Saman Pushpakumara: Hegel on Asia: Hegel’s Eurocentrism and its validity

Speaker: Saman Pushpakumara

B.A. (Pdn), M.Phil. (Pdn), Ph.D. (Masaryk)

Senior Lecturer Philosophy Department University of Peradeniya Sri Lanka

Topic: Hegel on Asia: Hegel’s Eurocentrism and its validity

Georg Wilhelm Hegel wrote in the early 19th century when European colonialism and empiricism were at their height. Consequently, some of his ideas were filled with the eurocentric bias of his era. Hegel’s teleological views of history placed regions of the world from lower stages to higher stages. Accordingly, Africa, as the land of childhood, represents the stage of ‘sensaton’ in the development of human consciousness, and it has no history. Asia is located in the stage of ‘understanding’ that has transcended the limits of ‘African sensation’. Hegel placed his own land, Germany, at the pinnacle of the development of human consciousness, which represents the stage of ‘reason’, the highest place in the ladder of consciousness. It seems that European culture is the pinnacle of cultural and philosophical development, and other regions should be considered through the lens of European culture. Moreover, Hegel’s idea of ‘Oriental Despotism', which further represents Hegel’s Eurocentrism, implies that certain Asian political systems are ‘authoritarian’ compaired with more ‘progressive’ European political structures. Hegel’s practice of keeping Europe at the center and of downplaying or marginalizing non-European countries has been criticized by some scholars. However, Hegel simultaneously recognized the significance of Asian cultures and their contribution to the development of human civilization. His views of Asia are not negative, and he understood certain aspects of potential and development. He acknowledged the unique philosophical and cultural achievements made by India and China. Hegel appreciates Chinese culture, Confucian ethics, the stability of Chinese society, and the sophistication of its political order. Hegel regarded India as the birthplace of metaphysical and spiritual inquiry. Hegel highly appreciated the richness of Indian philosophical traditions like Hinduism and Buddhism. Hegel wrote nearly 80,000 words on and about India. Eurocentrism is not a Hegelian ideology but a common attitude among European thinkers in his time. In Hegel’s system, there is no place for static, unchanging categories. Hegel’s system opens the way for moving beyond the Eurocentric narrative. Hegel did not discuss the future potential of Asian countries but focused on the historical and philosophical role Asia had played up to his time.

Key Words: Eurocentrism, Asia, China, India, Buddhism