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  • Sourcebook for Modern Japanese Philosophy: Selected Documents
  • Steven Heine
Sourcebook for Modern Japanese Philosophy: Selected Documents. Translated and edited by David A. Dilworth and Valdo H. Viglielmo, with Agustin Jacinto Zavala. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1998. Pp. xx + 420.

Sourcebook for Modern Japanese Philosophy: Selected Documents, translated and edited by David H. Dilworth and Valdo H. Viglielmo, with Agustin Jacinto Zavala, is a new translation of twentieth-century Japanese philosophers and is the second book in a series on Resources in Asian Philosophy and Religion that had been devised and edited by the late Charles Wei-hsun Fu (the first book was Stuart D. B. Picken's Essentials of Shinto: An Analytical Guide to Principal Teachings [Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994]). Here, a team of translators who are all very well known for their expert work in the field provide a series of selections from seven philosophers, each of whom is associated with the Kyoto School approach to comparative philosophical analysis.

The seven thinkers include: (1) Nishida Kitarō, the founder of the Kyoto School, which is based on a synthesis of Western thought, particularly German Idealism, and the Mahāyāna Buddhist philosophy of emptiness or universal nothingness (Nishida remains by far the most important representative of the school, and he has had numerous works translated into English, often by Dilworth and/or Viglielmo); (2) Tanabe Hajime, Nishida's first and foremost disciple, who approached the notion of absolute nothingness from the standpoint of Pure Land Buddhist other-power and repentance; (3) Kuki Shūzō, who was known for his travels to Europe and his work on aesthetics and contingency; (4) Watsuji Tetsurō, who pioneered the field of cultural anthropological history in Japan; (5) Miki Kiyoshi, who criticized Nishida in light of Pascal and Kierkegaard as well as Hegelian dialectics; (6) Tosaka Jun, a sharp Marxist critic of Nishida, who during the 1930s attacked the apparent accommodations of his colleagues with the Imperialist authorities; and (7) Nishitani Keiji, who developed the Zen perspective implicit in Nishida's philosophy by emphasizing the religious-conversion experience that emerges from a contemplative awareness of the universality of absolute nothingness.

The translators provide a substantial introductory essay discussing the biographical and conceptual issues in the development of the life and thought of each philosopher. This section is very useful, and generally goes into more depth and detail than other materials available in English. The translations themselves, which cover a wide variety of styles and methods of argumentation, are clear and readable, though at times a bit imprecise and inconsistent. A main issue involved in evaluating the book has to do with the selection of thinkers and passages translated. Unfortunately, there are no philosophers represented here who are not in the circle of the Kyoto School. There is no question of the dominance of Nishida and his followers (and critics) in the realm of Japanese philosophy, but other voices reflecting the positions of Marxism, phenomenology, logic, structuralism, and postmodernism could have had some representation. One problem is that the reader is given very little indication of current trends (since the writings of Nishitani, the last philosopher [End Page 311] on this list, are already several decades old). And there is certainly nothing in this volume to point to future concerns and tendencies in Japanese philosophy.

On the other hand, given the book's content, a positive feature is that the translators have fulfilled an important goal of choosing selections that have not previously appeared in English but which are nevertheless representative and crucial for understanding the overall significance of each thinker's approach. Therefore, Sourcebook for Modern Japanese Philosophy will serve as a beneficial supplement or complement to existing sources. It is a handy compendium that puts readers in touch with the full variety of Kyoto School philosophers, including those who vary from and argue with Nishida.

By the late 1990s, it had become impossible to discuss Nishida and the Kyoto School without dealing at least in part with the question of political implications: to what extent, if any, were these thinkers involved in supporting and promulgating the doctrine of the imperial order, which sought hegemony throughout Asia. The key figures, especially Nishida, Tanabe...


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