- Essays on Japanese Philosophy
This is an exciting collective milestone. As recently as two or three decades ago, it was something of an event to discover an essay on Japanese philosophy, in Philosophy East and West or any other major philosophical journal. Now, with the publication of five new volumes (stemming from symposia and workshops in Nagoya, Hong Kong, Berlin, and Montreal) by the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, seventy-three essays have appeared, more or less all at once. These essays are mostly in English, although several are written in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. In the first volume by itself, Japanese Philosophy Abroad, several writers provide an account of Japanese philosophy from French, Spanish, Italian, German, Chinese, and English-speaking regions of the world. As with all conference gatherings, the quality of the essays varies somewhat, although, in general, they are of remarkably high caliber.
Even a cursory glance at the scope of these volumes reveals chapters dealing with central Kyoto School figures, including Nishida Kitarō, Tanabe Hajime, Kuki Shūzō, Watsuji Tetsurō, Nishitani Keiji, and Ueda Shizuteru. Other chapters provide background to the Kyoto School philosophers: Dōgen, Motoori Norinaga, Nishi Amane, Takizawa Katsumi, and the late Yuasa Yasuo. In order to give some impression of the nature of the essays included, it might prove helpful to list a few of them by title: “The Idea of the Mirror in Dōgen and Nishida” (Michael Dalissier), “Getting back to Premodern Japan: Tanabe’s Reading of Dōgen” (Ralf Müller), “Yuasa Yasuo’s Theory of the Body” (Britta Boutry-Stadelmann), “Nishida Kitarō as Philosopher of Science” (Noe Keiichi), “The Human and the Absolute in the Writings of Kuki Shūzō” (Saitō Takako), “Transcendence of the State in Watsuji’s Ethics” (Bernard Bernier), [End Page 216] and “Letting Go of God for Nothing: Ueda Shizuteru’s Non-Mysticism and the Question of Ethics in Buddhism” (Bret W. Davis). From this brief selection out of a total of seventy-three essays, it becomes evident that these five volumes present a remarkable breadth of subjects while maintaining a clear focus on the Kyoto School philosophers.
Of the many important topics explored in these volumes, the examination of the relationship between philosophy and religion is one that may well redefine philosophy itself. 1 James Heisig’s essay “Redefining Defining Philosophy” questions why it is that non-Western philosophy is so infrequently included within the gaze of Western philosophers. He writes that “as long as we accept that philosophy is a western discipline, and that therefore, the west holds the copyright on definitions and redefinitions of it, philosophy’s [alleged] universality remains radically unphilosophical.” This is, in reality, a “parochialism masquerading as universality.” Such an entrenched exclusivity is, and will continue to be, slow to change, but Heisig’s recollection of a comment made by Nishitani Keiji at a roundtable discussion, held just after the war, is helpful here: “lasting cultural changes take place not at the core but at the fringes.” The growing familiarity with Japanese cuisine, interracial marriages, Japanese sports figures playing in the West, Japanese landscape gardens, architectural simplicity and embeddedness in nature, etcetera all pave the way toward an underlying acceptance of things foreign, making them a significant part of the “fringe” acceptance of traditions and insights that are not Western...