- Itō Jinsai's Gomō Jigi and the Philosophical Definition of Early Modern Japan
Reading English translations of Asian philosophical works that one knows only in the original Classical Chinese can be exhilarating. For the first time, one can read quickly, even scan, a text whose linguistic difficulty has always slowed the eye and forced one to proceed at a snail's pace. Translations also enable those who don't know the original language to read these texts and thus greatly enlarge their readership. For these reasons John Tucker's Itō Jinsai's Gomō Jigi and the Philosophical Definition of Early Modern Japan is welcome. It is the first English rendering of the Gomō jigi (Philosophical lexicography of the Analects and the Mencius), an important philosophical text by Itō Jinsai (1627-1705), the seventeenth-century Japanese Confucian and founder of a school of ancient learning. Tucker's book is more than just a translation, however. It offers a bold, new interpretation of Jinsai that sees him not as the anti-Neo-Confucian that generations of modern scholars have made him out to be but as a "Neo-Confucian" philosopher. Tucker also presents Jinsai as a chōnin, or "townsman," philosopher, but here he simply rehearses what is now a conventional view of the importance to his philosophy of Jinsai's social origins and cultural milieu. My review thus focuses on Tucker's novel interpretation of Jinsai and his translation of the Gomō jigi.
For nearly a century, modern scholars have seen Jinsai as a fierce opponent of Neo-Confucianism and a partisan of ancient Confucian texts, particularly the Analects and the Mencius. Tucker disagrees with this interpretation; instead, he sees Jinsai as a Neo-Confucian. As evidence, he points out that not only had Jinsai read the Song philosopher Chen Beixi's Xingli ziyi (The meaning of Neo-Confucian terms) but that he was even lecturing on Chen's work when he wrote the Gomō jigi and actually used it as his model. Tucker even suggests that the Gomō jigi is an example of the "philosophical lexicography" that Jinsai learned from Chen's Xingli ziyi and Hayashi Razan's Seiri jigi genkai (Vernacular explication of Beixi's Ziyi), itself modeled on Chen's work. More important, Tucker notes that the Gomō jigi uses the "methodology" of Razan's work. All these arguments lead Tucker to state that "Jin-sai's kogigaku system sprang as much from the early Tokugawa Zhu Xi teachings of Hayashi Razan as it did from . . . the Analects and Mencius" and to conclude that the Gomō jigi "should be seen as . . . furthering the semantic project advocated by Beixi and Razan via critical revision of existing philosophical lexicography." That is, "Jinsai's textual return to the ancient teaching did not necessarily set him apart from Neo-Confucianism, Tokugawa or otherwise, because the same strategy had been advocated by Zhu Xi himself " (p. 25). Tucker locates Jinsai in a Neo-Confucian philosophical lineage that began with Zhu Xi and was passed on by Chen Beixi and later by Hayashi Razan. Here Tucker is following the lead of his mentor, Wm. Theodore de Bary, who also contended that Jinsai and Ogyū Sorai (1666-1728), another [End Page 392] leading light of the ancient learning movement, were part of the Neo-Confucian tradition.
Tucker does not deny that Jinsai "criticized Neo-Confucianism." When Jinsai did so, he explains, his target was Yamazaki Ansai and his Kimon school and their "misguided philosophical claims" (p. 18). There is some truth in this, but anyone familiar with Jinsai's writings knows that this is hardly the whole story. In the Gomō jigi and his other major work, Dōjimon (A child's questions), Jinsai openly expressed dissatisfaction with other Neo-Confucian thinkers as well, including Zhu Xi and his predecessors and their metaphysical and ethical conceptions. Tucker should have explained how it was possible for Jinsai to criticize Neo-Confucianism while adopting a Neo-Confucian "philosophical lexicography," but he has chosen not to. Without a satisfying explanation...