I’ve found Thomas Kasulis’s distinction between intimacy and integrity to be one of the more helpful ways to think through the significance of culture in philosophy, especially when dealing with East Asia. To help Westerners understand East Asian thought, Kasulis portrays it as having an “intimacy” orientation, as opposed to a more familiar “integrity” orientation.
Now Kasulis is aware enough to realize that there are exceptions to all such generalizations, and some of his examples of “intimacy” come from the West too. The distinction is supposed to function more like one of Max Weber’s ideal types. That is to say: one may never encounter intimacy or integrity orientations in their pure forms; any actual culture or person or book will probably contain some mix. Nevertheless, by thinking of the two as relatively coherent extremes, one is better able to understand what’s going on in the middle.
When applied to ethics and politics alone, the distinction is not particularly original and could even come across as something of a cliché: basically, the modern West is individualistic and oriented toward individual rights and the integrity of the individual, while East Asia focuses on the intimacy community and the ensuing responsibilities of interdependence. Where Kasulis’s work gets interesting is when he applies the distinction to theoretical philosophy. Continue reading