- La Détermination du Néant Marquée par L’autoéveil by NISHIDA Kitarō
With this significant work from 1932, The Self-Conscious Determination of Nothingness (Mu no Jikakuteki Gentei 無の自覚的限定 ), we have the third important book of Nishida’s period of philosophical maturity. Here, Nishida has moved beyond the unconvincing essays of the previous periods, such as the ingenuous psychologism of A Study of Good or the epistemological theorization of the hesitant neo-Kantian period (from Intuition and Reflection in Self-Consciousness to Problems of Consciousness). Nishida is now developing the consequences of his major philosophical notion, the “logic of place” (basho no ronri 場所の論理). Thanks to the translation work of Jacynthe Tremblay, the whole production of this decisive period is now accessible in a Western language.
In this book, the logic of place is fully developed and Nishida can finally expand it with ease. The notion of place (basho 場所) was first introduced in the 1927 collection entitled From that Which Acts to That Which Sees (Hataraku Mono Kara Miru Mono He 働くものから見るものへ), where it was presented as a transcendental site of consciousness within which acts or objects of consciousness can appear, or “take place”. In the following collection, 1930’s The Self-Conscious System of Universals (Ippansha no Jikakuteki Taikei--般者の自覚的体系), the structure of place was developed into a three-tiered system: the place of being, which contains the world of nature; the place of oppositional nothingness, which contains the world of consciousness; and the place of absolute nothingness, which contains the intelligible world.
Now, in this third collection of work from Nishida’s period of philosophical maturity, the central notion of nothingness is self-consciously “determined” (i.e., “defined”): we can thus observe the paradoxical process where that which does not exist, nothingness, is defining itself self-consciously. But Nishida doesn’t understand nothingness as a mere nothing: he conceives it as the essence of the mind, that which is beyond individual consciousness, and where consciousness as well as the self come to be. It is therefore the very place of being. It is the place of emergence of self-consciousness (jikaku 自覚: self-awareness [End Page 1] or self-awakening), before any distinction between subject and object. It is the invisibility from which seeing emerges and, overcoming the oppositional stage where the self cannot see itself, it can “see itself in itself.” The arising of self-awakening is the very dynamic of the determination of nothingness. Determination can be applied to facts, knowledge, judgements, abstract universals, or concrete individuals. By superimposing species and genus, nothingness can thus be developed in layers and can also be developed in the direction of the noesis (determining) as well as the noema (determined). Finally, it can be developed in a reciprocal (dialectical) determination of the individual and its environment, which includes the relation between the I and the Thou. This seems to bring Nishida’s transcendental logic of place close to Watsuji’s relational hermeneutics of the environment (which is altogether bodily, cultural, and historical). In any case, the determination of nothingness remains the most encompassing of all these dimensions.
Nishida’s references, as usual, span the whole of the Western philosophical tradition: he refers to the Greeks (Plato and Aristotle) when summarizing the way the logic of place develops into a logic of the predicate, to German idealism (Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, and also Descartes and Maine de Biran) when delving deeper into the process of self-aware determination, to religious contemplatives (Eckhart and Plotin) when talking of the almost mystical notion of the eternal present, to Augustin when speculating on time, to Kant on free will, to Spinoza on love, etc. Referring to these authors helps one to understand where his system seems to be going. Otherwise, the reader might be confused by his tortuous argumentation, his repetitive logorrhea, and his unconclusive dissertations. What helps is the rigor with which Jacynthe Tremblay translates the text, trying to give more clarity to...