Indonesian Philosophy

Indonesian philosophy is a generic designation for the tradition of abstract speculation held by the people who inhabit the region now known as Indonesia. Indonesian philosophy is expressed in the living languages found in Indonesia (approximately 587 languages) and its national language Indonesian, comprising many diverse schools of thought with influences from Eastern and Western origins, and indigenous philosophical themes.

The term Indonesian philosophy originates from the title of a book written by M. Nasroen, in which he traced philosophical elements found in Indonesian culture. Since then, the term has been popular and inspired many later writers like Sunoto, Parmono, and Jakob Sumardjo. Sunoto began the nation's first philosophy department at Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta.

Sunoto, Parmona, and Sumardjo each defined the word Indonesian philosophy differently. Without clearly defining the word, M. Nasroen argued that Indonesian philosophy was neither Western nor Eastern. He pointed to core Indonesian concepts and practices such as mupakat, pantun-pantun, Pancasila, hukum adat, gotong-royong, and kekeluargaan (Nasroen 1967:14, 24, 25, 33, and 38). Sunoto (1987:ii) also embraced a culturalist notion of Indonesian philosophy, calling it "the cultural richness of our own nation…contained in our own culture." Similarly, Parmono defined it as "thought or reflections…which are bound in" adat "as well as ethnic culture" (Parmono 1985:iii). Sumardjo wrote that the "philosophy of Indonesian people has never been conceived of. Their philosophical conceptions must be sought after and found out of what they have done. " He added, "Indonesian philosophy lies in their daily-life behavior and factual result of their activities. The philosophy of Indonesian people lies within their pepatah-petitih, adat houses, adat ceremonies and rites, old myths, in their dress ornaments, their dances, the music they play, in their weapons, their social system, and so on" (Sumardjo 2003:113).

The writers above understand Indonesian philosophy as a part of culture and do not make a contrast between philosophy and cultural studies or anthropology. The Indonesian language initially had no word for philosophy as an entity separated from theology, art, and science. Instead, Indonesians have a generic word budaya or kebudayaan, which describes the totality of the manifestations of the life of a society. Philosophy, science, theology, religion, art and technology are at once manifestations of a society’s life, which are included in the meaning of the word budaya. Indonesians usually use the word budayawan for their philosophers (Alisjahbana 1977:6-7). Accordingly, to them, the scope of Indonesian philosophy only comprised those original notions of Indonesian cultural richness. This is understood by Ferry Hidayat, as "the poverty of the scope." If Indonesian philosophy only comprised those original ethnic philosophies, it would be very limited. Like other scholars, Ferry widens the scope of Indonesian philosophy so as to include the adapted and "indigenized" philosophy as influenced by foreign philosophical traditions. This article employs the latter definition.

Read more about Indonesian Philosophy:  Schools of Thought

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