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Reviewed by:
  • Philosophers of Nothingness: An Essay on the Kyoto School, and: A Buddhist-Christian Logic of the Heart: Nishida's Kyoto School and Lonergan's "Spiritual Genome" as World Bridge
  • Amos Yong
Philosophers of Nothingness: An Essay on the Kyoto School. By James W. Heisig. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2001. xi + 380 pp.
A Buddhist-Christian Logic of the Heart: Nishida's Kyoto School and Lonergan's "Spiritual Genome" as World Bridge. By John Raymaker. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2002. x + 214 pp.

These are two very different types of books. Heisig, research fellow (since 1978) and former director (1999-2001) of the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture and well known to readers of this journal as author, book editor, and translator extraordinaire, [End Page 271] has produced the definitive exposition of the Kyoto School in the English language with Philosophers of Nothingness. Raymaker, a longtime Roman Catholic missionary to Japan and student of Lonergan's work, attempts in A Buddhist-Christian Logic of the Heart to establish points of contact between Lonergan's transcendental method and Nishida's pure experience. Let me briefly summarize the two volumes before making some comparative observations.

Philosophers of Nothingness is divided into five sections: an "Orientation" (introduction) and a "Prospectus" (transitional epilogue) flanking the three sections on Nishida, Tanabe, and Nishitani, each constituting approximately twenty short chapters. In each case, Heisig combines intellectual biography and history of ideas approaches, thus both setting forth the wider social, political, and intellectual contexts of the Kyoto School thinkers and elaborating on their distinctive ideas. Those interested in the latter will not be disappointed. Nishida's "pure experience," "active intuition," "absolutely contradictory self-identity," "logic of locus" (or basho, topos, place), and "historical world," among other themes, are all given special attention within the broader framework of his philosophical project. In the case of Tanabe, unique concepts such as "absolute mediation," "logic of species," and "metanoetic philosophy" (or philosophy of repentance) are illuminated. And, of course, the contributions of Nishitani are fully represented: "nihilism," "the standpoint of emptiness," and the sunyata of time and history.

At the same time, those looking for background discussion will also find Heisig's exposition helpful, and that along (at least) the following three lines. First, an attempt is made to take seriously the self-understanding of Kyoto School thinkers of doing philosophy in the world context. This is, of course, a bold undertaking which some in our time might summarily dismiss either as hubris or as ignorance. Yet beginning with Nishida and continuing through Tanabe, Nishitani and others (such as Tanabe's student, Abe Masao), the task was to engage as Japanese philosophers with Western thinkers and ideas. Here, of course, the tension between particularity and universality is most intense, and the Kyoto philosophers proceeded with full awareness of the issues at stake. Now while their endeavors can be criticized from either direction, what cannot be criticized without self-refutation is their motivating belief that they could understand the West and vice versa.

Second, and connected with the first, is the social and political twentieth-century context of Japan and its relationship with modernity and with the Western world. Here, Heisig brilliantly negotiates between laying out the facts and locating the passions and failures of the Kyoto philosophers. This requires that he correctly identify their contributions as Japanese thinkers engaging modernity without ignoring their blind spots. As such, longstanding questions concerning Kyoto School philosophy as an ideology for Japanese nationalism are confronted head-on. Heisig shows how political naīvete resulted in political entanglements. At the same time, his discussion illuminates the sociopolitical backdrop that informs and shapes all philosophizing. The result is a balanced presentation that is neither apologetic on the one side nor condemnatory on the other.

Finally, the question of religion and its relationship to Kyoto School philosophy [End Page 272] is also taken up. Nishida's practice of zazen is thus shown to inform his philosophizing, if only implicitly (on Nishida's own account), even while Tanabe's experience of metanoia (conversion) as mediated through the "Other-power" matrix of Shinran's religious thought is shown to impact his philosophy explicitly...