Oriental Logic and Western Logic

When I was teaching both native speakers of English and international students at a university in the United States, the students from the U. S. came to me and said, “Why is it that the Japanese and Korean students just keep talking and talking and never get to the point?”  The reason goes back to the way they have been taught to think.  In the west, our schools train us to think in a particular way, and in the east, the culture teaches them to think in another way. The people who study culture call it oriental logic and western logic.

This is a model of logic I made up several years ago to try to help my students understand western logic. It begins with a point and gets larger.

Yes, if we are American or Western European, we are used to listening to people who tell us what they are talking about up front.  After that, they explain what they are talking about.  They give reasons, examples, tell little stories, etc. to help us understand what they want to say.  However, we never realized that our culture and our school system taught us to think like that. It is a very organized way of thinking. It helps the reader or the listener understand better. Many people say it is Aristotle’s logic because he published a lot of materials on rhetoric.  The truth is, he popularized the idea, but his teacher, Corax of Syracuse came up with the idea in the 5th century B. C.

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We actually use this way of logic in much more than when we speak.  Yes, when we are in a conversation,  we begin with the point.  If we ask for permission from our parents, we ask for permission, and then give them all the reasons why we should be allowed to do it.  Preachers get up and use this logic when they preach to keep things organized so we easily understand.  We also use it when we write letters.  We greet someone in the letter, and then we tell them why we are writing, and then explain.  We use this to write our essays at school. The thesis sentence is the most important sentence in the essay, and it comes in the first paragraph, and it tells you everything in a nutshell what the essay is about.  The topic sentence is either the first or second sentence in a paragraph, and it tells you the topic, the main point, of the paragraph before that main point is explained or proven.  Even the Bible uses this kind of logic.  Open your Bible to the New Testament and go to one 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Luke, etc., and you will find the reason the book was written, the main point of the book, in the first chapter.  This is because the Greeks are European, and the New Testament was originally written in Greek.  Even our Scientific theories follow this kind of logic.  The Scientist begins  with a guess, and then they go about trying to prove what they said. Our lawyers use it too. They say “He is guilty!” or “He is not guilty!,” and next, they go about proving it.


I drew the model of logic for you that was in my text book, Intercultural Encounters with Japan,” when I was a student to try to explain oriental logic.  They start in the middle somewhere and just begin speaking or writing, and just keep enlarging on what they are saying without telling you the main point, but when they get to the end, you can see the whole picture.

In the west, we had Corax and Aristotle, but in the east, they didn’t have these guys, and the way they express themselves grew differently.  The people who study culture call what they do circular logic.  They begin somewhere in the information they want to convey, and then keep talking, and talking, and talking, and eventually, you get the point.  They may not even actually say the point. It is like our stories.  When Jesus tells a parable or Aesop tells a fable, they may not actually come right out and tell you the point, but when they are done with their story, you get the point.  This is the way oriental logic works.  The preachers get up and talks and talks and talks until you understand.  The writer writes a book and just gives more and more examples and information until the reader finally understands.  There is no thesis statement. There is no point expressed, but the hearer or the reader still knows what is being talking about when the speaker or writer is finished.  What is the point of the story “The Three Little Pigs?”  What is the point of the story, “Little Red Riding Hood?”  No one actually comes out and tells you the point, but you get it. This is the way circular logic works.

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The story of  “Little Red Riding Hood” has a point even if it isn’t explicitly expressed.



When I was in Romania, I learned they were using circular logic because I could pick their books up and read them in the original, but I taught western logic at the university while I was there, and both the professors and the students loved it!  They may be using it more now.  I knew a Romanian girl who got a scholarship to study in French in Switzerland, when she came back, we discussed what she studied.  The French were also using the thesis sentence and topic sentences when they wrote, not just Englishmen and Americans.

I was first taught about circular logic when I was in Japan as a student.  When I taught at Ohio University in America, they asked me to teach circular logic for the students to learn how to use it and understand it because they knew the Chinese were using it.  Here in Korea, I have the feeling originally, they only did circular logic, but if you look at their school books, they are using both eastern logic and western logic.  They have a lot of influence from the west!

In western logic, we know what is being talked about from the beginning.  In eastern logic, we don’t know the meaning until the speaker or writer gets to the end.  I feel like this delayed understanding on the part of the listener or reader can also be found in the Korean and Japanese grammar.  In English, we say what we want to say right up front, and we are very specific.  When we make up a sentence, we give the subject of the sentence first and then tell what the subject did, and then we give less important information after that like when, where, and how.  However, when speaking Korean and Japanese, they may begin with the subject of the sentence, but we have to wait to the very end of the sentence to know exactly what that subject did.  When we speak English, we get much more of the meaning in the beginning, but the meaning is delayed in Japanese and Korean until the sentence is finished.  When I asked my Romanian teacher about the word order in Romanian, he said, “We use the most important words first.”  That is the western way of thinking.

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English has influenced Chinese a lot, but people don’t realize it.  Originally, the Chinese had no real grammar.  They just had words.  They put them in any order they wanted to put them in, and when they were finished, people understood.  However, when English speakers went to China and began teaching English, the Chinese said, “Hey! What is wrong with us?  We have no rules in how our sentences are put together like English has.”  The Chinese decided to adopt the English grammar and word order.  Some Western thought came to China.

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The east and west are meshing together in Korea.


An old saying exists, “The east is the east, and the west is the west, and never the twain shall meet.”  However, we are meeting now, and we are influencing one another.  There is an overwhelming amount of influence in South Korea from the west.  In Japan, they go around problems.  My Cross Cultural Communications teacher in Japan gave this example:  If the Americans are building a road and they come to a mountain, they tunnel through the mountain and just keep going straight.  However, when the Japanese are building a road and come to a mountain, they don’t make a tunnel. They build the road around the mountain.  Since coming to Korea, I have looked at their roads.  The old roads are meandering, but the new ones may not be.  In Korea, if they come to a mountain, in the past, they may have gone around it, but now a days, they drill right through the mountain and make a tunnel like Americans would.  Korea is studying English like mad! Everyone wants to go to America to study English.  All of that studying English and studying in America is influencing the way the Koreans think.  One day, the native speakers of English may feel like Koreans use the main point in the beginning instead of getting frustrated and waiting for them to get to the point.

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