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More Essays on Japanese Philosophy

From: Philosophy East and West
Volume 62, Number 3, July 2012
pp. 403-407 | 10.1353/pew.2012.0053

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In the January 2011 issue of this journal, I reviewed the first five volumes in the Frontiers of Japanese Philosophy series. Now, with two more published volumes, the total number of essays in all seven volumes totals one-hundred-and-five. These essays, of almost uniformly high quality, represent a maturation of scholarship on Japanese philosophy. As the editors remark in the Introduction to volume 6, the essays are a "shining testimony to the fact that Japanese philosophy has come of age and is no longer restricted to a small coterie of experts."

The editors have divided the essays in volume 6 into three groupings: "Confluences East and West," "Cross Currents," and "Critical Studies." The topics explored include modern Japanese aesthetics; nihilism and emptiness; life and death; Aristotle and Nishida; Watsuji and Dōgen; women in Japanese philosophy; Zen and ethics; the philosophy of Kuki Shūzō; Nishitani Keiji; and Heidegger and Japanese fascism.

An apt place to begin discussing some of the ideas presented in this multifaceted collection might be Thomas P. Kasulis' attempt to pinpoint just how different the beginning assumptions are for most Japanese philosophy in contrast with the assumptions made by philosophers in the West. Kasulis cautions that his analysis is a generalization and not a universally applicable schema. The first "Japanese default setting" that he identifies is "relations as internal rather than external." A and B are externally related as independently existing, with some third factor R connecting them. With internal relations, A and B are assumed to be "intrinsically interlinked or overlapping," with R being the shared part of A and B. Kasulis illustrates the importance of this assumptive difference through the example of the relation between knower and known. The external-relations model (more typically Western) views knower and known as existing independently, with knowledge as the third connecting term. In the correspondence theory of truth, something is true if the concepts in the mind accurately represent or echo the "state of affairs" in the known. But for the internal-relations model (more typically Japanese), knowledge is to be found in the overlap of knower and known, as there is an interdependence of the two. Ideally, there is nothing obstructing the mind-heart from the reality known. This model is one of interpenetration and not independence or separation.

Kasulis next explores the Japanese default assumption of the inseparability of body and mind, a central notion, for example, in the indigenous martial art of aikidō. The goal is to unify the two, thereby allowing unified action. Such unification results in extraordinary focus and power. Cartesian dualism sharply contrasts body and mind, resulting in great difficulty in explaining how body and mind interact at all. In Japanese, the word kokoro expresses this unity, for it means both "mind" and "heart."

A third default difference is found in quite different learning styles. In Japan, knowledge is not some third thing separate from student and teacher, to be learned theoretically and "objectively," but is a process, a practice of student emulating the way the teacher encounters reality. There is an emphasis on "how," rather than on "what": not on what is "knowledge," but on how knowledge occurs. For example, in Dōgen's teaching, the emphasis is not on what is evil but on how to act without producing evil. Once again, the answer is to be found in modeling one's actions after a master teacher through diligent practice rather than through intellectual understanding alone.

Kasulis next explores "the relation of whole and part as holographic," then "argument by relegation," and the ground of philosophy as "in medias res." The concern of the Kyoto School, for example, was not to show that the world is moving dialectically toward a greater synthesis, as with Hegel, but rather that the dialectical whole leads back to a ground from which the opposites originated. Kasulis' succinct summary is helpful here: "Hegel's was a dialectic of whither; the Kyoto School's dialectic was one of whence." One might say that the ground or background (Nishida's place, field, basho, absolute nothingness) becomes the foreground of awareness, and the parts or opposites are now relegated to the background. "Distinctions" are mere...



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