I argued before that categories like ascent-descent and intimacy-integrity are important because they help us identify perennial questions, questions that appear (together with their usually opposing answers) throughout the history of philosophy. The debate between ascent and descent is a debate between the Chinese Buddhists and the Confucians as much as it is between Plato and Aristotle. The identification of such universal questions seems to me an important part of metaphilosophy: the study of philosophy itself, and not merely of philosophy’s varied subject matter.
The attempt to identify such universal categories, I think, is central to the work of analytic philosophy. It drives the characteristically analytic attempt to classify Buddhist ethics according to the categories of 20th-century ethics: is Buddhist ethics consequentialism or virtue ethics? For that matter, is Śāntideva a determinist or a compatibilist? The problem with such attempts, in my book, is that they take it for granted that the questions of 20th-century ethics (consequentialism, deontology or virtue?) are the most important ones to ask. Such an approach, it seems to me, strongly limits one’s ability to learn anything of substance from other traditions. Foreign traditions (and this includes the Greeks and the medieval Christians as much as the Confucians or Vedāntins) can teach us different questions to ask, not merely different answers to those questions. That’s why it’s important to me that when we do think in more universal categories, we try to involve categories (like ascent-descent) that are derived from the study of multiple traditions.
Part of the point of thinking across traditions in this way, to me, is that metaphilosophy shouldn’t only be about universals, but about particulars – specifically, historical particulars. I have no problem in saying that philosophy aims at universal truth; but it does so only through the eyes of individual philosophers, who are all finite, particular and historically limited human beings, shaped greatly by their historical context. And for any given philosophy – including one’s own – that context is an essential reason why it is the way it is.