By: Dr. Yamin Cheng
International Islamic University of Malaysia
There seems to be a tendency, even among the intellectuals, to conveniently distinguish Eastern and Western people into two neatly compartmentalized personalities. Western people are said to be individualistic while Eastern people are communal. Western people are aggressive while Eastern people are gentle. Western people are straightforward while Eastern people are evasive. Western people are rational while Eastern people are emotional. Western people are analytical while Eastern people are analogical. Western people are idealistic while Eastern people are practical.
Actually, it’s hard to say which is which because as human beings, we have all of the above. But perhaps it may be true that the Western mind has a tendency towards questions of ‘being,’ about what a thing actually is.
When we look at a chair, for instance, we take for granted that what we see is a chair. This is what appears before our eyes. This is what everyone says. This is common sense logic.
But the Western mind is not just contented with this kind of commonsensical answer. The Western mind wants to probe further, and asks, ‘What makes a chair a chair?’ Is a chair a chair because of how it looks, or is it a chair because of what it does?
If supposing a coffee table as it appears, is a coffee table like what everyone says, because it is an object where I put things on it, and suddenly, I started to sit on it, and sit on it, and sit on it. Is it still a table, or has it become a chair?
Is the outward look of the table makes it a table, or is it its use, i.e. putting things on it, that makes it a table?
So, what makes a table a table? Its appearance, or its function?