SACP's Time & History: East & West 9/28-10/1/00

Society for Asian & Comparative Philosophy sacp at SHOWME.MISSOURI.EDU
Wed Jun 21 11:26:54 UTC 2000

Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy
4th International Research Meeting in Asian and Comparative Philosophy—
"Time and History: East and West"
Sept. 28- Oct. 1, 2000
Holiday Inn Executive Center
Columbia, Missouri, USA

Until recently, discussions about time- and history-conceptions in the East
and West have been dominated by clichés, such as: the Western conception of
time is linear whereas the Eastern conception of time is cyclic; or, the West
under the Judeo-Christian influence developed history while the East,
especially India, remained ahistorical.

However, contemporary investigation is demonstrating that these clichés have
no factual basis. Stephen J. Gould, for example, argues that Western culture
has employed both the metaphors of time's arrow (time as linear) and time as
cyclic in different contexts. This may be said of the Eastern conception of
time. We are overdue to abandon simplistic generalizations and take a look at

We must address the idea of time with new eyes. Our task makes it imperative
that we take into account not only empirical and scientific theories, but
also metaphysical ones. We need to consider what conceptions of natural
processes have persisted in a culture, what cosmological theories of the
universe’s origin have been held, what techniques have been used to measure
time, and what units of time have been used for calculation.

We also need to consider other questions in need of a fresh appraisal, such
as: Is time finite or infinite? Is time a changeless order of moments
(McTaggart’s A-series)? Or is it a flowing stream flux (McTaggart’s B-
series)? How is time in any culture connected to human experience,
consciousness, or subjectivity?-- (considering, for instance, Augustine,
Kant,  and Husserl on one hand and Aristotle, Taoism, and modern physics on
the other). How is time related to space in a given culture?

As for history—there is, first, a need to determine what kinds of historical
writings are to be found in ancient cultures such as those of Greece, India,
and China. What value has been placed on history by various cultures? What
connection does the prevailing conception of history in a culture have to its
predominant religious world-view, to its ecshatological conception? What
connection does this conception have to the relation between human beings and

In the context of religion, the distinction between sacred and profane time,
sacred and profane space, must be considered as it has occurred in different
cultures. We must further ask-- Has there been a conception of human progress
in every culture; if so, do these conceptions bear a recognizable pattern?

In the Indian context, it is also important to ask how the ideas of karma,
rebirth and moks\a relate to time and history. Do karma and rebirth operate
in the same dimension of time as other natural events, or in another
dimension? Given that history is the history of community while karma is that
of an individual, does it make more sense to argue that karma operates in a
dimension that is essentially different from history? Or, could we argue that
the history of a community is the outer manifestation of the invisible karma
of its members? In the context of moks\a, it needs to be examined whether
moks\a transcends time and history, while as a phenomenon still occurring in

Similar questions can be raised in terms of Confucian and Taoist thinking. Is
the Taoist notion of eternal return based on the cyclic conception of time?
Likewise, is the Confucian remembrance of a long forgotten tradition to be
preserved by learning founded upon a linear conception of time? What of the
relationship held by other complex metaphysical concepts from other
intellectual traditions to these two central concepts, time and history?

These are only some of the avenues which participants might explore. These
subjects promise numerously varied nuances for investigators to examine,
amplify and modify in accordance with their own insights and interests. It is
only at the end of such a research project that we may be in a better
position to be able to think about the larger question— where do conceptions
of time and history differ in the East and the West?— without falling prey to
the usual clichés and unexamined hypotheses of overly simplistic formulae.

Papers and panels are also welcome on topics other than the "Time and
History" theme. Send registration forms (available online at IM2000/reg200.html) and fees to:

Bina Gupta, SACP President
Department of Philosophy
437 General Classroom Bldg.
University of Missouri
Columbia, MO 65211
Fax: (573) 884-8949
Email: guptab at

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