eastern philosophy. I fully know that talking about philosophy to anyone who stays outside philosophy is not easy. And the scope of the talking could vary according to the group of the people who are the audience. The information that is given to me concerning you is that all of you are Ph.D. students of the nursing science program. A thing that I have questioned myself is that why the nursing science students need to know Western and Eastern philosophy? I think if I can answer this question, it might be good for me to provide the contents of the talk.


It could be possible that the program managers would think that you are human beings. Every student in every program of study is a human being, including me who is the man to provide you the talk. Some subjects, which are the objects of our study, can be said to be external things looking from a perspective that the inner life of man alone cannot be called the outer condition of the human life. The study of anything can be considered as the interaction between man and that thing. In this sense, when we talk about the nursing science, it could be possible that in the eyes of the program providers, you need something as the tool for the reflection of yourself as man when you have the contact with external things in the world.


Science and philosophy differ in that science needs something in terms of the practice more than philosophy. To understand the difference between science and philosophy it might be good for you to distinguish that there are two kinds of need in the life of human beings. The first kind of the human need, which might not be different from things required by other species in the world, is the need for the survival. We need food, air, water, shelter, and so on for the purpose of survival. You can call this kind of need the physical need—if you prefer that word. The second need, which may be unique in man and can be found in some higher species in the world, is not directly related to the matter of the survival. Some philosophers (such as Aristotle) believe that man is a political being by nature. Saying this, Aristotle means that the need of political things such as the political community, the political rulers, the political system, and so on has been deeply given in the blood of human beings. It could be possible to think in the way which is similar to the way given by Aristotle. For example, it might be possible to say that man is a religious being. In the same way, it might be possible for some people to believe that man is a philosophical being. Religion and philosophy do not play the role as the tool for survival like food, water, air, and housing. The question is why man needs religion and philosophy. I think if we can answer this question, the thing that I try to give you in this paper might be easier.


I would like to say that man has been created into this world in such a way that something that man needs is beyond the scope of things that can be used for the survival. The example of this kind of need is the need to understand things in the universe. Religion, philosophy, or even science in some dimension can be best considered within this light of understanding. We see the stars. The seeing of the stars has nothing to do with our survival. But man, we are talking about man when they have evolved enough as seen in this day, likes to look at the stars and feels that it might be good for them to know what are these things and why they have been created in the universe.


Nursing science can be considered as a kind of science which is designed to serve the purpose of survival of man. When we are sick, we need medical care and treatment. This thing can be explained in itself, not differently from eating, drinking, and breathing. However, nursing science can be considered at its some part as the deeper tool for the survival of man. Let me explain what I mean when I talk about the deeper tool. In my opinion, the tool that we use in our life can be of two kinds. The first one is the simple tool and the second one is the deep tool. We drink coffee from a cup. We come to work with cars. The cup and the car do not have the influence on our personality when they are used by us. But it greatly differs when we read a book. The contents of the good books can have the influence over our personality. In my view, the books are the deeper tool. In the same way, when a nurse has to take care of people, she uses something as the tool, and one of the major tools used by the nurse is the nursing science. As I have said previously, some part of science can be considered as the simple tool, but some part of it can be considered as the deeper tool. If science that we use does not have any influence over the mind or the personality of people, we call that kind of science the simple tool. Most of the simple tool in science is involved with the human body. I think that one of the essences of the nursing science is the relationship between the nurse and people. And it seems that the nurse has been required by work and discipline to have the relationship with people more than the doctor.


There could be two kinds of relationship with other. The first one is a thing that I would like to call the machine relationship. And the second one is the thing that I would like to call the human relationship. I believe that in the work as nurse, sometimes we just have the machine relationship with people because they do not need something special within that situation. But in some case, people need the human relationship from the nurse. That is, people feel that they need some human beings to take care of them. At this point, I think we need to understand what is the difference between human beings and machines.


In Western philosophy, there are some philosophers who think that exactly man is a kind of machine. For these philosophers, there is no difference between man and the machine. So, they do not believe that we need the nurse to have the human relationship with people. The computer robots can act not differently from the human nurse. However, some Western philosophers do not believe that man is a kind of the machine. In the view of these philosophers, we need the human nurse to do something which cannot be done by the robot.


It seems that Eastern philosophy thinks that man and the machine are totally different. Exactly, there is some school of Chinese and Indian philosophy which believes in materialism. But, as a whole, Eastern philosophy greatly differs from Western philosophy in that Eastern thinkers do not think that we can create the machine to do some jobs which are best done by human beings. The Eastern scientists who work in the field of computer science might not be different from the Western scientists in terms of the ability in working. But Eastern philosophy seems to not believe that the machine can do some work which is best done by human beings. In short, we can say that in the view of Eastern philosophers, the machine including the computer which functions so complicatedly can do its best jobs in terms of the simple tool. Man alone can do their jobs in terms of the deep tool. Certainly, in doting the work as the deep tool, man needs something to cultivate their ability more and more. And this is why religion and philosophy are needed.


I think we need to talk about three things and their differences. I am talking about Western philosophy, Eastern philosophy, and science. I fully know that there are many subtle things in these three things and that anyone who needs to talk about the differences among these three things must be confronted with highly difficulty. However, ultimately I need to do this very hard work. I would like to put Western philosophy and Western science together as the Western thought. And the result of my doing this is that on the other side we would have the Eastern philosophy which naturally includes Eastern religion.


Western science and philosophy are counted different disciplines. There are some differences between them. However, in my opinion, both of them are based on some ideas and these ideas might be different from the basic ideas to be found in Eastern thoughts. I am talking about the spirit of Western thoughts which is not the same as the spirit of Eastern thought. And saying this, I do not have the intention to compare between them and point out that there is some side which is better or higher. Metaphorically, I am talking about two kinds of flowers. They are different. But both of them are beautiful in their own kind.


What is the spirit of Western thought that I have seen? I think it is the deep belief that to understand things in the universe we need to know the detail and the composition of them. This is normally called in Western philosophy as reductionism, Western science is very clear to be a reductionistic principle in gaining knowledge. Western philosophy could be understood in the light of reductionism as well—I believe that. Philosophical knowledge given by Western philosophers is known as the powerful tool and insight to deeper and deeper penetrate into things in the universe, including the human life itself. I myself have been trained in Western philosophical tradition and even now have been teaching Western philosophy. I accept that Western reductionism is very strong and useful tool. When I am sick and come to the hospital, the things done to me by the doctors and the nurses are the things that I believe very useful and they always have the explanation why they have done this or that thing to me. This is the very positive side of Western science and philosophy. It seems that reductionism and another property of knowledge which is called objectivity are very much compatible with each other. In the view of Western thinkers, knowledge has to be public in the sense that anyone can understand it and can test whether or not it is true. When things in the universe have been reduced into more and more smaller parts and people see that each part has some certain role in the whole system, that is the good knowledge, and from such good knowledge people would have the potential to manage and solve the problems to happen normally in that thing. When our car does not work, we send it to someone who knows the whole system of the car. This man has the ability to reduce the whole car into parts and knows further that the problem of the car comes from which parts. After knowing them, he would fix the problem. Our car comes back to the normal state again.


Eastern thoughts also have some part which is involved with reductionism as we have considered. Indian metaphysics as found in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism has reduced things in the universe into parts. From this we would understand that reductionism really exists both in the West and the East. But the difference lies in that the position of Western and Eastern thoughts concerning reductionism is not the same. It seems that for the Western thinkers, we do not need tools other than reductionism in gaining knowledge of the universe and the ways for the solution of the problems to happen inside every system in the universe (the human body and the car are the example of one single system—the car is a system, the human body is also a system.) Eastern thinkers such as the Buddha and Lao Tzu do not think like that. In the view of the Buddha, we need reductionism in some cases. But in some other cases, if it is clear that only reductionism is not enough we do not have the reason to reject another tools.


Another tool that we are talking about is the same thing as what we have called above as the deep tool. When our car has the problem, the tool used by people to solve the problem of our car is just the simple tool. The meaning of simple tool is the thing that can be used by anyone including the machine. It could be possible that those who fix our car are robots. The fact that the knowledge provided by Western thoughts can be used by anyone including the machine can be considered positively. I myself have considered this aspect of Western knowledge positively as said. Turn to Eastern knowledge. We would see that in some cases reductionism and objectivity of the knowledge as found in the Western knowledge has been accepted. But the point is that in some cases Eastern thinkers such as the Buddha think that the event or the problem might be better managed or solved if we use tools other than reductionism. Certainly, in using another tools, it does not mean that we need to reject reductionism. To understand the position of Eastern thoughts, I think the following example might be of usefulness.


Suppose I am sick. And they bring me to the hospital. At the hospital, some doctors and nurses are given to me. These people do the things that they have to do to me like other patients in the same hospital. This is the normal thing. Suppose my sickness just wants some medical treatment and the doctors who take care of me are wise, including the nurses, some days have passed, and the doctors say to me that I can go home. During the time that I stay in the hospital, everything done to me by doctors and nurses is not special in a sense that it can be done by the robots (imagine that suppose there is a hospital where the doctors and nurses are all the machines and they can do everything in the same way as done by the human doctors and human nurses, and in some cases these machine doctors and nurses seem to work better than the humans.) From what we have said above, the thing that we can say is that the tool used by doctors and nurses is the simple tool. And I believe that the Western thought likes to search for this kind of tool for the reason that (a) it is objective knowledge, and (b) it can be used by anyone including the machine.


If things in the universe do not need tools more than the simple tool, that might be extremely good. But I think everyone knows by themselves that their life sometimes needs some tool which is more than the simple tool as said. For example, suppose the sickness that brings me to the hospital is not just a simple one, but the serious cancer. I believe something which is given to me might be the thing that can be practiced by the robots. The robot doctors might be able to give me the medical treatment which is accepted the best one according to medical knowledge of the present. But suppose the cancer which occurs in my body is very serious and the doctors think that they might not able to bring me back from the hand of the death. At this point, I think the tool to be used with me might not be just the simple tool such as saying to me that sorry we cannot cure your sickness, it seems that you must die. Certainly, that saying is the truth, very truth. But the way to give me that truth must be something which is better than this. I do not need to discuss about what is the better tool as I mean. It is the duty of people in the society to think together about this thing. But my point is that it is clear that something in the human life needs the tool which is called by me the deep tool and it is our burden to think what is the deep tool to be applied to our life in some special cases as in the example above.


Eastern thought seems to provide us the thing that can be interpreted as the deeper tool as said. For example, in Buddhism the Buddha teaches people that old age, sickness, and death are the normal things to follow our life when we have been born into this world. Our birth is compared to the tree in the sunlight. And old age, sickness, and death are compared to the shadow of the tree. We cannot separate these two things from each other. The only thing that we can do is to silently accept them. It could be possible that the sun of our life would be temporarily covered with the coming clouds. And that makes that shadow of the tree not appear. We know that some say when the clouds go away the sunlight must shine to the tree and the shadow of the tree must appear inevitably. This is the truth of the human life that we can never do anything in terms of the change. We cannot change anything. Medical science is just a tool to produce the artificial clouds to hide the sun behind temporarily. But no one in the world including the great scientists can hide the sun behind the artificial clouds forever. When the clouds that we have made go away, the sun of life will shine, and the shadow of life which is old age, sickness, and death will come to visit us equally. There is no difference between the kings and the poor farmers. We are all the trees in the sunlight.


The deep tool in the view of the Buddha is not the tool for fighting against anything in the world. Exactly, it is the tool for the fighting against oneself by oneself. Why we need to fight against things in the world? Because we think that we need to overcome it and it is possible to overcome that thing. when I am sick, I think that I should overcome my sickness, and this is why I come to the hospital. Medical treatment is the tool for the fighting against sickness. And we have found that sometimes we can win the sickness. However, in some cases, the sickness is so strong and we know that we cannot win it. Within this fact the tool that we need must be the one which is not designed for the fighting against things in the world (in this case it is the human sickness.) The Buddha thinks that we have another way to deal with the sickness that we cannot win. The tool given by the Buddha concerning this kind of situation in the life of human beings can be called the deep tool in a sense that it is not the simple tool as the tool that we have designed to fight against sickness.


Every simple tool is alike in that it is based on some objectivity and that makes it possible for anyone including the machine to use it. On the contrary, the deep tool is not based on such a clear-cut objectivity, and this makes it not possible to use by anyone without a thing called continuous learning. But we should not think that the deep tool does not have discipline. In my understanding, to be a tool needs to be based on some discipline otherwise such a thing must not be able to be called the tool. The thing that I call discipline within this context can be understood in terms of two things. First, in terms of ontology or something which is the philosophical or religious view which says that there are causal relations of things in the universe and some of them could be the things that human beings might not be able to clearly know or understand. In terms of ontology as said, there are the causes and the effects, and the relation between them is the main reason that generates things and their behaviors as we have seen in the universe. There is the causal relation between this kind of medicine and this kind of sickness in such a way that when the sickness meets the medicine the sickness will be destroyed. This is an example. Second, in terms of the process of learning to understand that ontology. It could be possible that human beings cannot be able to know everything in the world of ontology as said. But we have to accept that some part of the learning has the enough power to free human beings from the problems that cannot be won with the simple tool.


There are the stories recorded in Buddhist texts about the people who face extremely unbearable suffering in their life. A woman loses everything in her life (husband, sons, parents) and that makes her temporarily mad before she meets the Buddha. From these stories, one thing that we have learned is that the problems that happen to the life of these people go beyond the scope of the things that we can use the simple tool to fight against them. The sons and the husband of the woman have died, and there is no one in the world can bring them back from the hand of death, including the Buddha. The deep tool of Buddhism starts with a number of basic understandings that the person needs to have for the solution of the problems that they are facing. In the case of the woman who loses all beloved persons, the first thing given to her by the Buddha is that even though the things that she loses are the things that have the most meaning to her life, these things are still the external things, and not her life at all. The Buddha says that a person has been born into this world with one's own life. Other things outside our life should be deemed as the external things. Sons, husband, parents, friends, dogs, cats, and so on should be deemed as the external things. Certainly, these things have the profound meaning to our life. But the truth is they are not our life. This is one of the basic understandings given to the woman by the Buddha.


As there is no clear-cut objectivity in the utilization of the deep tool, it has been the burden of the person to try to understand and accept the happening things by themselves, and this is why the Buddha always says that I am just the way-teller. The burden to walk along the way is totally yours!” People have the different life, and this makes them to find the deep tool and use it differently by themselves. There is one thing that shared by all people who use the deep tool. They are all human beings, and to solve their own problems one important thing that they have to be is be human being, think and feel as human being, and solve the problem on the basis of being human as said.


In the Western world, people also have their religion such as Christianity. I am inclined to believe that there is the deep tool in every religion of the world. If my belief is true, what we can say is that my saying at the beginning of this article (the West seems to do not have the deep tool) might be false. Exactly, they have this thing in religion and in some part of their philosophy. The human life needs both simple and deep tool. It could be debated that whether or not there is the thing called the deep tool in Western thought. But this is not the serious point, in my opinion. The very serious point concerning the discussion of simple and deep tools should be: first, is it true to say that the human life and the human world need both simple and deep tools; and second, does the West have the potential to cultivate the thing called the deep tool in their civilization? For me, the answer of the first question is yes! And the answer of the second question is why not!


August 17, 2019