- Begriff und Bild der modernen japanischen Philosophie(Concept and image of modern Japanese philosophy) ed. by Raji C. Steineck, Elena Louisa Lange, Paulus Kaufmann
In the West, philosophy in Japan still is chronically understudied. In part, this is under standable: there is the seemingly insurmountable language barrier, the fact that [End Page 1293]Japanese philosophers still publish mostly in Japanese, and, last but not least, self- hypostatising tendencies among some strands of philosophical scholarship in Japan that make it difficult to appreciate what Japanese philosophers have to contribute to the discipline.
Raji C. Steineck, Elena Louisa Lange, and Paulus Kaufmann, the editors of Begriff und Bild der modernen japanischen Philosophie(all of them belonging to the Department of Japanese Studies at the University of Zurich), have set out to remedy this regrettable situation. They provide a historiographical overview of the richness and diversity of philosophical themes and positions from the Meiji period until today — while at the same time tackling the problem of the validity of the term “Japanese philosophy” itself. Their book is comprised of a foreword, an introduction, and three parts: (1) systematic inquiries: themes of modernity, (2) philosophical strands in Japan, and (3) main topics of philosophical research in Japan. In this review, I will focus on the theoretically important introduction and on part 1. First, however, I will make some brief comments on parts 2 and 3.
In the West there is, of course, some familiarity with philosophy in Japan, at least so far as the so-called Kyoto School in Japanese philosophy is concerned. Some major works of Nishida Kitarō, Watsuji Tetsurō, Nishitani Keiji, and others have been translated into Western languages, and there is a small but visible community of scholars engaging themselves in the interpretation and elucidation of concepts like “absolute nothingness,” “place,” and “climate.” Since in the West this is the only visible form of engagement with Japanese philosophy, it is readily identified with the Kyoto School. One of the strengths of this book is to point to the one-sidedness of this view (p. 35). Philosophy in Japan is far richer and more diverse than some Westerners might think.
To give an overview of this richness and diversity, the editors have collaborated with younger Japanese philosophers, who contributed to the second part of the book with chapters on selected topics like empiricism (Toda Takefumi), German idealism (Uchida Hiroaki), phenomenology (Kajitani Shinji), existentialism (Matsumoto Keijirō), and analytical philosophy (Yamaguchi Shō). Descriptive in style, each of these very informative chapters is complemented by an extensive bibliography. No historiographical account of modern philosophy in Japan can omit any of these topics, but one misses a chapter on how Japanese philosophers received postmodernism and the poststructuralist movement. Also, philosophy of history (represented best by Noe Keiichi and Kashima Tōru) is absent. It lies in the very nature of any historiographical endeavor that it cannot be all-encompassing, and the editors are well aware of this problem (p. 35). However, the influence that Lyotard, Derrida, and other postmodern/poststructuralist thinkers have exerted on philosophy in Japan as well as its philosophical debates on history and narratology, which are ongoing since the late 1980s, are too important to be left out completely.
A similar objection could be made with regard to the third part of the book. To be sure, the chapters on social philosophy (Abe Akira), environmental ethics (Abe Hiroshi), and philosophy of body (Steineck) are helpful inasmuch as they provide comprehensive overviews on how these problems are discussed in Japan. One only wonders why the recently prominent strand of clinical philosophy (Shimizu [End Page 1294]Tetsurō, Nakaoka Narifumi, and Washida Kiyokazu) is not mentioned. This question arises in particular as Japanese philosophers are at the very forefront of international research in clinical philosophy. I am sure the editors had good reasons for making their choices. Still, it would have been helpful if they had made them explicit.
These few reservations...