- Japanese Philosophy in the Making 1: Crossing Paths with Nishida by John C. Maraldo
Japanese Philosophy in the Making 1: Crossing Paths with Nishida, by John C. Maraldo, is the first of three volumes collecting his essays in Japanese philosophy. This volume, which is divided into two sections, gathers together thirteen essays reflecting on the thought of Nishida Kitarō. The first section, “Pathways to Nishida,” is comprised of three essays clarifying some of the metatheoretical, intellectual and scholarly contexts around the study of Nishida’s thought. The remaining essays represent “Pathways Through Nishida,” which engage Nishida’s philosophy from a variety of analytic, thematic, and comparative perspectives. These pathways are genuinely penetrating and unfold around a handful of fundamental themes: world, history, self-awareness, and nothingness. Moreover, the movement along these pathways is hermeneutical and sensitive. Maraldo consistently draws the reader into the nearness of Nishida’s thought by carefully attending to the motivations, concerns, and tensions soliciting its advance, all in the context of excellent critical questions that open us unto these pathways. Ultimately, this section might be better described as pathways into, rather than through, Nishida.
Essays seven through ten stand out as especially strong and interesting. The seventh essay, “Enaction in Cognitive Science and Nishida’s Turn of Intuition into Action,” situates Nishida’s notion of kōiteki chokkan (行為的直観) in relation to enactivism, a contemporary challenge to classical cognitive science developed by Francisco Varela and Evan Thompson. This encounter provides the context in which Maraldo argues for translating kōiteki chokkan as “enactive intuition.” I think this translation is spot on for precisely the reason Maraldo provides, namely, that it foregrounds the reciprocal determination of subject and world at the core of Nishida’s conception.
Beyond arguing for this translation, Maraldo places Nishida’s enactive intuition in conversation with enactivism so as “to interpret it and test its relevance for contemporary accounts of cognition” (p. 202). This conversation culminates in a “mutual critique.” From the side of enactivism, Maraldo holds that two ambiguities are revealed in Nishida’s thought: the first concerns the scope of enactive intuition, while the second concerns a tension between the metaphors [End Page 1] of immersion and interaction. From Nishida’s side, the author raises critical questions about two ambiguities in enactive theory: an ambiguity concerning the nature of agency and consciousness, and an ambiguity about what is meant by talk of the “selfless self.” Maraldo’s treatment of these ambiguities is thoughtful, but I am not convinced they are so problematic. The ambiguity between immersion and interaction presents us with a false dichotomy, because these metaphors express different descriptive standpoints. The language of immersion prioritizes the first-person phenomenology of enactive intuition in “flow,” while the language of interaction speaks from the third-person perspective and refers to the causal and normative mechanisms of enactive intuition. This distinction is also relevant to the author’s concern about scope, since even our most dualistic modes of involvement, phenomenologically speaking, have enactive intuition in the background qua ongoing bodily coordination, which makes possible the foregrounded activity being reflectively determined by a subject.
The author’s critical worries about enactivism converge upon the question of whether it permits a form of world transcendence. According to Maraldo, “Cognitive science recognizes no such transcendence that would allow for self-knowledge or knowledge of the world” (p. 222). I believe this is mistaken. Indeed, at the center of enaction is the notion of autopoiesis, or a conception of biological autonomy rooted in self-organization wherein the organism transcends the world by virtue of producing the conditions sustaining its difference from equilibrium. It is on this fundamental footing, which stretches back to Varela’s early work with Humberto Maturana in the biology of cognition, that enactivism constructs its story about cognition. Thus, while he opens this essay with a focus on poiesis qua Nishida, Maraldo misses an opportunity here to explicate the significance of autopoiesis for enactivism, which would have provided the resources...