- Reviewed by
In its 500,000 or so words, Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook presents a complete survey of philosophical inquiry spanning more than thirteen centuries of Japanese cultural history, a feat made possible by the enormous efforts of its three editors and over one hundred contributors and translators. In addition to its English title, the book also displays on its cover a Japanese translation of the title (nihon tetsugaku shiryōshū 日本哲学資料集) in a vertical, handwritten script.
The editors, who deeply comprehend the Japanese language and are, needless to say, well versed in Western philosophy and Buddhism-and have particular expertise in modern Japanese philosophy-have devoted themselves over many years to elucidating enduring propensities in Japanese thought and culture. Even for them, and for their highly skilled and knowledgeable collaborators, it must have been extremely difficult to arrive at suitable criteria for deciding which figures and texts were to be included in this anthology and to determine the most effective ways of presenting the assembled content. They were faced with the problem of how to excise "Japanese philosophy" from the whole of Japanese history for inclusion in a single volume, and one tactic they employed in doing so was the exclusion of philosophers born after 1950. The main question they had to address, however, was how to define "Japanese philosophy" itself. The title of this book is thus a direct reflection of its editors' line of inquiry.
While looking through the table of contents one catches sight of the names of many individuals who would clearly be thought of as "philosophers" by today's standards. The Source-book organizes these philosophers and their translated texts according to three categories: (1) Traditions, (2) Modern Academic Philosophy, and (3) Additional Themes. These categories are further broken down into the following sections: (1) "Prelude: The Shōtoku Constitution," "Buddhist Traditions," "The Zen Tradition," "The Pure Land Tradition," "Confucian Traditions," and "Shinto and Native Studies," (2) "Beginnings, Definitions, Disputations," "The Kyoto School," and "Twentieth-Century Philosophy," and (3) "Culture and Identity," "Samurai Thought," "Women Philosophers," "Aesthetics," and "Bioethics."
The philosophers in the second category can easily be seen as worthy of the label, for their thought was to some extent formed on the basis of Western philosophy after its adoption during the rapid modernization of Japan that began in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, some of those who are familiar with Japanese culture in general but are not experts in Japanese philosophy may still have doubts about both the first and the second categories. One might ask, what is Japanese philosophy? And this question then leads inevitably to another: What is philosophy? The editors themselves declare that "the definition of philosophy is one of the aims of the Sourcebook" (p. 22).
To my knowledge this is the first volume ever to include such a large number of translations into a foreign language of works by Japanese philosophers selected from all periods of Japan's cultural history. It does not restrict its readership to beginning students or to scholars of intermediate level or to specialists. The Sourcebook can be fully utilized by anyone [End Page 364] who wants to read it, study it, profoundly examine it, or teach from it. The main body consists of translations preceded by an outline of each philosopher's thought and an overview of each subsection. The book also contains an introductory section entitled "Framework" and another entitled "Reference Material," which includes a glossary, bibliography, chronology, thematic index, and general index. All of these meticulously designed intellectual tools greatly enhance the utility of the resources presented, adding to the impression that the functional aspects of this text have been extremely well thought out.
Let us return to the issue of the definition of philosophy, which the editors discuss throughout the "Framework" section. The Sourcebook aims to "challenge the limitations of the prevailing definitions of 'philosophy'" through the translated texts presented in its...