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date: 21 October 2021

Introduction: What Is Japanese Philosophy?

Abstract and Keywords

This introduction examines the meaning of “Japanese philosophy.” Rather than searching for an unchanging essence, it begins by looking at the ways this locution and its Japanese counterpart, Nihon tetsugaku, have been used in English and in Japanese. Furthermore, it engages in the critical and constructive project of suggesting why some usages are more problematic and others more compelling. Attention is given to the disputed question of whether some discourses of traditional Japanese “thought” should be called “philosophy,” as well as to the myriad and contested ways in which “philosophy” has been defined in the Western tradition. After discussing some generalizations that can be made about the nature of Japanese philosophy, the question of what it means to qualify a type of philosophy as “Japanese” is addressed. In the end, it is argued that “Japanese philosophy” is best understood as mainly a subset of “philosophy in Japan,” a subset which includes any rigorous thinking about fundamental issues that draws sufficiently and significantly on the intellectual, linguistic, cultural, religious, literary, and artistic sources of the porous and ever-developing Japanese tradition.

Keywords: Japanese philosophy, Japanese thought, Western philosophy, definition of philosophy, tetsugaku, Eurocentrism, non-Western philosophy, Asian philosophy, cross-cultural philosophy, comparative philosophy

What is Japanese philosophy? This is not just a difficult question to answer; the very question itself is questionable. Each part of it calls for careful consideration. First of all, what do we mean by asking: What is Japanese philosophy? Second, what is philosophy? That is to say, what is the genus “philosophy” of which Japanese philosophy would be a specific subset? And, finally, what makes a philosophy specifically Japanese? Our question thus contains in fact three questions: What does it mean to ask, what is Japanese philosophy? What is Japanese philosophy? And, what is Japanese philosophy? This introduction aims to provide an orientation to the subject matter of this volume by critically reflecting on these matters. It begins with the “What is” aspect, then proceeds to take up the “philosophy” aspect, and ends by addressing the “Japanese” aspect of our leading question. Yet, while our inquiry will advance roughly in this order, and while it will be helpful to bear in mind the distinctions between the three aspects of the question, we will also find them to be interconnected, such that we will often need to meander back and forth between them.

What Does It Mean to Ask: What Is Japanese Philosophy?

What does it mean to ask after the definition of something, or to define something, such as Japanese philosophy? Is there a single thing called Japanese philosophy with a definite and definable essence? Is there one universally and eternally correct answer to this question? What ontology and view of language are implied in the assumption that there is a definite substance or fixed referent corresponding to such a locution? Are we already “speaking Greek” when we ask “what is” (ti esti) Japanese philosophy and look for (p. 2) a substantial essence (ousia) underlying all of its accidental manifestations? Is there a Platonic Form of Japanese philosophy?

Or, does “Japanese philosophy” mean many different things to many different people, such that we should ask rather: What are the various complementary and/or competing conceptions of Japanese philosophy? Following Wittgenstein’s suggestion that “the meaning of a word is its use in the language,”1 perhaps we should look at how this phrase has been used and describe the “family resemblances” among these usages. Yet, should we in fact merely seek to describe, from the presumed standpoint of an external observer, what “Japanese philosophy” means for Anglophones and what “Nihon tetsugaku” (日本哲学)2 means for Japanophones? Or, should we normatively prescribe as well as neutrally describe what is meant by these terms? I will argue that all of us who use the terms “philosophy,” “tetsugaku” (哲学), “Japanese philosophy,” and “Nihon tetsugaku” are more or less implicated in the ongoing historical process of semantic reiteration and revision of what they mean and that we should attempt to contribute to this process in a critically self-aware manner.3

In order to make informed contributions to this process of semantic reiteration and transformation, we need to be cognizant of how these terms have been and are being used by others. Let us therefore begin with some dictionary definitions that reflect how “philosophy” and “tetsugaku” are currently used in English and in Japanese. Webster’s online dictionary gives us three definitions for philosophy: “[1] the study of ideas about knowledge, truth, the nature and meaning of life, etc.; [2] a particular set of ideas about knowledge, truth, the nature and meaning of life, etc.; [3] a set of ideas about how to do something or how to live.”4 Although “tetsugaku” is not used in colloquial Japanese as frequently as is “philosophy” in colloquial English, these definitions roughly correspond to some contemporary Japanese usages of tetsugaku. A standard (p. 3) Japanese dictionary (Kōjien) gives two definitions of tetsugaku.5 The second definition given reads (in translation): “In popular usage, [tetsugaku means] a view of life and the world acquired by means of accumulated experience and so forth. Also, [it means] a fundamental way of thinking that pervades the entirety of something.” The first definition given, however, begins by stating that tetsugaku is a translation of the English word “philosophy,” which itself derives from the ancient Greek word philosophia, meaning “love of wisdom.” It goes on to explain how, in the late nineteenth century, Nishi Amane translated this Western term first as kitetsugaku (希哲学, literally “the study that aspires to wisdom”), then in abbreviated form as tetsugaku (“the study of wisdom”).6 Next, the entry briefly describes the Western history of the term, which ostensibly at first had a more encompassing sense of intellectual inquiry, yet in modern times came to have the more specific sense of an inquiry into the foundations of the sciences and the fundamental principles of the world and human life. In fact, philosophia already had this sense for Aristotle. In any case, the Kōjien’s definition of tetsugaku is generally consistent with (p. 4) Webster’s definition of “philosophy,” other than the fact that the English dictionary did not find it necessary to indicate, much less forefront, the cultural-historical origin of the term.

This similarity and difference is unsurprising given that the term tetsugaku is a neologism in Japanese, fashioned by Nishi Amane as a translation of the Western term “philosophy.”7 Yet, the fact that Nishi and others also used Neo-Confucian terms such as “rigaku” (理学, literally “the study of principles”) to translate “philosophy” raises the crucial and still controversial question: Was there “philosophy” in Japan prior to the importation of Western philosophy by Nishi and others in the late nineteenth century? One of modern Japan’s foremost Indologists and comparative philosophers, Nakamura Hajime, rejects the prevalent tendency to assume that “Japanese philosophy . . . started with the Meiji Restoration [in 1868] and with the entrance of Western culture into Japan.” He claims that “even prior to the Meiji Restoration there was a long history of philosophy in Japan.”8

However, the answer to the question of whether there was “philosophy” in premodern (in the sense of pre-Meiji9) Japan depends, of course, on what definition of philosophy one is using. H. Gene Blocker and Christopher L. Starling distinguish between broad and narrow senses of philosophy. What they call the broad sense of philosophy is an implicit or explicit “expression of cultural values,” such that every culture has its philosophy or philosophies. Yet while this sense of the term corresponds to Webster’s second and third definitions, it does not correspond to the “narrow” or “technical” sense used by academic philosophers today, defined by Blocker and Starling as “a critical, reflective, rational, and systematic approach to questions of a very general interest.”10 Did the (p. 5) Japanese tradition contain anything corresponding to this narrow sense of philosophy before importing it from the West in the late nineteenth century?

Nakae Chōmin famously declared in 1901 that, “from ancient times to the present, there has been no philosophy in Japan.”11 However, Blocker and Starling reject Nakae’s claim for the following reasons. First of all, Nakae, who in Japan was dubbed “the Eastern Rousseau,” had a particular conception of philosophy—an atheistic materialism with a sociopolitical Enlightenment agenda—and this “specific ideal of philosophy leads him to an assertion that, taken as a general statement, is false.”12 Second, they reject the criticism made by Nakae and others that Japanese intellectuals over the centuries have only “imported and imitated” first Chinese and, more recently, Western philosophies. They point out that the Japanese adoption of foreign philosophies has always involved critical and creative adaptation. “Japanese Buddhism and Japanese Confucianism differed from their antecedents on account of the initial selection of what to assimilate, specific local interpretations of what was imported, and all the subsequent refashioning of these philosophies within Japan itself.”13

The same can be said of modern Japanese receptions of Western philosophies. In fact, the same can be said of “German philosophy” or “French philosophy,” which do not have autochthonous origins but rather developed through their reception of ancient Greek and medieval Latin philosophy. For that matter, the same could be said of ancient Greek philosophy. As Nietzsche wrote: “Nothing would be sillier than to claim an autochthonous development for the Greeks. On the contrary, they invariably absorbed other living cultures,” especially, he acknowledges, those of “the Orient.” If we admire the achievements of the Greeks, it should be because—as Nietzsche puts it—“they knew how to pick up the spear and throw it onward from the point where others had left it.”14 This statement by Nietzsche on the Greeks can be compared to a statement made in 1938 by Nishida Kitarō, whom many consider to be the most important progenitor of modern Japanese philosophy. Nishida claimed that Japan has a “musical culture,” without fixed form, whose excellence lies, not in creating from scratch, but rather in “taking in foreign cultures as they are and transforming itself” by way of synthesis.15

A few years earlier, in 1935, Watsuji Tetsurō wrote of the “layers” (jūsō 重層) of Japanese culture. According to him, it is precisely the contemporaneous coexistence (p. 6) of such cultural layers, rather than an exclusive replacement of one with another, that characterizes Japanese culture.16 In his introduction to Nihon shisōshi gairon (An Overview of the History of Japanese Thought), without mentioning Nishida or Watsuji, Ishida Ichirō also speaks of the “amazing power of cultural synthesis” possessed by the Japanese. He lists, as the three distinctive characteristics of the history of Japanese thought (1) its preservation of traditional culture; (2) its attempt to compensate for its relatively late development by appropriating foreign cultures, namely first from China and more recently from Europe and the United States; and (3) the formation of a “two layered structure” wherein the older traditional culture is the platform on which the newer foreign culture is introduced and wherein they mutually transform one another such that a distinctive culture is produced.17 Whereas Watsuji stresses the coexistence of cultural layers, Ishida stresses their mutual transformation. One can easily find examples of both just by walking down the street in Japan and seeing, next door to one another, a Family Mart konbini (a very Japanese version of an American convenience store) and a Shintō shrine that hasn’t changed much over the centuries.

Japan is certainly not the only culture to have developed by means of cultural synthesis. All European cultures, for example, developed on the basis of a hybridization of radically different Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures, as well as through the subsequent blending of this synthesis with the indigenous cultures of what became the various European nations. Japan does differ, relatively speaking, with regard to the extent to which earlier and later historical layers are allowed to contemporaneously coexist. This has meant, for example, that some modern Japanese philosophers, in particular some associated with the Kyoto School, could commute between modern Western style universities and still very traditional Zen monasteries. And this commuting has indeed allowed them to develop a distinctive type of Japanese philosophy of religion.18

Just as Japanese monastics and scholars in the past not only adopted but also adapted Chinese Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism, Japanese academics in modern times set about critically and creatively appropriating currents of Western philosophy. Kūkai, Dōgen, Shinran, and Nichiren were especially innovative Buddhist thinkers,19 just as Hayashi Razan, Yamaga Sokō, Itō Jinsai, and Ogyū Sorai developed significantly new interpretations of Confucianism.20 And all the modern Japanese philosophers treated in this volume were highly original thinkers, most of whom critically confronted as well as creatively drew on aspects of both Western and Eastern traditions of philosophical thinking.

(p. 7) Blocker and Starling make another crucial point with regard to what they call the broader and more narrow or technical senses of philosophy:

It is true that philosophy in the technical sense sets out to critique the ambient world view, that is, what we may call philosophy in the broad sense, pressing for justification, pointing out contradictions, demanding clarity in vague areas, and so on. But in doing so it also reflects the cultural preconceptions of its exponents and in that sense tends to sustain an already existing set of beliefs, values, and attitudes. Thus, philosophy in the narrow sense both critiques and reflects philosophy in the broad sense.21

In other words, philosophy as an expression of cultural values and philosophy as a critique of cultural values are inevitably intertwined. Not only are they “rarely independent,” as Blocker and Starling state; they are, in fact, at all times interdependent. Such, I contend, is the inexorable condition of human philosophizing, which always takes place between particular and universal as a particular approach to universality.

Was There Any Philosophy in Premodern Japan?

We have seen that, rather than looking for an eternally unchanging and homogeneous essence of Japanese philosophy, we need to ask: What was, is, and will be Japanese philosophy, and for whom? To begin with, in order to understand the contested meanings that the term “Japanese philosophy” has today, and in order to decide how we should contribute to the meanings it will have in the future, we need to ask: What was Japanese philosophy in the past? Yet, as we have seen, even this question is vexed, insofar as the existence of philosophy in Japan prior to its importation from the West has been frequently denied by Japanese as well as Western scholars.

In order to delve deeper into the question of whether there was any philosophy in premodern Japan—and, if so, what kind—let us very briefly sketch the intellectual history of Japan. Although the prehistory of human culture on the Japanese archipelago goes back thousands of years, recorded Japanese intellectual history begins with the importation of writing, along with Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism, from China (sometimes via Korea) beginning in the fifth century ce. Buddhism became the dominant philosophical and religious tradition by the Nara (710–784) period and stayed that way for roughly a millennium during the Heian (784–1185), Kamakura (1185–1333), and Muromachi (1336–1573) periods. From the seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries, during the Azuchi-Momoyama (1573–1603) and Edo or Tokugawa (1603–1868) periods, Confucian and Neo-Confucian schools of philosophy flourished with the support of (p. 8) the shogunate government. In reaction to the prominence of the “foreign” traditions of Buddhism and Confucianism, a renaissance study of ancient indigenous poetry and Shintō texts arose in the late eighteenth century. A century later, this National Learning or Native Studies (kokugaku 国学) exerted an influence on the rise of the ethnocentric ultranationalism that culminated in the Pacific War.

The first Christian missionaries, led by the Jesuit Francis Xavier, arrived in Japan in 1549. However, starting in 1587, this proselytizing and politically unsettling foreign faith was strictly forbidden by the shogunate government. By 1640, Christian converts had been brutally forced to apostatize or go underground as missionaries were expelled along with most merchants and other Westerners.22 For more than two centuries, Japan isolated itself in response to the threat of the kind of Western imperialism and colonization that was in fact taking place in the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia and around the world at the time. Only a small Dutch trading post on an artificial island near Nagasaki was kept open, allowing some Japanese scholars of “Dutch learning” (rangaku 蘭学) to study Western developments in such areas as technology and medicine during this period of relative “national isolation” (sakoku 鎖国). This isolationist period lasted until American warships forced the reopening of Japan to trade and international relations in 1853/54. In the wake of this event, the country of Japan, which had been divided into various fiefdoms, was reunited and the emperor was officially restored to power.

With the Meiji Restoration in 1868 began the “modern” history of Japan, during which Japan strove to build a modern nation-state capable of withstanding the threat of imperialism and colonization and, indeed, capable of competing with Western nations and itself becoming an imperial power and colonizer of Korea, Taiwan, and Manchuria (in northeast China) leading up to and continuing during the Pacific War. Together with its political travails during this modern period, including the caesura of defeat in 1945, the attempt that began in the Meiji period (1868–1912)—namely, to adopt and adapt the fruits of Western culture while at the same time preserving and developing its own traditional culture—pervades the history of modern Japan in the Taishō (1912–1926), Shōwa (1926–1989), and Heisei (1989–2019) periods.

With this historical sketch in mind, let us return to the question of philosophy. In the Meiji period, Japanese intellectuals ardently imported and appropriated Western fields of academic inquiry, including “philosophy.” Since the end of the nineteenth century, after an initial interest in French and British empiricism, positivism, utilitarianism, and liberal political philosophy had subsided, German philosophy from Kant through Heidegger became, and at least until recently has remained, the most influential Western tradition of philosophy in Japan.23 According to Itō Tomonobu, the standard view in (p. 9) Japan is that, “with regard to philosophy [tetsugaku], Japanese modernity begins with the reception of Western philosophy.”24 There may be reason to question the validity of this view, but it is unquestionably the standard—and usually unquestioned—view today in Japan. This was not always the case. During the Meiji period, significant debates took place over the question of whether the traditional (i.e., pre-Meiji) intellectual traditions of Japan could be considered to be “philosophy” (tetsugaku). Some Japanese philosophers in the Meiji period adopted Nakae Chōmin’s view that “from ancient times to the present, there has been no philosophy in Japan,” while others, most notably Inoue Tetsurō and Inoue Enryō, reconstructively presented Confucianism and Buddhism as “philosophy.”25

While the former view has prevailed in Japan, the latter has prevailed in China and Korea. The Chinese and Koreans adopted the translations of Western terms into sinographs (kanji 漢字) made by Japanese scholars in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including Nishi’s translation of “philosophy” as 哲学 (tetsugaku), pronounced “zhéxué” in Mandarin and “cheolhak” in Korean. Yet, in Chinese and Korean, zhéxué and cheolhak are used still today to refer not only to Western and Western-influenced discourses but also to traditional schools of Buddhist, Confucian, and Daoist thought. “Chinese philosophy” (Zhōngguó zhéxué 中国哲学) is a mainstay of many philosophy departments and publications in mainland China, including Hong Kong, as well as in Taiwan and Singapore. The situation is similar in Korea, where the philosophy department at Seoul National University teaches “Oriental philosophy” alongside “Western philosophy,” and where the phrase “Korean philosophy” (Hanguk cheolhak 韓國哲學) is used mainly to refer to traditional Confucian and Buddhist thought.26 (Analogous to the cases of China and Korea, in India, certain discourses of traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism are referred to as “philosophy” and are studied alongside Western ones in most philosophy departments.27)

In contrast not only to the uses of the “same term” in China and Korea, but also to the manner in which pre-Meiji discourses are often included in the category of “Japanese philosophy” in Europe and the United States, in contemporary Japan, tetsugaku is mainly used to refer to Western philosophy and to post-Meiji academic discourses in Japan that engage with the texts and ideas of Western philosophy. In contrast (p. 10) to many books published in English, German, and other Western languages with “Japanese Philosophy” or some such locution in their titles that treat both traditional (pre-Meiji) and modern (post-Meiji) discourses,28 books published in Japanese with “Nihon tetsugaku” (Japanese philosophy) in their titles generally treat only post-Meiji discourses.29

A telling example of the still Eurocentric conception of “philosophy” in Japan is the fact that in a 2010 issue of the journal Nihon no tetsugaku (Japanese Philosophy) devoted to the theme “What is philosophy?” (Tetsugaku to wa nanika), all five essays addressing the theme assume an Occidental definition of “philosophy” (tetsugaku).30 This journal is associated with the Department of the History of Japanese Philosophy at Kyoto University, which was created in 1995 as the first and still only one of its kind in Japan. The departmental website states: “The department makes as its primary focus of research the formation and development of Post-Meiji period Japanese Philosophy, within which Japanese thinkers encountered and deeply engaged Western Philosophy.”31 Although it also goes on to say “The department . . . also recognizes the great importance that should be attributed to the connection between the East-Asian tradition and Japanese Philosophy,” traditional East-Asian thought is notably not referred to as “philosophy.” As one of the first three students in the doctoral program of this department, I was in fact able to take seminars on Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō as well as on modern Japanese philosophers who explicitly draw on traditional Japanese, Chinese, and Buddhist texts. (p. 11) Yet, in my experience, the term tetsugaku was generally applied only to Western philosophy and its modern appropriations in places such as Japan and was generally not applied to pre-Meiji “thought” (shisō 思想) and “religion” (shūkyō 宗教)—even though, as I would annoyingly remind my colleagues, these terms are also translations of Western concepts and categories that should not be uncritically applied to pre-Meiji discourses.

In philosophy departments at Japanese universities, mainly what is taught is the history and contemporary discourses of Western philosophy. As in Western countries, Japanese and other Asian traditions of “thought” are generally studied in other departments.32 As in the West, in Japan what one typically means by “philosophy” (tetsugaku) is first and foremost “Western philosophy” (seiyōtetsugaku 西洋哲学).33 (p. 12) Sueki Fumihiko notes that, while the terms “Indian philosophy” (Indo-tetsugaku インド哲学) and “Chinese philosophy” (Chūgoku-tetsugaku 中国哲学) have been used in Japan, the “model” by which they are interpreted has been Western philosophy. Moreover, he notes that the trend lately has been to speak more “loosely” of “Indian thought” (Indo-shisō インド思想) and “Chinese thought” (Chūgoku-shisō 中国思想).34 In any case, Sueki agrees with the consensus in Japan that it is better to speak of pre-Meiji discourses in terms of a “history of thought” rather than a “history of philosophy,” arguing that tetsugaku begins in Japan through the creative appropriation of Western philosophy by Meiji scholars and that one significant difference between “tetsugaku” and “philosophy” is that the former is informed by Asian and in particular Japanese traditions as well as by Western traditions.35 Although this is a partially compelling way of thinking about post-Meiji Japanese tetsugaku, insofar as it allows us to mark continuities with as well as the departures from both Western philosophy and pre-Meiji “thought,” there is a wide variety of degrees in which the discourses of tetsugaku are “informed by Asian and in particular Japanese traditions” (later, I will draw a broad distinction between “Japanese philosophy” and “philosophy in Japan”).

While distinguishing between “philosophy in the narrow sense” and a more general sense of “thought” can sometimes be useful, it strikes me as problematic that, while scholars often note the Western and specifically Greek origins of “philosophy,” they do (p. 13) not attend to the fact that “thought” (translated as shisō), too, is originally a Western concept. The problem here is that it is a concept often applied more “loosely” to discourses that are viewed as lacking the “rigor” of “philosophy proper” or “philosophy in the strict sense.” For example, although one might have expected Derrida’s “deconstruction” of the “ethnocentric metaphysics” of Western “logocentrism”36 to enable and encourage an interest in and appreciation of non-Western traditions,37 at a conference in China Derrida himself repeated—with a reference to Hegel’s claims regarding the Greek origins of philosophy proper—the trope that “China does not have any philosophy, only thought.”38 In response to his perturbed hosts, Derrida went on to clarify that what he meant was that “Philosophy is related to some sort of particular history, some languages, and some ancient Greek invention . . . . It is something of European form.” Like Heidegger, we could say, Derrida is particularizing rather than universalizing Western philosophy. Nevertheless, in the “only thought” of his initial remark is ironically iterated an ignorant and arrogant claim that is often implicitly or explicitly made by the “ethnocentric metaphysics of logocentrism” that he himself seeks to deconstruct. The claim is that: From within my discourse of “philosophy” I can understand your discourse of “thought” (pensée) and rank it beneath my own; but your discourse has neither a name for, nor the capacity to understand, mine.39

Derrida’s remark would not have been as unwelcome in Japan. While an increasing number (even if perhaps still a minority) of Western philosophers have begun to recognize some traditional non-Western discourses as “philosophy,” the trend appears to be moving even further in the opposite direction in Japan: the terms “Indian philosophy” and “Chinese philosophy” are progressively being replaced by “Indian thought” and “Chinese thought.”40 Even when traditional Indian, Chinese, and Japanese schools of thought have been treated as specific areas of philosophical inquiry defined—that (p. 14) is to say, delimited—by their cultural-religious-linguistic moorings, when one speaks of “pure philosophy” (junsui tetsugaku 純粋哲学) in Japan, one means philosophy as it originated in ancient Greece and is practiced in the modern West as well as in modernized/Westernized countries, such as Japan, into which these sources and methods have been imported. Writing in 1969 for a then controversial collection entitled Nihon no tetsugaku (Japanese Philosophy), Hashimoto Mineo unequivocally asserts that “philosophy” originated in Greece and was imported to Japan in the Meiji period. While he acknowledges that “philosophy” can mean a “worldview” or “view of life,” insofar as it means “logical scholarly knowledge,” he claims that “ ‘thought’ first becomes ‘philosophy’ by means of ‘logic’ or ‘method’ and the intent to formulate a ‘system.’ ” And, Hashimoto goes on to say, “we must clearly acknowledge that the Japanese first attained philosophy as a scholarly discipline starting in the Meiji period.” “Theorists who claim that pre-Meiji Buddhism and Confucianism are philosophy,” he avers, “are ignoring or slighting the logical and scholarly aspect of philosophy.”41 Although not uncontested, this view—namely, the view that “philosophy” is a universal discourse that originated and matured in the West and was first imported to Japan in the Meiji period, a view that, as we have seen, was first expressed in Japan more than a half-century earlier by Nakae Chōmin—has prevailed.

Fujita Masakatsu suggests that the main reason Japanese scholars from Nakae Chōmin to present times have preferred to speak of pre-Meiji Japanese “thought” (shisō) rather than “philosophy” (tetsugaku) is that traditional Buddhist, Confucian, and other thinkers have been insufficiently critical vis-à-vis authoritative figures and texts in their respective traditions.42 However, not only has this distinctively European Enlightenment devaluation of “authority” and “tradition”—a devaluation which, we should note, can and has been used to disqualify or marginalize much of Medieval Western philosophy as well—been called into question by hermeneutical philosophers such as Gadamer,43 it is also not the case that there was no rigorous argumentation and debate in pre-Meiji Japan. Although they do not make a case for the existence of “philosophy” per se in pre-Meji Japan, a group of scholars of “the history of Japanese thought” led by Imai Jun and Ozawa Tomio do set out in their volume, Nihon shisō ronsō-shi (p. 15) (A History of Disputations in Japanese Thought), to debunk the stereotype that the traditional Japanese stress on “harmony” (wa 和) prevented pre-Meiji thinkers from engaging in rigorous intellectual contestation and argumentation.44

Moreover, there are different ways of debating views, some more confrontation and some more conciliatory. Thomas Kasulis contrasts “refutation” as the dominant mode of argumentation in the Western tradition with what he calls argument by “relegation” wherein “the preferred theory accepts intact a new or opposing theory but only by consigning it to a subordinate position within an enlarged version of itself.” “When we disagree in the relegation form of argument, I do not say that you are wrong. To the contrary, I agree that your position is correct although limited and I assert that my position includes yours in some way.”45 One finds examples of argument by relegation throughout the history of philosophical thinking in Japan, a classical pre-Meiji example being Kūkai’s theory of the ten mindsets (jūjūshinron 十住心論), which attempts to take into account “all philosophies known in Japan at the time, showing each to be included in, but subordinate to, the mindset of Shingon Buddhism.” A paradigmatic modern example is Nishida Kitarō’s theory of enveloping “places” (basho 場所). By thinking of the ultimate place in East Asian Buddhist terms of “the place of absolute nothingness” (zettai mu no basho 絶対無の場所), Nishida sought to “absorb western philosophies, accepting their truth, but showing them to be partial when compared with his own theory.”46 Kasulis notes that relegation is not simply conciliatory, since “we will indeed be competing over which position can relegate which.”47 Nevertheless, argument by relegation does seek to accommodate different perspectives rather than vanquish them.

Indeed, we need to question the manner in which—and the metaphors through which—we tend to understand not only different forms of argumentation but the practice of philosophy more generally. Sarah Mattice has drawn attention to the tendency in the Western tradition to understand this practice in metaphorical terms of “combat” between adversaries who are seeking to defeat one another by winning an argument.48 By contrast, A. S. Cua points out, disputation in early Chinese philosophy is “conducted in a context of common concern. It is a cooperative enterprise.” Contentiousness (Ch. zhēng 爭) is avoided, not merely because it brings about disharmony, but also because it “betrays the lack of concern with a matter of common interest.”49 When philosophers converse in a competitive rather than a cooperative spirit, victory can take precedence over veracity. The aim of the enterprise is no longer that of reaching a better understanding of the shared matter at issue, but rather that of “defeating” one’s “opponent” and (p. 16) being recognized by one’s peers as the “victor” of the debate. Drawing on Gadamer’s hermeneutics, cognitive linguists, and feminist philosophy as well as on classical Chinese philosophy, Mattice explores the difference it would make if we understood the philosophical endeavor in metaphorical terms of “play” or “aesthetic experience” rather than “combat.”50 To be sure, the case can be made that the “agonistic” approach to philosophy bequeathed to us by the ancient Greeks has borne much fruit and continues to have its advantages. The point is not to deny this, but rather to suggest that it may be complemented (not simply replaced) by East Asian approaches to philosophical thinking and dialogue that often stress collaboration over contestation or accommodation over elimination.

Philosophers can and should continue to discuss methodological and metaphilosophical questions such as the advantages and disadvantages of various metaphorical conceptions of the discipline, the nature of logical analysis and rational argumentation and their relation to hermeneutical reflection and phenomenological description, and the proper roles (or lack thereof) to be played by authority, tradition, faith, meditative experience and so on in the practice of philosophy. But surely one should not a priori exclude others, or even entire traditions, from this discussion merely because one does not find useful, or is not used to, their views on such methodological and metaphilosophical questions. The proper method and understanding of philosophy should, after all, be matters of ongoing philosophical discussion. It would thus be better to argue that a discourse about the nature of the self, the world, or how the self should live in the world is “bad philosophy” than to a priori exclude it from consideration, that is, from participation in the ideally worldwide field of philosophical contestation and cooperation by claiming that it is “not philosophy.”

Unfortunately, by confining the study of traditional Japanese discourses on recognizably philosophical topics to the separate discipline of “the history of Japanese thought” (Nihon shisō-shi 日本思想史), Japanese scholars and academic institutions have largely prevented these discourses from contributing to the (re)shaping of the discipline of “philosophy” (tetsugaku) in Japan. To this day, the discipline of philosophy in modern Japan remains oddly, yet obstinately, Eurocentric. Even when Japanese scholars do admit that other philosophical traditions exist in at least India and perhaps also in China, they tend to measure these by the yardstick of Western philosophy. A prominent example can be found in the entry for tetsugaku in the widely used Iwanami tetsugaku shisō jiten (Iwanami Dictionary of Philosophy and Thought), published in 1998. The entry is divided into two parts, the first dealing with Western philosophy and the second with Indian philosophy. There is no section for Chinese philosophy, much less one for Japanese philosophy. In the section on Western philosophy, Watanabe Jirō writes:

Of course, if we understand philosophy in a broad sense that covers various thoughts pertaining to “views of life” (Lebensanschauungen) and a “worldviews” (p. 17) (Weltanschauungen), then, to be sure, philosophy has been developed from ancient times in Asia too, namely in India, China, and Japan, in Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, and other currents of thought. However, in contemporary times it is undeniably the case that, in all countries of the world, the basic character of philosophy is understood to be the intellectual quest for a “logical foundation” of a unified and holistic view of life and the world, a quest that is carried out in the strictly logical manner that originated above all in Western philosophy.51

In the section on Indian philosophy, Marui Hiroshi introduces that tradition in terms of concepts that share some commonalities with, but also evince differences from, the Western term “philosophy” (namely darśana and ānvīkṣikī).

The Eurocentric, or indeed “Euromonopolistic” assumption adopted by most post-Meiji philosophers in Japan is that the Western philosophical tradition, and it alone, has transcended—or at least has self-consciously taken on what Husserl calls the “infinite task” of transcending—its cultural-linguistic particularities in its search for universal truth.52 While other traditions of intellectual inquiry can be relegated to this or that particular field of “area studies,” such as Asian Studies or Japanese Studies (Japanologie), Western philosophy is held to be a universal field of inquiry that cannot be confined to “Occidental studies.” Here, as elsewhere, Western arrogance problematically dovetails with Japanese deference. In philosophy departments, the self-colonizing mission of some Meiji intellectuals to “escape Asia and enter Europe” (datsu-a nyū-ō 脱亜入欧) lives on, and, along with it, the problem that Karl Löwith pointed out when he wrote that Japanese intellectuals “live as if on two levels [or floors, Stockwerken]: a lower, more fundamental one, on which they feel and think in a Japanese way; and a higher one, on which the European sciences [Wissenschaften] from Plato to Heidegger are lined up.”53 Unfortunately, during his five years in Japan, Löwith learned neither the Japanese language nor much about Japanese philosophy, and so, at the time, he knew little about the Kyoto School and other Japanese philosophers who were intensely working to bring Eastern and Western traditions into critical and creative dialogue with one another.

(p. 18) Dislodging Philosophical Eurocentrism and Euromonopolism

In the West, claims that there is no philosophy outside the Western tradition—claims, that is, of not just “philosophical Eurocentrism” but what I am calling “philosophical Euromonopolism”—more often than not simply betray an ignorance of other traditions.54 Is Dignāga’s and Dharmakīrti’s Buddhist logic any less rigorous than that of Aristotle or Aquinas? Are Fazang’s and Dōgen’s ruminations on the nature of being and time any less profound than those of Augustine, Bergson, or Heidegger? Are the ethical debates in China and across East Asia among Confucians, Mohists, Daoists, and Buddhists any less thoughtful and thought-provoking than debates in the Western tradition among proponents of virtue ethics, divine command theory, natural law theory, consequentialism, and deontological ethics? There are no doubt vast differences between various methods of investigation and argumentation, but we can also find analogous differences among Western philosophers such as Heraclitus, Epictetus, Kierkegaard, and Wittgenstein—and yet we don’t hesitate to call them all philosophers.

Most Japanese philosophers today continue to echo the more conservative Eurocentric and even Euromonopolistic of their Western colleagues in refusing to refer to any pre-Meiji Japanese discourses as philosophy. In the West, on the other hand, and especially in the United States, the presumption that “pure philosophy” can be found only in the Western tradition and its modern offshoots is becoming increasingly untenable. This is the case not only among postcolonial critics and among the growing (p. 19) number of philosophers who are trained in (or even just sufficiently exposed to) a non-Western tradition, but more widely still among those continental philosophers who are trained in hermeneutical, deconstructive, or genealogical approaches to the Western tradition, as well as among those analytic philosophers who have discovered or been made to recognize the rigorous argumentation to be found in non-Western traditions. Philosophical Euromonopolism is untenable not only because a complete transcendence of cultural-linguistic particularities is unachievable in the West or anywhere else, but also because other traditions, in their own manners, have self-critically and rigorously pursued universal truths and not merely cultural self-expression or doctrinal systematization.

In a provocative article published in 2016 in The New York Times, Jay Garfield (a specialist in Buddhist and comparative philosophy) and Bryan W. Van Norden (a specialist in Chinese and comparative philosophy) point out that “The vast majority of philosophy departments in the United States offer courses only on philosophy derived from Europe and the English-speaking world” and that “The profession as a whole remains resolutely Eurocentric,” perpetuating “the perception that philosophy departments are nothing but temples to the achievement of males of European descent.” “Our recommendation is straightforward,” they write: “Those who are comfortable with that perception should confirm it in good faith and defend it honestly . . . . We therefore suggest that any department that regularly offers courses only on Western philosophy should rename itself ‘Department of European and American Philosophy.’ ”55 In other words, if philosophy departments are going to continue to refuse to diversify and relegate the study of, for example, Asian philosophical traditions to Asian Studies departments, then Ameri-Eurocentric and especially Ameri-Euromonopolistic philosophy departments should confess to being themselves a field of area studies. This suggestion is certainly meant to be ironic since almost everyone would agree that to confine philosophy to a field of area studies would entail philosophical suicide. It would entail either an abandonment of the quest for universal truth (including the universal truth about which kinds of things are culturally relative), or the ignorant and arrogant claim that only the Western tradition has been interested in thoughtfully seeking truths whose validity transcends the boundaries of its own cultural tradition.

In response to an earlier reactionary retrenchment in the United States revolving around questions of diversifying our college curriculums, Martha Nussbaum argued against conservative critics of multicultural education such as Allan Bloom, who ignorantly asserted that “only in the Western nations, i.e. those influenced by Greek philosophy, is there some willingness to doubt the identification of the good with one’s own way.”56 In fact, this claim is not just ironic but indeed oxymoronic, in that (p. 20) by identifying the “good” capacity for self-critique exclusively with the Western tradition, Bloom demonstrates precisely the closed-minded conceit he attributes to others. Nussbaum, herself a renowned scholar of Greek and Roman philosophy, recognizes that “One of the errors that a diverse education can dispel is the false belief that one’s own tradition is the only one that is capable of self-criticism or universal aspiration.”57

Decisions regarding the bestowal of the honorific monikers “philosophy” and “philosopher” seems to have more to do with cultural chauvinism and the politics of academia than they do with the rigor of reasons. Just as “the acceptance of continental thought in the English-speaking world has, for the most part, taken place outside of philosophy departments”58 for reasons that have to do with how one particular tradition has tended to monopolize the way that the methods and canon of philosophy are defined vis-à-vis other academic disciplines, the treatment of non-Western philosophical traditions has often been relegated to fields such as Asian studies, religious studies, or comparative literature. Those who engage in the study and development of Japanese or other non-Western philosophies should respond to this situation, as Simon Critchley has done on behalf of continental philosophy, by calling for a robust philosophical pluralism that recognizes “that philosophy has more than one tradition and that assertions of philosophical exclusivism result, at best, in parochialism and, at worst, in intellectual imperialism.”59

In his article “Philosophy’s Paradoxical Parochialism: The Reinvention of Philosophy as Greek,” Robert Bernasconi points out that the dogma that “philosophy proper” begins in ancient Greece and was developed solely in the Western tradition—a dogma that still largely shapes our philosophy departments, curricula, and conference programs—was actually first formulated in the late eighteenth century, when, rather abruptly, it replaced the long-standing recognition that the ancient Greeks had drawn on Egyptian and other Eastern sources and that different yet recognizably philosophical thinking can be found in India, China, and elsewhere. “What is one to make,” Bernasconi provocatively asks, “of the apparent tension between the alleged universality of reason and the fact that its upholders are so intent on localizing its historical instantiation?” This is what he calls “the paradox of philosophy’s parochialism.”60 Elsewhere he writes:

It is necessary to expose the tension between, on the one hand, the belief in the universality of reason, truth, and philosophy, and, on the other hand, the parochialism, the specificity of the geographical location of the peoples whose philosophy is alone heard in the vast majority of European and North American philosophy departments.61

(p. 21) It could be added: Even were one to maintain that logic—understood as the set of fundamental rules or patterns of rational thinking and argumentation—is universal (which is itself a controversial claim that some philosophers in Japan and elsewhere would not uncritically accept62), it cannot be denied that the phenomenological and hermeneutical sources from which philosophical arguments necessarily draw their content are far more richly varied than those found in the West alone. Hence, the neglect or refusal to include non-Western cultures and traditions in the field of philosophy is an impoverishing omission as well as an illegitimate exclusion. At the very least, pre-Meiji “thought” should be understood as containing valuable sources for contemporary philosophical thinking not only in Japan, but in any country where philosophers are interested in moving beyond the Ameri-Eurocentric parochialism that ironically continues to plague our conceptions of philosophy as well as our philosophy departments, societies, and publication venues.

If I myself used and encouraged the use of “thought” (or the perhaps conciliatory term “philosophical thought”) in places in this Handbook, it is because I wanted to include a wide range of “sources of philosophy” without committing to referring to all these sources—for example, the Kojiki (see Chapter 2) or Bashō’s comments on poetry (see Chapter 33)—as themselves philosophy. Yet, while I wish to reopen rather than foreclose discussion of the distinction between “thought” and “philosophy,” I am inclined to think that we should let at least some discourses of pre-Meiji “thought”—for example, those of Kūkai (see Chapter 5) or Ogyū Sorai (see Chapter 13)—challenge and potentially even contribute to a transformation of our definition of “philosophy.”

(p. 22) At the same time, we need to be wary of patronizingly projecting our understanding of philosophy on others. Among the scholars who do speak of pre-Meiji “philosophy,” some do so in the still Eurocentric manner of searching for parallels to Western philosophy.63 One can, no doubt, abstract the elements of “logical reasoning” from out of the “religious” context of Buddhist texts. One can show that “even the Japanese” wrote many commentaries on the “pure philosophical reasoning” found in the Buddhist logic of causality (Sk. hetu-vidya; Jp. immyō 因明). But one has already begged all the interesting questions when one begins by stating “it makes little sense to speak of philosophy if one does not distinguish it from mythos, religion, and theology,” and when one preemptively defines “religion” as a “mythical” “belief in God.”64 If its concepts and practices are from the start reductively translated into Western ones, Japanese Buddhism cannot help but appear as a quasi-religion with a quasi-philosophy. In the present age of (the criticism of) Eurocentrism, it is surely “necessary to rethink the terms of ‘religion,’ ‘philosophy,’ as well as the relation of ‘religion and philosophy,’ ”65 especially when explicating a non-Western tradition.66

Some scholars attempt to overcome Ameri-Eurocentrism by looking for universal patterns of philosophical thinking in non-Western and Western traditions alike. Nakamura Hajime even claims that “Japanese philosophers grappled with the same kinds of problems as did philosophers in the West, in India, and in China, and the history of Japanese philosophical thought follows much the same course of development (p. 23) as that found elsewhere.”67 By contrast, the chapters in the present volume frequently attend to the ways in which Japanese philosophies challenge our accustomed understanding of the methods and aims, as well as the content of philosophy, while, at the same time, they are careful to avoid a pendulum swing into a hardened relativism that precludes not only any quest for universal truth but even any meaningful dialogue and mutual exchange.

What Is Western Philosophy?

By questioning what it means to ask “What is Japanese philosophy?” we have come to see that it makes little sense to look for an unchanging universal essence and more sense to examine how the phrases “Japanese philosophy” and “Nihon tetsugaku” have been and are being used. This in turn enables us to participate in the determination of how these phrases will be used in the future. This enterprise can hardly be restricted to a narrow field of area studies since asking “What is Japanese philosophy?” requires that we address the broader question “What is philosophy?” Let us delve still deeper into this second aspect of our leading question.

When judgments are made concerning whether there was philosophy in pre-Meiji Japan or in other places and times, it is important to clarify exactly what definition of philosophy is being explicitly or implicitly presupposed. The simple answer is that it tends to be Western philosophy; that is, philosophy as it has been conceived of and practiced in the Western tradition. But is there a univocal definition of “philosophy” in the Western tradition? In fact, the meanings and methods of “philosophy” have been discussed, disputed, and repeatedly redefined throughout the Western tradition from the ancient Greeks to recent proponents of the contending contemporary schools of analytic, pragmatist, continental (including phenomenological, hermeneutical, deconstructive, Neo-Marxist, feminist, etc.), and other modes of philosophizing.68 (p. 24) Heidegger,69 Deleuze and Guattari,70 and other recent philosophers have written books and articles on the question “What is philosophy?” and, as with other central questions of philosophy, there is little agreement among them.71 Some stress the clarity and rigor of (p. 25) linguistic analysis and logical argumentation; others the depth and richness of phenomenological insight and description; others a hermeneutical, deconstructive, or genealogical engagement with traditional texts and their historical effects on the present; and still others the power dynamics or pragmatic potentials involved in all of the above. Often proponents of one approach to philosophy accuse proponents of other approaches of deviating from the true path of philosophy. Both analytic and continental philosophers tend to trace their lineages to Kant, yet they disagree on how to read him and on the sense of his philosophical legacy.72 A range of Western philosophers in the latter half of the twentieth century claimed that philosophy had come to an end, while others claimed that it was undergoing a transformation; yet there was little agreement on precisely what either of these claims mean.73 Perhaps we might at least be able to get proponents of the various streams and schools of Western philosophy to agree that it is today, more than ever, necessary for philosophers to address the meta-philosophical question regarding the nature of philosophy.74

(p. 26) It should be stressed that each of the three main streams of contemporary Western philosophy—analytic, continental, and pragmatist—is itself quite diverse, including divisions regarding the very nature and purpose of philosophy. H. O. Mounce argues that there are two essentially different pragmatisms, one stemming from Peirce’s realism and the other getting its start in James’s misunderstanding of Peirce and reaching its apex in Rorty’s anti-realism.75 While analytic and continental philosophers often seem certain in their metaphilosophical pronouncements that the other camp is not really doing philosophy, or at least not doing it properly, there is little agreement within each camp about the topics, methods, and aims of philosophy. Regarding analytic philosophy, Fraser MacBride writes:

It doesn’t have a subject matter to call its own . . . . And despite its name, analytic philosophy has no distinctive method either. Not all analytic philosophers commit themselves to a programe of analysis, whether of language or thought, and even if they do what they have in mind to do is often very different. Some analytic philosophers make it their business to analyse words and phrases of the languages we already speak whilst others dedicate themselves to inventing new languages that improve upon the old ones.76

In Twentieth-Century Analytic Philosophy, Avrum Stroll writes: “Many scholars would agree with [Hans] Sluga that there is no single feature that characterizes the activities of all those commonly known as analytic philosophers.”77 Stroll does note, however, that in addition to a widely shared concern with articulating the meaning of certain concepts (such as “knowledge” and “justification”), one frequently finds an espousal of “scientism”—“the doctrine that only the methods of the natural sciences give rise to knowledge”—among analytic philosophers, including those who “hold (p. 27) that philosophy should deal with normative or valuative questions, as opposed to science, which is a wholly descriptive, fact-finding activity.”78 Joseph Margolis claims that over the past century “analytic philosophy has been engaged in testing . . . the limits of every form of scientism,” and, in his view, scientism has consistently failed the test.79 Of course, there are a number of prominent analytic philosophers who reject scientism, including Wittgenstein, Moore, Gilbert Ryle, Bernard Williams, and Thomas Nagel.80

In his introduction to A Companion to Continental Philosophy, Simon Critchley admits that “continental philosophy is a highly eclectic and disparate set of intellectual currents that could hardly be said to amount to a unified tradition.”81 Nevertheless, he does attempt to delineate some common views of philosophy shared by most continental philosophers (including, of course, those working in the United States and elsewhere), such as “the recognition of the essential historicity of philosophy (and philosophers)” and an engagement in a transformative practice of critique.82 Critchley suggests that continental philosophy’s “most salient and dramatic difference from analytic philosophy” is its “anti-scientism,” by which he means “the dual belief that (i) the procedures of the natural sciences cannot and, moreover, should not provide a model for philosophical method and (ii) that the natural sciences do not provide our primary or most significant access to the world.”83 Critchley concedes that at times continental philosophy’s aversion to reductive scientism leads it to run the risk of “obscurantism,” and he writes that “In my view, the two poles that are to be avoided in philosophy are scientism and obscurantism.”84 Many (certainly almost all continental) philosophers would agree, yet those (mostly analytic) philosophers who embrace scientism obviously would not.85 It should be pointed out that, recently, a number of philosophers working out of continental traditions have called for an end to continental philosophy’s (p. 28) long-standing antipathy to naturalism. While still warning against falling into a reductive scientism or naïve realism, some have sought to develop a “speculative realism” or “transcendental materialism” that hinges in large part on taking seriously developments in the sciences.86

In short, the myriad topics, methods, and styles of doing philosophy that get facilely lumped together into the two supposedly antagonistic and incommensurable camps of analytic philosophy and continental philosophy are too varied and too overlapping to sustain any simplistic binary opposition. Dan Zahavi compellingly concludes that

it is a mistake to carve up the philosophical landscape into two distinct (and incommensurable) traditions. The mistake is both one of oversimplification and reification. There are far more than two traditions (let us not forget the existence of Asian philosophical traditions) and, when it comes to analytical philosophy and continental philosophy neither (set of) tradition(s) is monolithic.87

Beyond Modern Euromonopolistic Philosophy

In fact, Asian philosophical traditions are not only frequently forgotten, they also have often been intentionally excluded. Despite the many deep disagreements among modern and contemporary analytic, continental, and pragmatic philosophers regarding the nature and purpose of philosophy, they are often in agreement that philosophy is a unique legacy of the ancient Greeks. Yet even this would-be Pax Philosophica is disturbed by a number of factors, beginning with the fact that the solely Greek origins of Western philosophy have been contested by scholars who emphasize ancient Greece’s intellectual indebtedness to Egypt, Persia, and India. For example, Pythagoras, who is (p. 29) credited with the invention of the word philosophia, spent time in Egypt and Babylonia, where he evidently learned and adopted the Indian doctrines of reincarnation and vegetarianism. We need to bear in mind that Greek philosophy was not born in Athens but rather in the intensely cross-cultural setting of the Greek colonies in Asia Minor. Thomas McEvilley demonstrates that the “period of unimpeded contact [with India] through the medium of Persia lasted approximately from 545 till 400,” that is, precisely during the time of the development of pre-Socratic philosophy. Decades of meticulous research leads him to conclude that “there is a relationship between early Greek philosophy and early Indian philosophy as clear as that between, say, early Greek sculpture and Egyptian sculpture.”88

Despite what many have been taught—and what many still teach—in their introductory philosophy courses, the doctrine of the exclusively Greek origins of philosophy is, in fact, a fairly recent convention. Franz Martin Wimmer and Peter Park have thoroughly documented how it was only “in the late eighteenth century that historians of philosophy began to claim a Greek beginning for philosophy” and “to deny that African and Asian peoples were philosophical.”89 Moreover, Park and Bernasconi have convincingly argued that this formation of an exclusionary definition and canon of philosophy was to a significant degree driven by ethnocentric and racist motives.90 To be sure, an ethnocentric view of the exclusively Greek origin of philosophy can be traced back at least to Diogenes Laertius (3rd century ce), who opens his influential Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers with the claim: “There are some who say that the study of philosophy had its beginning among the barbarians . . . . These authors forget that the achievements which they attribute to the barbarians belong to the Greeks, with whom not merely philosophy but the human race [genos anthrōpōn] itself began.”91 In the twentieth century, we find Levinas supplementing this astonishingly ethnocentric anthropological claim with the equally shocking statement: “I often say, although it is a dangerous thing to say publically, that humanity consists of the Bible and the Greeks. All the rest can be translated: all the rest—all the exotic—is dance.”92 Levinas, the great thinker of ethical openness to the other, is appallingly dismissive of traditions other than those of the Bible and the Greeks and even of the humanity of the adherents to those traditions.

(p. 30) European philosophers did not always hold such Eurocentric, much less Euromonopolistic views of philosophy. From the French philosophes to Leibniz and Wolf, for example, many were intensely interested in “Chinese philosophy,” just as Schelling and Schopenhauer were in “Indian philosophy.”93 Johann Jakob Brucker was the first modern scholar to attempt to write a comprehensive account of the history of philosophy. Both the German version (1731–1736) and the Latin version (1742–1744) of his multivolume history included coverage of the “philosophies” of, among others, the Hebrews, Chaldeans, Persians, Indians, Arabs, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Moors, Celts, Chinese, Japanese, and Iroquois as well as the Greeks, Romans, and later Europeans.94 Indeed, prior to the last decade of the eighteenth century, the “opinion of most early modern historians of philosophy (including the ones who imitated Diogenes) was that philosophy emerged first in the Orient.”95 This view was still held in the early nineteenth century by prominent philosophers such as Friedrich Ast, who “designated Indian philosophy as the primeval philosophy (Urphilosophie), placing it in the first major period of history along with the philosophies of the Chinese, Tibetans, Chaldeans, Persians, and Egyptians,” relegating Greek philosophy to the second period of the history of philosophy.96

Park traces the turn to what I am calling the Euromonopolistic conception of philosophy back to a now obscure German scholar, Christoph Meiners (1747–1810).97 The “racist arguments of this half-forgotten anthropological writer” were developed in a “racist feedback loop” with the anthropological writings of Kant and later adopted by Hegel. As a result, the now forgotten writings of Meiners can be said to “lay at the origin of the exclusion of Africa and Asia from modern histories of philosophy.”98 Up to the end of the eighteenth century, histories of philosophy generally still treated non-European traditions under the rubric of philosophia barbarica and philosophia exotica. In the wake of Kant’s claim that “Philosophy is not to be found in the whole of the Orient,” along with his shockingly racist reasons for thinking that only the European “race of the whites” is capable of philosophy,99 it was the Kantian historians of philosophy Dieterich Tiedemann (in 1791) and Wilhelm Gottlieb Tennemann (in 1798) who first simply eliminated a discussion of non-Western traditions from their accounts (p. 31) so as to develop not merely a Eurocentric but, as Wimmer puts it, a “Euroequating” (euräqualistische) history and definition of philosophy.100

Although it is being increasingly challenged, this Euroequating or Euromonopolistic conception of philosophy and the history of philosophy remains, even today, the dominant paradigm in the Western academy.101 The dominance of this Euromonopolistic paradigm is generally maintained by means of either a rhetoric of dismissive tropes or a sigetics of silent omission. Ironically, in the long wake of the European Expansion, this Euromonopolistic paradigm has been adopted by many non-Western—including most Japanese—philosophers themselves. While we should not discount the power of ideas, we should also not naïvely overlook the sociological forces of cultural colonization at work in this process of philosophical globalization qua Westernization.102

In this regard, it is important to note the time period when the Japanese imported Western philosophy. The end of the nineteenth century was perhaps the zenith of philosophical Euromonopolism in Europe. If the Japanese had imported Western philosophy a century earlier or a century later, they would have been much less likely to adopt Nakae Chōmin’s 1901 claim that “from ancient times to the present, there has been no philosophy in Japan,” since at the end of the eighteenth century most Western philosophers recognized the existence of pre-Meiji “Japanese philosophy,” as do an increasing number of Western philosophers today.

Even during the two centuries in which philosophical Euromonopolism was the norm, some Western as well as non-Western philosophers were able to think outside the Euromonopolistic box.103 A noteworthy example from the early twentieth century is Georg Misch’s Der Weg in die Philosophie, first published in 1926. A substantially revised and expanded English version of the first part of this book appeared in 1951 under the title The Dawn of Philosophy: A Philosophical Primer. According to Misch, a student and son-in-law of Dilthey, philosophy originates precisely in the experience of breaking through the cultural assumptions that congeal to form what he (p. 32) calls, borrowing a term from Husserl, “the natural attitude.” Misch uses this term to indicate the meaning-bestowing and value-laden worldview that we unquestioningly assume to be “natural” and in which we “go about our business and pursue our aims” without reflecting on the horizonal limits that structure those activities.104 As examples of such philosophical breakthroughs, Misch begins his book with citations from the Zhuangzi, the life of the Buddha, Spinoza, and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Helping break the mold of more than a century of avowedly or unquestioningly Eurocentric or Euromonopolistic philosophy, Misch writes: “The assumption that Greek-born philosophy was the ‘natural’ one, that the European way of philosophizing was the logically necessary way, betrayed that sort of self-confidence which comes from narrowness of vision.”105

Moreover, as I have been arguing, there is no single unequivocal “European way of philosophizing.” Even were one to stubbornly maintain that philosophy originated exclusively in ancient Greece and developed solely within the Western tradition, the definition of the philosophical endeavor that the ancient Greeks are said to have bequeathed to the Western tradition has itself long been contested within this tradition. Writing at the start of the twentieth century, in a treatise titled The Essence of Philosophy (Das Wesen der Philosophie), Dilthey commented that “The term ‘philosophy’ or ‘philosophical’ has so many meanings according to time and place . . . that it can seem that the different times have attached the fine word formulated by the Greeks, philosophy, onto always different intellectual images.”106 Is there a unifying thread to all of Western philosophy? Dilthey suggests that the answer to this question is no. “There are philosophies, but not philosophy”; there is no system, but only various systems of philosophy, each with “a different content and compass.”107

Indeed, even in ancient Greece, “philosophy” never had a univocal definition. The fifth-century commentator Ammonius, in his attempt to synthesize Platonic and Aristotelian conceptions of the discipline, could whittle the definitions of philosophy down to no fewer than six: “knowledge of being as being” (see Aristotle, Metaphysics IV.1–3), “knowledge of what is divine and what is human,” “becoming like God, so far as this is possible for humans” (see Plato, Theatetus 176b), “to attend to death” and thus to “the separation of the soul from the body” (see Plato, Phaedo 67b–d), “the art of arts and the science of sciences” (see Aristotle, Metaphysics I.2), and “the love of wisdom” (attributed to Pythagoras). Ammonius ends by saying: “There are still other definitions of philosophy, but these will suffice.”108 How many contemporary (p. 33) academic philosophers would accept the Platonic definitions of philosophy as a matter of “becoming like God” and “practicing dying” by separating the soul from the body?

The definition of philosophy as a rational inquiry into the eternal order of the cosmos, undertaken for its own sake, can in part be traced back to an Aristotelian conception of theoria, which some see as prefiguring the purportedly disinterested inquiry of modern theoretical science. However, we should bear in mind both that Aristotle says that the contemplative activity of theoria should be pursued because it constitutes the highest human happiness (eudaimonia, Nicomachean Ethics 10.7–8), and that many contemporary philosophers would dispute the claim that the practice of science is disinterested, noting its intimate connection with the desire for technological control over the environment. Regardless, in a polemically and rather defensively entitled book, But Not Philosophy: Seven Introductions to Non-Western Thought, George Anastaplo supports the claim that the “European tradition that began in ancient Greece is superior to other traditions of thought” insofar as purportedly it alone discovered a universal order of “nature as distinguished from custom or convention.”109 In his critique of Anastoplo’s book, John Maraldo suggests that it should be seen “in light of the greater project of University of Chicago scholars” who, in the wake of Allan Bloom, pursue an agenda “to counter the expansion of the general education curriculum at American universities beyond western classics.” In any case, Maraldo judiciously continues, this challenge can at least indirectly help those interested in Japanese philosophy to raise and reflect on some important questions:

Do we find in Japanese traditions evidence of inquiry pursued for its own sake, or hints of such a basis for theoretical science? Is there an explicit, consciously formed notion of nature as opposed to human convention? Are these features necessary conditions of philosophy proper, philosophy as it is traditionally delimited? It would seem to me that the alternatives—inquiry for the sake of spiritual transformation, for example, or theory necessarily informed by practice, or human cultivation as part of nature—are not only instructive but perhaps constitutive of a more developed definition of philosophy.110

In other words, allowing pre-Meiji Japanese “thought” into discussions of “philosophy” may enrich our critical considerations not only of the specific content but also of the general framework within which such discussions take place. In helping us to recover from the myopia that results from an exclusive immersion in contemporary Western views, it may also help us to recover previous Western ways as well as introduce non-Western ways of philosophizing.

(p. 34) The Practice of Philosophy as a Liberating Way of Life

According to Pierre Hadot, what most of all separates modern from ancient Western philosophies is that we no longer think—as the Greeks and Romans did—of philosophy as an existentially transformative “way of life.”111 Rolf Elberfeld writes in this regard:

One could even propose the provocative thesis that it is precisely modern philosophy, with its ideal of becoming a strict science, that has lost sight of the proper tasks of classical philosophy—e.g., the love of wisdom, the training for death, and the task of ethical transformation; and it would thus be modern philosophy that is not philosophy in the strict sense.112

Hadot agrees with the idea that the Occidental “ancients were perhaps closer to the Orient than we are,” insofar as they thought of philosophy as a soteriological practice of a way of life. “The ‘philosopher,’ or lover of wisdom,” in the sense that Hadot seeks to recover, “can therefore seek models of life in the oriental philosophies, and these will not be so very far from the ancient [occidental] models.”113 However, elsewhere, Hadot acknowledges a crucial difference; namely, that the ancient Greek and Roman practices of philosophy did not explicitly entail embodied practices in the way that Asian traditions such as Buddhism do. “Unlike the Buddhist meditation practices of the Far East,” Hadot writes, “Greco-Roman philosophical meditation is not linked to a corporeal attitude but is a purely rational, imaginative, or intuitive exercise.”114

Plato’s conception of philosophy in the Phaedo as a “practice of dying” (Phaedo 64–65), understood as a practice of separating the soul from the body, is an extreme example of a persistent tendency in the West to view the body as an obstacle to, rather than as a vehicle for, the practice of philosophy. John Maraldo has argued that “a detachment from everyday life accompanied the distancing from the body in ancient Greek philosophy” and that, in general, “Greek-based Western philosophy often displays a double (p. 35) detachment, from everyday life and from embodied existence. In contrast, Japanese Buddhist and Confucian philosophies evince an appreciation of embodied existence in the ordinary world.”115 Several modern Japanese philosophers have sought to incorporate the psychosomatic practices of Zen and other Japanese traditions into their thinking in such a manner as to supplement, as well as challenge, the exclusively cerebral practice of philosophy in the Western tradition.116

The founder of the Kyoto School, Nishida Kitarō, claims that “the motivation for philosophy must be that of a profound sense of the sorrows (hiai 悲哀) of life,” and not only the desire for intellectual knowledge evoked by Aristotle’s “astonishment” or “wonder” (thaumazein).117 Heidegger claims that all philosophizing arises out of a particular “fundamental attunement” (Grundstimmung) and that another fundamental attunement would be required to spawn an “other inception” of philosophy.118 Whereas Greek philosophy was born out of the attunement of wonder, which can lead to a disengaged quest for objectivity, one hears in Nishida’s remark an echo of Buddhist philosophy, which has its impetus and remains embedded in a holistic quest for a release from suffering.119

Among modern authors, Nishida’s student and Zen philosopher Hisamatsu Shin’ichi is surely the most outspoken critic of the expulsion of the religious quest for existential liberation from academic philosophy understood as a disinterested pursuit of knowledge. In the opening lines of his Eastern Nothingness, Hisamatsu emphatically writes:

A so-called pure scholar pursues academic study for the sake of academic study or engages in scholarly endeavors in order to become a scholar. But I have not undertaken nor have I wanted to undertake these pursuits with such intentions. Indeed, academic scholarship is neither my ultimate aim nor my original concern. For me there exists a problem on which my life is staked. This is not merely a problem (p. 36) for academic study. It is rather one that presses upon me in the manner of a life or death decision . . . . It is not an intellectual academic problem for one segment of my life, but rather a living problem that engages my life in its entirety.120

If the meaning of “philosophy” were restricted to a purely rational discourse that does not address the whole human being, then Hisamatsu would turn the tables on Nakae Chōmin and celebrate the fact that “from ancient times to the present, there has been no philosophy in Japan.”121

Different attitudes toward embodiment and everyday life—and indeed different conceptions of the impetuses, aims, and practices of philosophy—are some of the more provocative ways in which some aspects of the Japanese tradition may, if we let them, challenge us to rethink not only the content but even the methods and purposes of the practice of philosophy.

Non-Western Religion, Art, and Philosophy: Navigating Through the Dilemma of Inclusionary Versus Exclusionary Violence

Before looking at other ways in which Japanese thinkers may enrich our understanding of philosophy, let us examine one potentially legitimate reason for refraining from referring to non-Western traditions as philosophy. The question is, Does applying the label “philosophy” to other ways of thinking, such as those of pre-Meiji Japan, entail forcing them into a Western mold? The inclusion of non-Western traditions within the category of “philosophy” does seem to present us with a dilemma in which other traditions are either included and distorted or they are excluded and dismissed.

Robert Bernasconi writes of the “double bind” that exponents of African philosophy are placed in:

when African philosophy takes Western philosophy as its model, then it seems to make no distinctive contribution and so effectively disappears, but when its specificity is emphasized then its credentials to be considered genuine philosophy are put in question and it is dismissed either as religion or as wisdom literature.122

(p. 37) Sarah Mattice reiterates the point in her study which draws on Chinese as well as Western philosophy:

The philosophical double bind occurs in judging what is or who has philosophy; when judged from the perspective of Greece or western philosophy, either the work of the other is so similar as to be uninteresting, or so different as to not count as philosophy.123

A parallel double bind exists in the case of deciding whether to include non-Western traditions in the category of “religion.” Bernasconi writes:

We seem to be faced with a choice between two violences: on the one hand the violence of imposing the category “religion” on practices (and perhaps also beliefs) even though those practices and beliefs do not readily fit the model of religion and are thereby distorted, misjudged, and found wanting in the process, and on the other hand, the violence of refusing the term religion to such practices because that denial can also be regarded as demeaning so long as the still dominant framework of the Western tradition remains intact.124

Kant claimed that there can be only one religion, and, predictably, it was found exclusively in Christianity.125 Analogously, philosophy has been thought to be found only—or at least most purely and properly—in the Western tradition. Once this assumption is made, we do violence to other traditions either by excluding them from philosophy altogether or by including and yet marginalizing and misunderstanding them within this field.

Even if, today, on balance we find it more appropriate to include non-Western traditions in—rather than exclude them from—the categories of philosophy and religion, we must also recognize that there is no quick and easy way through the dilemma: there is a violence of inclusion as well as a violence of exclusion, and navigating the difficult path through the horns of this dilemma requires what Bernasconi calls “a constant process of negotiation.”126 We in the West need to begin by recognizing that hermeneutical processes of navigation and negotiation have long been under way in places like Japan, places in which people have not only adopted but also adapted originally Western categories such as philosophy, religion, and art.

Jason Ānanda Josephson has argued that, “while the discourse on religion emerged in the context of Western Christendom, it is no longer exclusively Western in its current formulations. Rather, the concept was reformulated in the interstices, the (p. 38) international—in the spaces between nations and cultures.”127 He has shown in detail how the concept of “religion”—translated by repurposing a relatively rare term that had traditionally been used to indicate the main teachings of a sect (shūkyō 宗教)—was imported and reformulated in Japan in response to domestic exigencies as well as under foreign influence. Hence, “the category of religion was not a mere imposition” since “the Japanese were far from passive recipients or imitators.”128 Josephson goes so far as to claim that the “combined pressure of non-European actors . . . has begun to strain religion as a category, leading to our current moment, in which the term religion lacks any analytic cohesion and is in the process of disintegration.”129 This is no doubt a contentious claim, but he is surely right to point out the pressure that non-Abrahamic “religions” exert on the very concept of religion to undergo a semantic transformation into a more inclusive and less hierarchical category. The question is never asked whether Christianity is a religion, but the question of whether Buddhism or Confucianism are truly religions has frequently been raised. This reveals that there is a center and there are margins within the category of religion. The survival of the concept of religion presumably depends on its transformation and specifically on whether it can be reformulated so as to decenter Christianity and demarginalize as well as decolonize traditions such as Buddhism and Confucianism.

Something similar could be said of the concept of “art.” As with “philosophy” and “religion,” the modern concept of “art” bears a metamorphic genealogy. There have been significant shifts in the historical development of the Western terms and concepts for “art” (techne, ars, Kunst, etc.) on the way to the modern conception of “fine art” as what is paradigmatically found in museums and galleries and set in contrast to “primitive art,” “religious or ceremonial art,” and “craft art.”130 This modern Western conception shapes the lenses through which we perceive, understand, and judge non-Western as (p. 39) well as premodern Western artifacts that are deemed as, more or less, conforming to “art.”131 We might compare, on the one hand, what happens to (this or that person’s experience of) a painting of the Virgin Mary when it is taken out of its original setting in a tenth-century Italian Basilica and hung up for viewing in a New York art museum with, on the other hand, what happens to (this or that person’s experience of) a fourteenth-century woodcarving of Amida Buddha when it is removed from its original setting in a Japanese temple and put up for sale in a San Francisco art gallery.132 When we consider these displacements, we should be wary of uncritically employing an expression such as “religious art.” The problem is not only that this expression imputes to them the character of “religious” as if “religion” were simply an ahistorical and universal concept, but also that it is an anachronistic expression formulated to distinguish such artifacts from “pure art” or “art for art’s sake” (l’art pour l’art, originally an early nineteenth-century French expression intended to distinguish fine or pure art from artifacts that serve a utilitarian or didactic function). How, to take a particularly difficult yet also prominent example, should we categorize what we call the Japanese “Tea Ceremony” (a phrase with which we translate both the “Way of Tea” [chadō or sadō 茶道] and a meeting for the enactment of this Way [chakai 茶会 or chaseki 茶席])? Is it a kind of “participatory performance art,” a “religious ceremony,” a “spiritual discipline,” or—in order to distinguish it from purportedly purer forms of art and more serious activities of religion—should we just call it a “cultural ritual”? While each of these expressions may help an unfamiliar Westerner to hermeneutically approach the activity, each says both too much and too little.133

(p. 40) In a series of important anthologies, Michele (Michael) Marra has shown how questions of how to translate “art” and “aesthetics” and how to apply these to Japanese artifacts and activities have been intensely and repeatedly grappled with by scholars in Japan from the Meiji period to the present.134 Insofar as “modern aesthetics” and “Western aesthetics” are both—at least initially in their strict senses—tautologies,135 the question has been what it means to speak of “Japanese aesthetics” and also whether using this Western conceptual lens necessarily leads to a distorted interpretation of artifacts and activities of pre-Meiji Japan. In posing such questions, Marra takes his bearing in part from the concerns raised by Heidegger in his “Dialogue Between a Japanese and an Inquirer on Language.” Heidegger writes: “The name ‘aesthetics’ and what it names grow out of European thinking, out of philosophy. Consequently, aesthetic consideration must ultimately remain alien to Eastasian thinking.”136 Yet, whereas Heidegger spoke at times of the three centuries Westerners require to properly prepare for “the inevitable dialogue with the East Asian world,”137 Marra’s anthologies reveal the intensity with which the Japanese have been critically and creatively engaging in this dialogue for more than a century. The result is that concepts such as bijutsu (美術) and bigagku (美学), while beginning as neologisms used to translate the Western concepts “fine arts” and “aesthetics,” have in the meantime taken on a life of their own in Japanese language and thought. The expression “Japanese aesthetics” is thus not an oxymoron, but rather “refers to a process of philosophical negotiation between Japanese thinkers and Western hermeneutical practices in the creation and development of images of Japan.”138 Mara Miller, in effect, concurs with this view when she writes: “Ever since Japanese writers began studying Western aesthetics in the Meiji . . . they have both studied its applicability to their own preexisting concepts and phenomena, and used it in their own ways.”139

This kind of intercultural hermeneutical negotiation is the approach I am suggesting that we take to the evolving definition of “Japanese philosophy.” Only thus can we find a way through the horns of the dilemma of exclusionary versus inclusionary violence. Only thus can the bilateral breaking of old molds result in the cooperative creation of new pots, of new provisional containers for practicing philosophy in our contemporary contexts.

Just as the very concepts of “religion” and “art” must change when non-Abrahamic and non-Western traditions are included in these categories, so does the concept of “philosophy” need to undergo metamorphoses as non-Western traditions are included. In fact, philosophers can learn from their art historian and religious studies colleagues since their fields are further along in the process of de-Eurocentralization. Whereas (p. 41) non-Western traditions still tend to be marginalized within the academic fields of art history and religious studies, they still tend to be excluded from the field of philosophy. We need not only to include non-Western traditions but also to take them seriously. Henceforth in our philosophical discourses and discussions, I think we must allow non-Western traditions to contribute not just new concepts, theses, narratives, descriptions, and arguments, but also new conceptions of the philosophical endeavor itself. This will appear both new and old to the Western philosophical tradition, which has, after all, repeatedly redefined itself. From the ancient Greeks to twentieth-century philosophers such as James, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Derrida, the very definition of philosophy has been almost incessantly disputed and transformed.140 Why should not other, non-Western voices be allowed into this transformational dialogue and debate?

Two things have tended to happen when the term “philosophy” (or tetsugaku) is applied to non-Western discourses such as those found in pre-Meiji Buddhist or Confucian schools of thought. One is an orientalist or otherwise colonial imposition of a Western category and conceptual framework that covers over differences. This problem is simply repeated, rather than resolved, by applying another Western term such as “religion” and is at best evaded by employing a bland and more inclusive, yet also thereby depreciating, term such as “thought.” After all, “Buddhism” and “Confucianism” are Western terms, and the curious debates over whether these are “(quasi-)religions” or “(quasi-)philosophies” tell us as much about Western categories and frameworks as they do about the different manners in which people in these traditions think about what it is that they are doing. And so a conscientious scholar understandably might maintain that we should refer to these traditions in their own terms: the study of the “Buddha Dharma” (buppō 仏法) and the practice of the “Buddha Way” (butsudō 仏道) rather than “Buddhism,” or “the study of rational principles” (rigaku 理学) and “scholar-sage learning” (jugaku 儒学) rather than “Confucianism.” In order to counteract our conceptual prejudices, it may even be helpful to experimentally view Western philosophies as “quasi-buppō” or as “quasi-rigaku.”141

But there is something else we can do: We can apply the moniker “philosophy” to some discourses found in non-Western traditions, knowing that we are running the risk of colonial distortion, but also with the intention of expanding or developing our own definition and practices of philosophy. Indeed, philosophy, as it has been practiced heretofore in the Western tradition, resists definition—resists, that is, the establishment of unquestioned concepts and methods, insofar as it remains open to critical reflection on and revision of those very concepts and methods. And so Western philosophy, if it (p. 42) stays true to its own process of self-critical self-understanding, cannot remain merely Western philosophy.

Competing Definitions of Japanese Philosophy

In June of 2004, scholars from around the world convened at the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture in Nagoya, Japan, for a conference on the topic of “Japanese Philosophy Abroad.”142 This gathering also included the first of several international meetings to plan a volume that was eventually published seven years later: Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook, a monumental anthology of translations of primary texts from all periods of Japanese intellectual history from the seventh through the twentieth centuries, edited by James Heisig, Thomas Kasulis, and John Maraldo.143 A major topic of debate during that first meeting in 2004 was whether to refer to the pre-Meiji material as “thought” or as “philosophy.” A Francophone scholar insisted that it be called pensée, while a German scholar countered that, for reasons of content as well as academic politics, it should be designated Philosophie. The rest of us took positions somewhere on the spectrum between these two views, and, in the end, a truce was drawn with the suggestion that the question could be left open and up to readers to ponder, insofar as there can be little doubt that the pre-Meiji discourses to be included belong among the “sources of Japanese philosophy” and so belong in a Sourcebook.

At the time they composed their introduction to the Sourcebook, it seems that some differences remained even among the three editors over the question of whether to apply the term “philosophy” to the pre-Meiji selections in the book. Differences seemed to remain in particular between the views of Kasulis and Maraldo.144 On the one hand, in a section presumably drafted by Kasulis, we read:

(p. 43)

As a work on Japanese philosophy, the Sourcebook aims both to challenge the limitations of the prevailing definitions of “philosophy” and to demonstrate by its selection of texts some distinctively Japanese alternatives. In other words, it is presented as textual support for the thesis that long before the term tetsugaku was coined in the mid-nineteenth century to designate the imported academic discipline of philosophy, Japan already had in place a solid philosophical tradition rooted in an intellectual history that provided it with resources comparable to but very different from those that have sustained western philosophy.145

On the other hand, elsewhere in the introduction, in a section presumably drafted by Maraldo, we read that “the principle of selection at work in this Sourcebook inclines to” a definition of “Japanese philosophy” that

acknowledges that philosophical methods and themes are principally western in origin, but insists that they can also be applied to premodern, prewesternized, Japanese thinking. Those who practice Japanese philosophy in this sense understand it primarily as an endeavor to reconstruct, explicate, or analyze certain themes and problems that are recognizably philosophical when viewed objectively.146

While Maraldo surely would not want to conflate viewing matters “objectively” with viewing them from a Western perspective, the suggestion here does seem to be that, while pre-Meiji thinking can be productively reconstructed as an alternative philosophizing from the perspective of Western philosophy, it is not in and of itself an alternative way of philosophizing.

In this section of the introduction to the Sourcebook, Maraldo is drawing on a seminal article of his in which he isolates four senses in which the notion of “Japanese philosophy” has been used: (1) Western philosophy as it happens to be practiced by Japanese scholars; (2) traditional Japanese thought (Confucian, Nativist, Buddhist, etc.) as it was formulated prior to the introduction of Western philosophy; (3) a form of inquiry which has methods and themes that are Western in origin but that can be applied to pre-modern, pre-Westernized, Japanese thinking; and (4) a kind of thought that has “a distinctive eastern or Japanese originality or character.” In that article, Maraldo argues for the superior viability of the third of these conceptions, in part because it pays due hermeneutical attention to the Greek origins of the heretofore prevailing methods and themes of “philosophy.” And yet, crucially, he also stresses that the very methods (p. 44) and themes of philosophy are essentially always “in the making” and that the production of “Japanese philosophy” will have to “strike a balance between reading (pre-defined) philosophy into [Japan’s traditional] texts and reading alternatives out of them, constructing contrasts to that [pre-defined] philosophy [of the West].”147

I agree that the first of these definitions is unduly restrictive in that it freezes philosophy in its Western mold and does not allow for its development through contact with non-Western traditions in Japan and elsewhere. I also agree that the second definition is unduly restrictive in that it limits the Japanese tradition to what existed prior to the Meiji period. The second definition is not only ideologically conservative, it is also hermeneutically naïve insofar as it lacks a “critical awareness of its own reconstructive nature.”148 Regarding the fourth definition, I agree that it can lead, and has led, scholars into the pitfall of an “inverted Orientalism” that celebrates an ideologically homogenized and romanticized reconstruction of Japanese thought, usually at the expense of an equally homogenized yet conversely caricatured image of Western thought. It is true that much of what passes as Nihonjin-ron 日本人論 (theories of Japanese uniqueness) can be characterized as an ideologically motivated inverted Orientalism.149 Nevertheless, as Maraldo would agree, some Japanese thinkers who can be fit into the mold of Nihonjin-ron—indeed some who, like Motoori Norinaga, D. T. Suzuki, and Watsuji,150 preformed or formed this mold—are too influential and their ideas too philosophically rich and provocative (including provoking critique) to ignore. Moreover, many Japanese philosophers who assert that there is in some sense “a distinctive eastern or Japanese originality or character,” including at times Nishida Kitarō and subsequent philosophers associated with the Kyoto School, cannot simply be dismissed as promulgating an inverted or reverse Orientalism.151

After all, how many Western philosophers have suggested that Western culture and philosophy have distinctive and valuable ideas and practices that can, and even should, be offered to the rest of the world? The crucial question is how that “offering” takes place (e.g., imperialistically or dialogically). Certainly, many Western philosophers have been all too eager to teach others while being much more reluctant to learn anything from them, especially when that learning would involve self-criticism. Nevertheless, surely we want to have at least some artists, authors, and philosophers cultivate and contribute (p. 45) the best of what their respective traditions have to offer, just as we want others to cross borders, facilitate dialogue, and creatively cross-pollinate.

If I am sympathetic with yet not entirely convinced by Maraldo’s preference for his third definition of Japanese philosophy, it is because that definition devalues if not excludes potentialities of the second and fourth definitions. Regarding the second definition, while we certainly should attend to the manner in which the concepts and methods of Western philosophy inform our interpretive understanding of pre-Meiji discourses, this does not mean that those discourses cannot call into question and make claims on us, claims not just regarding this or that idea within philosophy but also regarding the very definition of what it means to philosophize. In other words, while Maraldo is certainly right to point out that to speak of pre-Meiji discourses as “philosophy” or “tetsugaku” is to bring them into an originally Occidental framework, it is possible to do so in such a way that those discourses are allowed to exert a counter-effect (what Nishida would call a “counter-determination,” gyaku-gentei 逆限定) on the framework itself. A properly hermeneutical encounter is always, after all, a two-way street.152

Generalizations About Japanese Philosophy

In a passage that can be understood as providing reasons for not judging the other ways of philosophizing practiced in pre-Meiji Japan to be otherwise than philosophy, Heisig, Kasulis, and Maraldo write the following:

The traditional modern western philosophical cannon has more or less systematically assumed a universal logic that is conducive to theoretical science pursued for its own (p. 46) sake . . . . [Yet] whereas [Western] philosophy has traditionally been considered timeless, reflective, discursive, analytical, rational, skeptical, aimed at clarity through opposition, focused on principles, and deriving definite conclusions through sound inference or deduction, engagement with Japanese philosophy needs to allow for a style of thinking that rather puts the emphasis on being organic, generative, allusive, relational, syncretic, aimed at contextual origins and underlying obscurities, and negation as a way to transforming perspective.153

They go on to make the following generalizations about Japanese philosophy: a preference for internal rather than external relations; a tendency to think in terms of a holographic relation of whole and parts; argument by “relegation” (i.e., “opposing positions are treated not by refuting them, but by accepting them as true, but only true as part of the full picture”); and a preference for philosophizing in media res, that is, by beginning “in the gaps left by abstract concepts about reality” and seeking to uncover an “experiential ground out of which the abstractions of philosophy emerge and to which they must answer.”154

Expanding on and adding to these generalizations, we could say that many Japanese philosophies criticize and/or provide alternatives to ontological and epistemological subject–object dualisms, view human beings as intimately related with one another and with the natural world, and espouse process rather than substance ontologies. Many are suspicious of the reifying and dichotomizing effects of certain kinds or uses of language, if not of language as such, and many are informed by and/or articulate a metaphysical or religious sensibility that inclines toward what Nishida calls “immanent transcendence” (naizai-teki chōetsu 内在的超越),155 as distinct from both a dualistic transcendence and a reductive immanence.

Whereas the Western tradition has tended to privilege being over becoming and to define being in terms of what is unchanging or what Heidegger calls “constant presence” (ständige Anwesenheit), the Japanese tradition has tended to understand reality in terms of “impermanence” (mujō 無常). Insofar as humans desire permanence, this desire is at odds with reality and is thus understood to be a primary cause for sorrow. Yet a keen sense of the finitude and frailty of things is poetically cultivated by Motoori Norinaga and others in terms of an aesthetics of “the pathos of things” (mono no aware ものの哀れ).156 For example, cherry blossoms are experienced as poignantly beautiful because of, (p. 47) not despite, their ephemerality.157 A subtle appreciation of the evanescence and imperfection of things is cultivated by artists and by tea masters such as Sen no Rikyū in terms of an aesthetic of “rustic simplicity and quiet solitude” (wabi sabi 侘寂). Moreover, insofar as we can liberate ourselves from the inordinate desire for an illusory permanence, Zen master Dōgen teaches that we can affirm that “impermanence is itself buddha nature” (mujōsha sunawachi busshō nari 無常者即仏性也).158

Whereas the Western tradition has tended to think in terms of independent substances, the Japanese tradition has tended to think in terms of interdependent processes. This tendency can be found already in indigenous strands of thought, such as in the key Shintō concept of musuhi or musubi (“the vital force motivating whatever comes into being,” generating and “binding together” all the interconnected processes of being).159 It can also be found in the Neo-Confucian idea of the psycho-physical “generative force” (Ch. qi; Jp. ki 気) that pervades, forms, and reforms all things.160 And it can, of course, also be traced back to the principal ontological teaching of Buddhism, namely “interdependent origination” or “conditioned co-arising” (Sk. pratītya samutpāda; Jp. engi 縁起).161 Both traditional and modern Japanese philosophers have tended to understand relations among humans beings and between humans and the natural world in fluidly dynamic and nondualistically interrelational terms.162

(p. 48) Many of these generalizations apply not only to Japanese philosophies but also to their Chinese and Buddhist predecessors. Yet most of them are more pronounced in East Asia than in South Asia, and some more in Japan than in China. Tachikawa Musashi traces how, during the course of the development of Mahāyāna Buddhism in India and then in East Asia, the positive, world-reaffirming aspects of the teaching of “emptiness” (Sk. śūnyatā; Ch. kong; Jp. 空) became ever more pronounced. According to Tachikawa, whereas the notion that “form is emptiness” was initially understood mainly as a warning not to cling to impermanent phenomena, later, especially in East Asia and most adamantly in Japan, it also came to mean that phenomenal forms are as such the true face of reality (Jp. shohō-jissō 諸法実相).163

As one manner in which Japanese Confucians did not merely adopt but also critically adapted Chinese Neo-Confucianism, Blocker and Starling highlight the following:

Japanese Confucianists . . . rejected en masse Zhu Xi’s leading idea that the ultimate reality is something abstract, immaterial, eternal, and unchanging, existing apart from material qi and individual things. If there is anything that is peculiarly Japanese in Japanese Confucianism, or indeed in Japanese philosophy in general, it is surely this preference for what is immediate, immanent, sensuous, changing, material, and naturalistic, along with a correlative suspicion and lack of sympathy for anything exclusively intellectual, transcendental, abstract, immaterial, unchanging, ethereal, and so on.164

The reader of the second half of this Handbook will find that many of these traditional Japanese sensibilities and philosophical proclivities inform many modern Japanese philosophies as well. To be sure, there are also many differences and debates among Japanese philosophies, traditional as well as modern, and each of them calls for careful and critical examination.

It is important to keep in mind that the “generalizations” given here, even if accurate, are decidedly not “universalizations.” Kasulis reminds us that “a generalization is not the same as a universal qualifier . . . . A generalization, by its very nature, always has (p. 49) exceptions.”165 Just as one could point to Heraclitus, Hegel, and the Christian notion of the Trinity as exceptions to the Western tradition’s tendency to think in terms of independent substances, and to Socrates, Epictetus, and Foucault as Western philosophers who understand the practice of philosophy as a practice of caring for the self, it is certainly not the case that all Japanese philosophies reflect all of the generalizations sketched here. Nor do all Japanese philosophers—and certainly not all post-Meiji Japanese philosophers (not even all of those associated with the Kyoto School)—wish to rethink the practice of philosophy in connection with psychosomatic practices such as Zen meditation.

While it can be said that the textual history of Japanese philosophy begins in 604 ce with the attempt to synthetically harmonize Buddhist, Confucian, and native Shintō ideas in the Seventeen-Article Constitution attributed to Prince Shōtoku,166 there have been plenty of disagreements and debates in the intellectual history of Japan. For example, Zen and Pure Land Buddhists have argued over whether the road to nirvāna is best traveled by means of “self-power” (jiriki 自力) or “other-power” (tariki 他力).167 Many Confucian and Neo-Confucian philosophers—who otherwise debated among themselves—were often united in their criticism of what they saw as Buddhism’s otherworldliness and lack of commitment to family and society.168 Readers of the second half of this Handbook will find even greater differences among modern Japanese philosophies. Members of the Kyoto School, for example, not only shared but also debated the meaning of terms such as “absolute nothingness” (zettai mu 絶対無). Indeed, the Kyoto School was not formed merely by followers of “Nishidan philosophy” (Nishida-tetsugaku 西田哲学), but rather through formative debates between Nishida Kitarō and his junior colleague Tanabe Hajime.169 Much more variety can be found among the other modern Japanese philosophers treated in this Handbook, not (p. 50) to mention among those who belong to the wider field of what I will call “philosophy in Japan,” of which what I am calling “Japanese philosophy” is mainly a subset. Before elaborating on that distinction, however, let me now address head-on the third aspect of our leading question: What is meant by “Japanese philosophy”?

Japanese Philosophy as a Set of Particular Approaches to Universality

Whether one calls some pre-Meiji discourses about the nature of the world and our place in it “Japanese philosophy” (Nihon tetsugaku) or whether one follows the custom in Japan of restricting the application of this contested phrase to the narrower sense of modern Japanese philosophy (kindai Nihon tetsugaku 近代日本哲学), one in any case needs to address the question of what it means to characterize a thinking or a philosophizing that aims to discover and articulate universal truths with a particularizing adjective such as “Japanese.” What does it mean, after all, to speak of Japanese (or, for that matter, of Greek, German, etc.) philosophy?

Ueda Shizuteru, the central contemporary figure of the Kyoto School, writes:

Since philosophers have often spoken of Greek philosophy, French philosophy, English philosophy, American philosophy, and so on, it would seem plausible to speak of “Japanese philosophy.” Nevertheless, until about twenty or thirty years ago, philosophers in Japan generally did not take this to be a philosophically meaningful locution . . . . If one did speak expressly of “Japanese philosophy,” this tended to be understood as stressing the “Japanese” character of the philosophy in question, and this was deemed inappropriate to the scholarly nature of philosophy as an objective and universal discipline. The universality of philosophy was implicitly understood to mean the scholarly nature of Western philosophy.170

As we have seen, post-Meiji Japanese philosophers have tended to import Eurocentrism along with European philosophy, and this importation has included the paradoxical yet persistent claim that only Europe, or at least Europe in particular, has aimed to overcome its particularity and attain to universal truths. Ueda, for his part, goes on to write:

The turn away from the previous identification of European philosophy with philosophy as such, and the development of world philosophy will no doubt advance a philosophical thinking that is no longer restricted to the specific “love of wisdom” and “science of principles as the science of sciences” that originated in the West. (p. 51) Contact between different traditions promises to help shed light on shared fundamental structures of human existence, and it will encourage new ways of bringing to awareness the understandings of the world and the self found in our various manners of being-in-the-world.171

What Ueda means by “world philosophy” (sekai tetsugaku 世界哲学) clearly does not mean that there will be one style of philosophy practiced all around the world. Indeed, for Ueda, such a philosophical homogenization would be another lamentable phenomenon in what he calls “the grim global reality of today,” namely “the formation of a mono-world which renders meaningless differences between East and West, and which thus invalidates the historic undertaking of [Japanese philosophers such as] Nishida and Nishitani.”172 What Ueda refers to as “world philosophy” is evidently not a particular standpoint, but rather the cooperative cultivation of a heterogeneous space of dialogue among particular standpoints.

Yet what, then, does it mean to speak of Japanese philosophy, or for that matter of German philosophy or even of Western philosophy? Is it legitimate for philosophy to be delimited with such geographical, cultural, or linguistic adjectives? Hashimoto Mineo goes so far as to say that the expression “Japanese philosophy” is a “contradictory descriptor,” insofar as philosophy is “an academic discipline that above all must take universality to be its essence.”173 Kant claimed that there cannot be more than one philosophy, since there is only one human reason.174 While one might want to challenge the specifics and specificity of Kant’s conception of “human reason,” there is certainly an important point being made here. If one sets out to articulate a Japanese or a Greek or an American philosophy, it might seem that one is either not searching for universal truth or that one is assuming from the start that this or that particular tradition or culture has a privileged access to universal truth. Yet, insofar as philosophy involves self-questioning rather than mere self-assertion, it must entail critically reflecting on the horizonal limits of one’s own cultural tradition rather than just rearticulating and venerating the contours of those limits. Although a colloquial sense of the term “philosophy” does lend itself to being used in the sense of a “cultural worldview,” surely what is meant by “Japanese philosophy” should be more than and different from assertions of a Japanese worldview or set of values, such as one uses the term “philosophy” on the mission statement of a business enterprise to refer to its principles, policies, and purposes. Philosophy, in the sense we are concerned with, questions rather than simply asserts cultural limits; it critiques rather than merely attacks or defends worldviews.175

(p. 52) Hence, there is something disturbing about the term “Western philosophy” as well. The troubling question is: Can philosophy belong to any culture or tradition? To be sure, there are those who think that the West is uniquely defined by its thrust toward universality. As discussed earlier, the claim is that, at its philosophical core, Western culture is paradoxically defined by its perpetual transcendence of cultural limits; in other words, Western culture is purportedly defined only by its incessant transgressing of definition. The West would be the only particular that has taken upon itself the “infinite task” of transcending its particularity.176 Yet, for anyone who has seriously studied non-Western traditions of philosophical thought, such as those found in South and East Asia, it is hard not to hear in this claim an arrogance based on ignorance. Have not great Asian philosophers also engaged in critique of cultural beliefs and practices and in self-critical searches for universal truth?

It may nevertheless be true that the attempt to search for truth outside the strictures of allegiance to any cultural tradition or religious institution is an especially predominant feature, if not of the Western philosophical tradition as a whole (in which ancient, medieval, and contemporary philosophers have more often than not associated themselves with a particular school, tradition, religion, or philosopher), then at least of an understanding of philosophy that attained prominence during the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European Enlightenment. Ironically, however, many Enlightenment philosophers sought to question the prejudices of the European Church, society, and tradition by looking to what they thought of as the philosophies of China.177 Moreover, and more to the point, we would do well to recall Gadamer’s critique of the Enlightenment’s “prejudice against prejudice itself.”178 Gadamer points out that learning takes place by foregrounding and correcting or modifying ones prejudices or “pre-judgments” (Vor-urteile), not by pretending to be able to simply do away with them. A presuppositionless philosophy is not only impossible, but, even if it were possible, it would leave us disoriented and bereft of a starting point for thought and experience. We may agree with Habermas that Gadamer goes too far in the other direction when he claims that “the self-awareness of the individual is only a flickering in the closed circuits of historical life,”179 such that the individual philosopher would hardly be able to step outside of his or her own historical tradition in order to carry out a rational critique of it.180 Nevertheless, not only hermeneutically sensitive philosophers of the continental (p. 53) tradition, but also pragmatist and analytic philosophers today mostly agree that we have no absolute access to a “view from nowhere.” This acknowledgment does not abandon us to relativism in the sense that we would each be hermetically locked up within the horizon of our own culture, language, and tradition. As Gadamer has pointed out, “the closed horizon that is supposed to enclose a culture is an abstraction” since our horizons and the prejudices that form them are inherently open to modification, revision, expansion, and fusion with other horizons through intercultural dialogue.181 It is not that truth is entirely relative, but rather that all our approaches to truth are conditioned by the perspectival orientations made available to us through our languages, cultures, and traditions. Thus, it could be said that each act of philosophizing enacts a particular approach to universality, and we have no access to universality that would bypass these particular approaches.

There is no free-floating universal reason beyond or beneath particular attempts to think rationally by means of the medium of this or that language, culture, and tradition. Hilary Putnam tersely puts the point thus: “Tradition without reason is blind; reason without tradition is empty.”182 Putnam goes on to say that “actual reasoning is necessarily situated within one or another historical tradition.” I would add that it also can—and in its philosophically most fecund moments often does—take place in the encounter between two or more historical traditions. Putnam would seem to agree: “To be sure, members of different traditions can and do enter into discussion and debate. But (as Dewey also stressed) in such discussions we typically find ourselves forced to renegotiate our understanding of reason itself.” Indeed, “reason calls for such endless renegotiation.”183 As philosophers, we are always more or less rooted in one or more tradition—and yet we are never completely determined by them. Hence, we are neither entirely free of nor completely bound to the adjectives that describe the origins and orientations of our philosophizing. This is a basic insight of continental philosophers such as Gadamer as well as pragmatist and analytic philosophers such as Putnam and Nagel.184

Philosophy thus always takes place in between the particular and the universal. For example, if I say that humans are mortal, I am not just saying that humans who speak my language and who belong to my culture and tradition are mortal. I am attempting to state a universal truth. And yet, the sense and significance of “mortality,” not to mention specific views of how to live in the face of our universal condition of mortality, will always be colored by the particularities of our languages, cultures, and traditions. This is (p. 54) not to say that we are locked in the horizons of these particularities, but it does mean that we always begin to philosophize from somewhere. From there, we may transgress and transform our horizons in philosophical dialogue with others and their other horizons. Such cross-cultural philosophical dialogue enables us not only to learn from one another about our present differences and commonalities, but also to cultivate and/or alter these differences and commonalities in novel ways that strike us as fruitful and compelling. A sophist or an apologist might enter a debate with a fixed standpoint that he or she merely asserts and tries to defend, but to enter into a philosophical dialogue, it seems to me, one must be open to the possibility of philosophical conversion. One has to be willing to put one’s cards on the table—that is, to put one’s particular understanding of matters up for questioning and possible revision. At the very least, one must be willing to allow one’s particularity to be set within a wider field of universality—that is, to understand one’s particularity as one determination qua delimitation of that wider field.

Particular and universal are, after all, correlative terms, and so it does not make sense to speak of one without the other. One cannot speak of particular differences without some sense of a shared universality. This is so even if that sense often remains unclarified and unarticulated in the background. It may be the case, as some Japanese philosophers have argued, that the ultimate universal is essentially unarticulable (that is to say, unspecifiable) since to articulate or specify it would turn it into a particular. Nishida calls the ultimate universal which encompasses all particular beings “the place of absolute nothingness” (zettai mu no basho 絶対無の場所); it is the only universal or “medium” (baikaisha 媒介者) capable of encompassing unique singularities or “true individuals” (shin no kobutsu 真の個物).185 But Nishida also attends—especially after his confrontation with Tanabe’s “logic of species” (shu no ronri 種の論理)—to the many levels in between the singular individual and the ultimate universal; that is, to the many specific universals or “places of being” (u no ippansha 有の場所) such as the languages and cultures in which we dwell.186

It may be the case that human beings in different cultures and traditions think differently. Yet, even this statement is a claim to a universal truth about our diversity. To begin with, it claims that it is universally true that different human beings think differently. The fact that we are different is, of course, not the only universal truth we share. Difference, after all, logically implies sameness, just as sameness implies difference. The statement that human beings in different cultures think differently posits or presupposes a horizon (p. 55) of commonalities (humanity, thinking, culture) in terms of which specific differences can be discussed. A cross-cultural philosopher wants to know not only what makes us different, but also what nevertheless unites us in our diversity. In Nishida’s parlance, the desideratum of cross-cultural philosophy should not be understood in either/or terms of one or many, universal sameness or particular differences, but rather in both/and terms of “one-qua-many/many-qua-one” (issokuta–tasokuitsu 一即多・多即一), in other words, unity-in-diversity and diversity-in-unity.

The genuine cross-cultural philosopher, in my mind, is not only interested in disclosing differences; he or she also wants to know what we can learn from our differences. For example, were someone to be merely interested in theories of Japanese uniqueness, were someone concerned only with asserting what makes the Japanese different from other peoples, then I would hesitate to call that person a philosopher. Yet, if someone were interested in showing how some peculiarity of Japanese thought, culture, or language can shed light on a universal human potentiality that has been especially actualized in Japan, and in showing how other people can learn from this, then that person is doing something philosophically very interesting and important. This is what I suggest we should be trying to do when we study, and participate in the ongoing development of, Japanese philosophy.

Japanese Philosophies as Contributions to Cross-Cultural Philosophical Dialogue

In a text on Nishitani Keiji’s philosophy, Ueda Shizuteru insightfully addresses the question of the adjective “Japanese” as follows:

If we are to use the characterization “Japanese,” this does not signify merely a particularity of Japan, but rather must be understood in the sense that a certain area of universal primal human possibility has been historically realized particularly in Japan. Hence, “European” does not straightaway mean “global,” but rather that a certain area of universal primal human possibility has been historically realized particularly in Europe . . . . If we understand ourselves as the particularization of something universal, this means, at the same time, that we can understand others as different particularizations of something universal. Only then, with the communication between particular and particular, can something universal come to be realized.187

(p. 56) This manner of understanding the relation between cultural particulars and human universals means, on the one hand, that we cannot comprehend one cultural worldview in the terms of another and, on the other hand, that we are not locked in our particular cultural worldviews but can enter into dialogue and learn from one another. It is through such a dialogue among persons whose thought is shaped by certain particularities that we can best approach an understanding of the universal (or, to use a traditional East Asian term, ri 理) that encompasses and engenders these particularities (or ji 事). If we want to understand “food,” we need to compare various foods. Analogously, if we want to understand “human being,” we need to engage in a dialogue among various human beings.

In “The Significance of Japanese Philosophy,” Fujita Masakatsu, the founding head of the Department of the History of Japanese Philosophy at Kyoto University (succeeded in 2013 by Uehara Mayuko), reflects on this issue as follows. To begin with, he recognizes the tension we have been discussing between the universal thrust and the particular roots of any endeavor to philosophize. “While on the one hand, philosophy is a discipline that stresses universality, such that it does not matter where a philosopher lives, this is only part and not the whole truth of the matter.”188 Not only is what Watsuji spoke of as “the impact of geographical setting and climate (fūdo 風土)” important,189 the influence of language on thinking is also momentous.190

As an example, Fujita discusses Nishida’s response to Descartes. Nishida agrees with Descartes’s method of “doubting whatever can be doubted,” and yet Nishida doubts precisely what Descartes ultimately claims is indubitable: “that there is a possessor of consciousness existing prior to consciousness.”191 By contrast, Hobbes, in his critical response to Descartes’s denial of the corporeity of the res cogitans (thinking thing), nevertheless in passing agrees with Descartes on our supposed “inability to conceive an act without its subject.” “We cannot,” Hobbes agrees, “conceive of jumping without a jumper, of knowing without a knower, or of thinking without a thinker.”192 Thus, writes Fujita,

Descartes unquestionably shares with Hobbes the assertion that all acts belong to a “subject” (i.e., substratum or hypokeimenon). But it is precisely with regard to this point that Nishida could not agree with Hobbes or Descartes . . . . According to Descartes, it is impossible to think of experience without there being a subject (substratum) of experience . . . . Nishida’s philosophy of “pure experience,” on the other hand, is based on a criticism of this understanding of experience.193

(p. 57) According to Nishida’s early philosophy, prior to the constitution of the individual subject who thinks about or represents objects, experience is not dichotomized into subject and object: “there is not yet a subject or an object, and knowing and its object are completely unified.”194 This doctrine of “pure experience” is, to be sure, only the starting point of Nishida’s philosophical journey.195 The point Fujita is making in “The Significance of Japanese Philosophy” is that this starting point, this questioning of an assumption unquestioningly shared by Descartes and Hobbes, as well as arguably by most (though certainly not all) other Western philosophers,196 was apparently enabled or at least stimulated by Nishida’s linguistic and cultural background—not to mention his practice of Zen. Whereas in European languages the grammatical subject is generally an ineradicable part, and indeed the most prominent part of a sentence (either as a noun, a pronoun, or as expressed in the conjugation of verbs such as cogito), in a Japanese sentence a verb or a verbal adjective is central and the subject often does not appear. And so, “given this grammatical structure, from the vantage point of the Japanese language the understanding shared by Descartes and Hobbes—namely the idea that ‘we cannot conceive of an act without its subject’—does not of necessity arise.”197

It is important to point out that Fujita is not asserting a kind of linguistic or cultural relativism according to which one’s thought would be strictly determined by one’s language and culture such that there would be no reason for, or even any possibility of, cross-cultural dialogue. Rather, quite to the contrary, his point is that it is because our cultural and linguistic backgrounds do strongly influence our thinking that cross-cultural philosophical dialogue is so significant and potentially so fruitful. Fujita concludes:

If the contrasting claims of Descartes and Nishida presuppose different manners of experience and different structures of language, then, by way of comparison, that is (p. 58) to say, by way of letting each be reflected in the mirror of the other, we can shed light on both of their presuppositions. We can examine whether each of their philosophies is established on the basis of questionable preconceptions, and, if so, we can remove these and rethink the problem at issue. This is what I have in mind when I stress the importance of dialogue in my lectures on the history of Japanese philosophy. It is, after all, the creative dialogue engendered in this manner that enables philosophy to progress along its path of radical inquiry.198

This is why Fujita entitled a Japanese text that reiterated these thoughts: “‘Taiwa’ toshite no tetsugaku 「対話」としての哲学 [Philosophy as ‘dialogue’].”199

Philosophy, I have been arguing, always takes place in between a particular and the universal. A particular philosopher or philosophical school or even an entire philosophical tradition can never reach the universal, but they can also never stop trying. This attempt to reach the universal is not a flight from particularity, but rather an attempt to understand one’s own particularity and that of others by situating them within the wider context that enables them to be what they are in their similarities and differences. There are no universal human beings floating free of any language, culture, and tradition. And so, in order to better understand the universal humanity that unites us in and mediates our differences, we need to engage in an ongoing dialogue among singular individuals who are situated in—and also move between—particular cultural spheres, spheres which are themselves modified in the processes. “Japanese philosophy,” I am suggesting, best names a set of approaches to universality that draw significantly on the sources of Japanese language, culture, and tradition, sources that are themselves continually being formed and reformed in the historical movement of intra- and inter-traditional interaction and dialogue.

Japanese Philosophy as (Mainly) a Subset of Philosophy in Japan

Before concluding this introduction, it behooves us to make a distinction—even if it is one that needs to be kept porous and malleable—between the more specific topic of this volume, “Japanese philosophy,” and the more general category of “philosophy in Japan.” I hold that the former is best understood as mainly a subset of the latter. The distinction I am proposing between the broader concept of “philosophy in Japan” and the more specific concept of “Japanese philosophy” is a heuristic one and is not meant to reflect a rigid or absolute difference. Moreover, we should remain wary of nationalistic or other ideological attempts to essentialize Japanese philosophy. As a subset of philosophy (p. 59) in Japan, Japanese philosophy, too, is a historically fluid category open to international and cross-cultural influences. Nevertheless, there is an important difference between, on the one hand, the text of a Japanese philosopher who explicitly draws on the cultural, linguistic, literary, and religious heritage of Japan and, on the other hand, the text of a Japanese philosopher who merely elucidates and comments on a Western discourse without reflecting on the difference it makes to do this in the Japanese language and cultural milieu. Many philosophers in Japan today do the latter. Indeed, most of the philosophy that is studied, taught, and written about today in Japan is not what most scholars would call Japanese philosophy.200

(p. 60) I suggest that we call Japanese philosophy any rigorous reflection on fundamental questions that draws sufficiently and significantly on the intellectual, linguistic, cultural, religious, literary, and artistic sources of the Japanese tradition. Japanese philosophy is thus mainly only a subset of philosophy done in Japan since much of the philosophizing done in Japan today does not sufficiently or significantly draw on these sources—albeit, precisely what counts as “sufficient and significant” should remain open for debate, just as should the parameters of what counts as part of the Japanese tradition.

In fact, based on arguments I have been making in this introduction, the following caveats to this definition are immediately called for. Exactly what the fundamental questions of philosophy are, and what it means to rigorously reflect on them, should remain open for discussion. We need to bear in mind the problems I have addressed regarding the application of terms like “art” and “religion” to non-Western traditions such as that of Japan; these terms are provisionally used here to indicate the range of the sources of Japanese philosophy. Cultures, languages, and traditions are not hermetically sealed and stagnant boxes. Rather, they are streams that never stop changing and interrelating; they are continually in the process of development, often under the influence of, and sometimes in confluence with, other cultures, languages, and traditions.201 Cultures, languages, and traditions are not monolithic entities but rather the variegated (p. 61) and variable media through which individuals express themselves. Cultures, language, and traditions both shape (determine) and are shaped (counter-determined) by the expressive acts of individuals. Individuals also shape and are shaped by subcultures within a culture, and those subcultures have various relations—some complementary and some antagonistic—with one another. Individuals can and, today more than ever, many do take part in two or more cultures, language, and traditions—being bilingual usually also means being bicultural—such that cross-cultural dialogue is for them an intra- as well as interpersonal affair.

Several pitfalls must be avoided when we define Japanese philosophy as philosophy that draws on Japanese language, culture, and tradition. We must constantly beware of the error many so-called theories of Japaneseness (Nihonjin-ron) make202 insofar as they attempt to essentialize Japanese culture by claiming that there is some unchanging essence such as the “indigenous Japanese spirit” (yamato-damashī 大和魂) that would be the exclusive property of the Japanese nation and the ethnically Japanese people.203 This is to ignore the historicity and the synthetic nature of the Japanese tradition which, like all great traditions, has changed over time, often by critically and creatively appropriating other traditions. Despite past ideologies of “Japanese spirit together with Chinese techniques” (wakon-kansai 和魂漢才) and later “Japanese spirit together with Western techniques” (wakon-yōsai 和魂洋才), the spiritual, intellectual, and cultural traditions of Japan have been largely shaped and modified by earlier appropriations of Chinese traditions and more recent appropriations of Western traditions. Hence, the adjective “Japanese” in the phrase “Japanese philosophy” should not be taken to imply a cultural essentialism; like all such cultural markers, it refers to a shape-shifting place of critical and creative hybridization. Rein Raud well expresses this point:

The “Japanese” in the compound “Japanese philosophy” thus does not refer to some hypothetical pure beginning or unchanged cultural quality that is continuous throughout history, but to a specific way of blending cultural flows, in which the later stages contain the memory of the previous ones without necessarily abiding by them.204

(p. 62) Moreover, “Japanese philosophy” is only mainly a subset of “philosophy in Japan” since it can, has been, and is being done by philosophers living outside Japan. Not only are there many ethnically Japanese philosophers living and working abroad, there are also a number of ethnically non-Japanese scholars who write about and contribute to the development of Japanese philosophy—in some cases even in the Japanese language. Thus, “Japanese philosophy” should not be taken to refer exclusively to works produced by philosophers who are ethnically Japanese. If Japanese philosophy were the exclusive possession of ethnically Japanese persons, or were it to exclusively address and concern ethnically Japanese persons, then it would not be worthy of being called philosophy, insofar as philosophy aims at universally valid truths (including truths about how to understand particular differences) and not merely at cultural self-expression, much less at self-aggrandizing assertions of cultural superiority. When ethnically Japanese philosophers or ethnically non-Japanese participants in the development of Japanese philosophy concern themselves with the Japanese tradition, it is not merely, and certainly not primarily, for the sake of expressing the particularity of this tradition; it is, or should be, mainly for the sake of making an original contribution to the nascent dialogue of worldwide philosophy. By “worldwide philosophy” I mean a practice of philosophizing that is open to contributions from any and all cultural or intellectual traditions and that refuses to confine the hermeneutical horizon of philosophy to one tradition, such as the Western tradition. Japanese philosophy should be understood as a specific set of contributions to such a worldwide dialogue of philosophy.

Hence, “Japanese philosophy” can be defined as any rigorous reflection on fundamental questions that draws on the intellectual, linguistic, cultural, religious, literary, and artistic heritage of Japan. But this in no way means that it is restricted in practice or in application to persons born and raised in Japan or of ethnically Japanese ancestry, any more than Greek philosophy only applies to and can only be engaged in by Greeks, or German philosophy only applies to and can only be engaged in by Germans.

Another pitfall that must be avoided is the assumption that “Japanese philosophy” is always more valuable than other areas of “philosophy in Japan.” To be sure, it is fair to say that any philosopher should attend at least in part to his or her own linguistic and cultural context insofar as he or she should strive to become aware of his or her own preconceptions and motivations.205 On the first day of an introductory philosophy course, Japanese students may learn that, according to Socrates, philosophy involves heeding the imperative to “know thyself” (Gk. gnōthi seauton). And yet, in many such ironically Eurocentric philosophy courses in Japan, connections are not drawn to Dōgen’s (p. 63) dictum: “To learn the Buddha Way is to learn the self”206 or to Daitō Kokushi’s characterization of Zen as an “investigation into the self” (己事究明 koji-kyūmei). Can one learn to philosophize on one’s own two feet if one never looks down? Yet another Zen dictum is applicable here: “Illuminate what lies directly underfoot!” (shōko-kyakka 照顧脚下). It is fair to say that Japanese philosophers, like those of other lands, philosophize best when they spend at least part of their time reflecting on their own situatedness in the ongoing development of the cultural and intellectual history of the Japanese tradition.

On the other hand, the introduction, elucidation, and critical appropriation of foreign philosophical texts and ideas often make very valuable contributions to one’s local context of philosophizing. Philosophers often manage to upset the status quo and reshape the intellectual landscape by introducing perspectives that are (at least initially) foreign. The history of philosophical thinking in Japan is replete with examples of this: many pre-Meiji and post-Meiji Japanese philosophers have made indelible contributions to the ongoing development of the Japanese tradition by introducing and appropriating Buddhist, Chinese, and Western ideas and practices. Analogously, many philosophers in Western countries have made in the past, and are making today, significant contributions to the ongoing development of their traditions by critically and creatively appropriating non-Western ideas and practices. Indeed, the chapters of the present volume aspire to be involved in this process. Yet, just as we would generally not refer to these chapters on Japanese philosophy as in and of themselves already instances of Anglo-American philosophy, we need not consider much of the valuable philosophizing that goes on in Japan today as instances of Japanese philosophy. Of course, if and when and to the extent that these appropriations do make a sufficient impact on a tradition, then it would make sense to refer to them as integral parts of that tradition. In fact, all Japanese philosophies arose out of critical and creative appropriations of Buddhist, Chinese, and Western traditions; even the earliest Shintō texts, after all, were written in the Chinese script and in light of Chinese ideas.207

In the beginning of this introduction, I heeded Wittgenstein’s advice that we look for the definitions of “Japanese philosophy” and “Nihon tetsugaku” not in some realm of eternal essences, but rather in the way these terms are used in English and Japanese. It may be that, like the “language games” that Wittgenstein analyzes, there are only “family resemblances” rather than a single essence shared by all that has gone under the name of “philosophy” in the Western tradition and under the names tetsugaku and Nihon tetsugaku in post-Meiji Japan. To bring this diversity and these family resemblances into view, one can follow Wittgenstein and “don’t think, but look!”208 However, I have not in fact merely looked at and described how the terms “Japanese philosophy” and “Nihon tetsugaku” have been and are being used for the reason that languages are always developing and we are participants in their development. We are called on not simply to be (p. 64) bystanders and observers, but rather to take part in reformulating as well as playing the language game; we are called on not just to play along but to critically think about how the rules and terms of the game have been determined and how they perhaps should be revised. In our case, the question is not just how the terms “Japanese philosophy” and “Nihon tetsugaku” have been used in the past and how are they being used today, but also how they should be used in the future. What manner of using these terms would be most faithful to the facts of the past and present as well as most fair and fruitful to possibilities for the future?209

Accordingly, I have not only tried to take stock of how “Japanese philosophy” and “Nihon tetsugaku” have been and are being used and contested in English (and other Western languages) as well as in Japanese; I have also critiqued these usages and made some suggestions for how we might modify our usage in the future. In particular, while noting attendant problems and pointing out other possibilities, I have suggested that we include at least some pre-Meiji discourses in the category of “philosophy” and “tetsugaku.” At the very least, I have argued, they should be read and discussed by students and scholars as valuable sources of philosophy. The reasons I have given are both political and philosophical. They are political insofar as I believe the exclusion of non-Western traditions from—or at best marginalization within—departments of philosophy and in general the academic category of “philosophy” in Western countries has been politically motivated. Philosophers are by no means exempt from the all-too-human inclinations to ethnocentrism and racism, and established and influential professors (including those who are neither especially ethnocentric nor racist) do not like to be told that they should include within their fiefdom experts on something they know little to nothing about.

Yet the reasons I have given for including non-Western traditions within the field of philosophy are also strictly philosophical, not only because these traditions harbor discourses that are recognizably philosophical, and not only because they can contribute new ideas, but also insofar as the meta-philosophical question of the nature of philosophy has always been and should always be a welcome part of the practice of philosophizing. Philosophers in various traditions have not only thought and argued about the nature of humans and the world and about how the former should act within the latter; they have also thought and argued about the best way to think and argue about such things. We need a discursive and dialogical field in which the very definition of “philosophy” is open to question and that means open to the possibility of being redefined in light of non-Western traditions. Rather than retreating into a de facto field (p. 65) of area studies, the field of hitherto Ameri-Eurocentric or Ameri-Euromonopolistic philosophy is called on to become worldwide philosophy in the sense of a worldwide forum for philosophical dialogue, including dialogue about the very nature of philosophical dialogue.

On Selecting Topics for this Handbook

One could restrict the scope of a handbook such as this one to post-Meiji “modern Japanese philosophy” by using the yardstick of modern Western definitions of academic philosophy. This would follow the tendency during the past century in Japan to restrict the use of the term tetsugaku in this manner. I have not done this, however, because such a restriction is questionable for both political and philosophical reasons and also because traditional Japanese discourses are evidently replete with sources of philosophical thinking, even if one does not consider those discourses to be themselves sufficiently philosophical. Even the narratives and doctrines of the Shintō tradition, which may well strike one as more “mythological” than philosophical, are nevertheless replete with “philosophical implications” that can be explicated and brought to bear on issues in comparative philosophy of religion and culture (Chapter 2).210 Regardless of whether readers are convinced that the pre-Meiji source material treated in this or that chapter should be labeled “philosophy,” all the chapters in this volume are certainly philosophical treatments of their topics that aim to contribute to contemporary philosophical (p. 66) discussions. While the chapters in each section proceed roughly in chronological order and aim to cover the most significant and influential topics and figures of (the sources of) philosophical thinking in Japan from the seventh through the beginning of the twenty-first century, the chapters are designed to be individually engaging to contemporary philosophers and students of philosophy and not merely to students and scholars interested in the intellectual history of Japan. History matters for philosophy, but it matters most for how it determines the present and contributes to the future.

While I have been less restrictive than some scholars may have wished by including treatments of pre-Meiji discourses that are either in themselves philosophical or at least contain rich sources for philosophy, other scholars may wish that I would have been even less restrictive, including even more pre-Meiji and post-Meiji figures and discourses. My principle of selection favored figures and discourses that made original and distinctively Japanese contributions to philosophical thinking. Again, the general criterion I have used to determine whether a text is a significant contribution to Japanese philosophy is the extent to which the author implicitly or explicitly draws on and makes original and fruitful contributions to the ongoing development of the Japanese tradition of thinking deeply and rigorously about fundamental matters.211 Hence, for instance, the chapters in the “Philosophies of Japanese Buddhism” section start with Saichō’s Tendai (Chapter 4) and Kūkai’s Shingon (Chapter 5), rather than with the earlier Nara schools since those earlier schools were importations that do not yet evince much originality.212 The complexity, depth, and originality of Zen master Dōgen’s philosophical writings, (p. 67) and the influence they have exerted and continue to exert on modern Japanese philosophy, called for the treatment of his thought in more than one chapter (Chapters 8 and 9). Although space did not allow for the inclusion of chapters on the many noteworthy individual Rinzai Zen masters such as Musō Kokushi, Ikkyū Sōjun, Takuan Sōhō, Bankei Yōtaku, and Hakuin Ekaku, the Rinzai tradition is otherwise well represented with one chapter devoted to the philosophical implications of Rinzai Zen kōan training (Chapter 10), another to the three most prominent modern Rinzai Zen thinkers—D. T. Suzuki, Hisamatsu Shin’ichi, and Abe Masao (Chapter 11)—and yet another to the topic of freedom and nature in Zen and related streams of Japanese thought (Chapter 33). Alongside Zen Buddhism, the other most prominent and philosophically influential school of Japanese Buddhism is Shin Buddhism, founded by the thirteenth-century Pure Land Buddhist reformer Shinran. Accordingly, one chapter has been devoted to the philosophical implications of Shinran’s writings themselves (Chapter 6) and another to his two most prominent and philosophically astute modern interpreters, Kiyozawa Manshi and Soga Ryōjin (Chapter 7).

The main figures and lines of thought in Japanese Confucianism are treated in two substantial chapters. The first emphasizes the differences between Japanese Neo-Confucianism and Chinese and Korean Neo-Confucianism by highlighting the distinctive relationships between Japanese Neo-Confucianism, Christianity, and Shintō (Chapter 12). The second shows how, even though the scholars of Ancient Learning (kogaku 古学) purported to carry out a revival of classical Confucianism, their criticisms of Zhu Xi and other Neo-Confucians in fact reflected their own involvement in the learning of Neo-Confucianism rather than merely their departure from it (Chapter 13). This section of the book also includes a chapter on bushidō (Chapter 14), a varied and influential, yet also highly controversial set of discourses on “the way of the warrior” that was developed from strands of Zen Buddhist, Shintō, and Confucian thought in the Edo/Tokugawa period (Chapter 14). This chapter shows how the reconstructive codification of bushidō in the early twentieth century informed not only the ideology of militarism but also, in a different key, the ethical and spiritual discourses of modern Japanese martial arts.

The “Modern Japanese Philosophies” section makes up approximately half the book. It begins with a substantial chapter on the introduction of Western philosophy to Japan at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, a chapter which revisits in greater detail some of the issues discussed in this introduction (Chapter 15). For the remainder of this large section I commissioned chapters on what I judged to be the most significant and original contributions to philosophical thinking in post-Meiji Japan. I did this rather than, for example, commissioning chapters on the intellectual history of how various Western philosophers and schools of philosophy—such as Kant and Neo-Kantianism, German idealism, Marxism, Heidegger, existentialism, post-structuralism, and, more recently, Anglo-American analytic philosophy213—have been (p. 68) received in modern Japan. In cases such as Christian philosophies (Chapter 26), the political philosophies of Marxism and liberalism (Chapters 20 and 28), feminist philosophy (Chapter 29), and phenomenology (Chapter 30), it seemed to me that sufficiently original and distinctively Japanese contributions have been made to warrant inclusion chapters devoted to these topics. In the case of some other topics—such as Japanese contributions to environmental philosophy (Chapters 23 and 33) and the philosophy of embodiment (Chapters 5, 20, 27, and 29)214—treatment was divided among two or more chapters.

The Kyoto School has undoubtedly been the most prominent group of post-Meiji Japanese philosophers (Chapter 16). While there is some variety in the manners in which scholars define the Kyoto School and its membership,215 it is a coherent enough set of philosophers to merit grouping them together and separately from other prominent post-Meiji philosophers; although it should be noted that some of the latter—especially Watsuji Tetsurō (Chapter 23), Kuki Shūzō (Chapter 24), and Yuasa Yasuo (Chapter 27)—also had close ties to the Kyoto School. The founder of the Kyoto School, Nishida Kitarō, is widely accepted to be the first truly original and still today the most influential philosopher of modern Japan. His philosophy is accordingly treated in two chapters, one tracing the development of his thought (Chapters 17) and another discussing the contemporary relevance of some of his central ideas (Chapter 18). Although space did not allow for extensive coverage of all the noteworthy philosophers associated with the Kyoto School,216 subsequent chapters in this subsection focus on the most prominent (p. 69) among them: Tanabe Hajime (Chapter 19), Miki Kiyoshi (Chapter 20), Nishitani Keiji (Chapter 21), and Ueda Shizuteru (Chapter 22).

Even less could all of the great variety of modern Japanese philosophers working more or less outside the orbit of the Kyoto School be covered in the second subsection of “Modern Japanese Philosophies” (Chapters 2331). The best that could be done is to treat a broad range of some of the most significant and influential of these, with apologies to readers who do not find their favorite modern Japanese philosophers or topics receiving their due attention.217 Following the chapters already mentioned, this second subsection on “Other Modern Japanese Philosophies” closes with a chapter on four noteworthy philosophers who taught at the Komaba campus of the University of Tokyo: Hiromatsu Wataru, Sakabe Megumi, Ōmori Shōzō, and Inoue Tadashi (Chapter 31). While not claiming that they formed a “school,” the chapter does demonstrate how each of these four philosophers drew on the conceptual resources of the Japanese language—specifically on the homonyms koto (こと, occurrence) and koto (こと, word or language)—to articulate an ontology according to which occurrence and language are inseparable.

The final section of this Handbook is dedicated to significant topics that span a range of time periods and schools of thought. It includes chapters on the philosophy of language (Chapter 32), nature and freedom (Chapter 33), ethics (Chapter 34), and aesthetics (Chapter 35). This final section, and the book as a whole, ends with a chapter on the controversial cultural identity of Japanese philosophy, a chapter which substantially supplements the initial treatment of this thorny issue in the present introduction (Chapter 36).

As for drawing chronological lines, it made the most sense to begin with the legendary Prince Shōtoku’s Seventeen-Article Constitution of 604 ce (Chapter 1), not only because of its antiquity and influence, but also because it clearly presents the synthetic origins of philosophical thinking in the Japanese tradition. On the other end of the temporal spectrum, it seemed best to limit coverage to philosophers who had published their main body of work by the beginning of the twenty-first century. While not purporting to be an Owl of Minerva that can discern in hindsight the essential thinkers and thoughts of the past, even less can I claim to have a grasp on everything significant that is happening in contemporary Japanese philosophy.218 In any case, the future of Japanese philosophy (p. 70) depends in large part on what we all make of its past and present, and my hope is that this Handbook will serve philosophers working both inside and outside of the geographical and cultural spaces of Japan—or somewhere in between—as a platform for that future.

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(1) Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 3rd ed., trans. G. E. Anscombe (New York: Macmillan, 1958), 20 (§43). Wittgenstein writes elsewhere that what he calls “the craving for generality,” or the “tendency to look for something in common to all the entities which we commonly subsume under a general term”—which he associates with “our preoccupation with the method of science” and with “the contemptuous attitude toward the particular case”—“is the real source of metaphysics, and leads the philosopher into complete darkness” (The Blue and Brown Books [New York: Harper & Row, 1958], 17–18). I agree that an overgrown philosophical desire for general definitions can lead us to overgeneralize and stereotype and, at worst, to posit suprahistorical, homogenizing, and exclusivistic essences. Of course, in order to understand the “particular case” at all we cannot entirely avoid generalizations, and yet we can use such generalizations as “Japanese philosophy” to refer to the ongoing historical development of a group of texts, ways of thinking, and ideas that share overlapping and mobile “family resemblances” (rather than some eternal Platonic Form).

(2) Rather than “Nihon tetsugaku” (日本哲学), some scholars write “Nihon no tetsugaku” (日本の哲学). Linguistically, the difference is merely that the possessive implied in the former expression is made explicit in the latter. I have not found there to be any consistent semantic differences in usage.

(3) The philosopher, too, is ineluctably a participant, and so I do not agree with Wittgenstein that “Philosophy really is ‘purely descriptive’ ” (The Blue and Brown Books, 18). Description is always more or less redescription, and it usually entails some degree of implicit prescription.

(5) Kōjien, sixth edition (Tokyo: Iwanami, 2008), under “tetsugaku.” All translations in this chapter are my own unless otherwise noted.

(6) Asakura Tomomi argues that the abbreviation of kitetsugaku to tetsugaku was unfortunate since, in effect, the “philo” was eliminated from “philosophy” and with it the implicit critique of the sophists (who purported to already possess wisdom) and the sense of philosophy as a “desire for wisdom” (aichi 愛知 or chie no aikyū 知恵の愛求) (Asakura 2014, 31–40; see also Kida 2014, 44). One could argue, however, that the ki (aspiration) was somewhat redundant insofar as gaku (study) expresses the action of learning something one does not already possess. In any case, Asakura understands “philosophy” above all in the modern Western sense initiated by Francis Bacon and established by Descartes; namely, as a “foundationalism” or establishment of rational grounds that criticizes rather than relies on tradition, to which he contrasts, borrowing Hegel’s phrase, “Asian stagnation” (Asakura 2014, 3–29). Asakura agrees with Maruyama Masao that “dialectics,” in the sense of a genuine dialogue and debate between schools of thought, is lacking in East Asian traditions and even still in post-Meiji Japan (Maruyama 1961; Asakura 2004, 37–40). If they are right, the difference between philosophy and tetsugaku would reiterate to some extent the (Western conception of the) difference between Western philosophy as an unending quest for a wisdom that one does not yet possess, a quest that proceeds by way of critical debate, and the so-called wisdom traditions of non-Western cultures in which sages pass along to disciples the wisdom they have received and realized. To be sure, we can acknowledge there to be some element of truth to this otherwise all too stereotypical contrast. Like an Upanishadic sage, a Confucian scholar and a Zen master do indeed purport to have attained a wisdom that they can help others in turn attain. And yet, their writings often evince a vibrant spirit of critical inquiry along with didactic generosity. And there have been great debates both within and between schools of the Buddhists and Confucian traditions. (Asakura does allow for the innovativeness of Mahāyāna Buddhism and in particular the fact that, in Zen, the student is called on to surpass the master [Asakura 2014, 28].) Conversely, we find “schools” and “traditions” throughout the history of Western philosophy, and it is not only the scholastics who have based much of their thinking on that of their predecessors. Moreover, do not philosophers in the Western tradition, starting with Socrates (see Davis 2013a, 65–66), claim to have attained some knowledge or wisdom (“human wisdom” if not “absolute knowing”) that they can convey to others, as opposed to simply pursuing what they don’t already possess or “carrying out their education in public” (as Hegel quipped of Schelling)? Indeed, Hegel’s self-professed intent was to “help bring philosophy closer to the form of science, to the goal where it can lay aside the title ‘love of knowing’ and be actual knowing” (Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller [New York: Oxford University Press, 1977], 3). One cannot, after all, simply contrast the professed “seeking of wisdom” of Western philosophers with the purported “possessing of wisdom” of Eastern sages.

(7) See Chapter 15 in this volume. On Nishi Amane’s pivotal contributions to the introduction of Western philosophy to Japan and his translation of key concepts into Japanese, see also Havens 1970; Piovesana 1997, 1–18; Ōhashi 1992, 35–52; and Steineck 2014.

(9) By “pre-Meiji” and “post-Meiji” I mean, respectively, before and after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. In this introduction, I sometimes use the terms “premodern” and “modern” to denote “pre-Meiji” and “post-Meiji,” respectively. While for convenience sake and following convention I also sometimes use the adjective “traditional” to mean pre-Meiji, it should be borne in mind that modern or post-Meiji discourses are also part of the ongoing development of Japanese tradition. We also need to keep in mind that Japan has in many respects developed its own “alternative modernity” in response to its encounter with Western modernity. On the philosophical relevance of the contemporary discourse of “multiple modernities,” see Elberfeld 2017a, 224–72. While the periods of Japanese history are traditionally designated by either the capitals where the emperor or Shōgun resided or by the reign of individual emperors, modern Japanese historians also use the following periodization: “ancient ages” (kodai 古代) = Asuka (593–710), Nara (710–784), and Heian (784–1185) periods; “middle ages” (chūsei 中世) = Kamakura (1185–1333) and Muromachi (1336–1573) periods; “early modern ages” (kinsei 近世) = Azuchi-Momoyama (1573–1603) and Edo (or Tokugawa) (1603–1868) periods; “modern age” (kindai 近代) = Meji (1868–1912), Taishō (1912–1926), and early Shōwa (1926–1945) periods; and “present age” (gendai 現代) = post-war Shōwa (1945–1989), Heisei (1989–2019), and now Reiwa (2019–) periods. Maruyama Masao has argued that a number of thinkers (Ogyū Sorai in particular) in the Edo period initiated a “modernization” that paved the way for Westernization (Maruyama 1974; discussed in Chapter 33 in this volume).

(11) Nakae Chōmin zenshū (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1983–1986), vol. 10, p. 155. Nishi Amane also complained that there was little in Japan and China that could be called “philosophy” in the Western sense; namely, critical reason unadulterated by religion (see Fujita 2000b, 6–7). Yet Nishi also often noted the similarities between Chinese and Japanese Confucian thought and Western philosophy, and he called for a development of the former by bringing it into contact with the latter (see Steineck 2014).

(12) Blocker and Starling 2001, 186. As Takeuchi Seiichi points out, however, even though Nakae Chōmin did take Western philosophy as a model, he understood philosophy in terms of independent rational thinking and so was sharply critical of Meiji philosophers who wanted to simply import Western philosophy without learning to think on their own (Takeuchi 2015, 177–78).

(14) Friedrich Nietzsche, Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, trans. Marianne Cowan (Washington DC: Regnery Publishing, 1962), 29–30.

(15) Nishida 1987–89, 14: 416–17. See Davis 2011, 34–5.

(16) Watsuji 2002, 239–46.

(17) Ishida 1963, 3–4.

(18) See Davis 2004 and 2006a. In comments on a draft of this introduction, Rolf Elberfeld rightly pointed out that it would be fruitful to compare—and contrast—this “commuting” with that of Christian theologians and philosophers today who think out of a movement back and forth between the practices that take place in traditional ecclesiastical institutions and modern universities.

(19) In this volume, on Kūkai, see Chapter 5; on Dōgen, see Chapters 8 and 9; and on Shinran, see Chapter 6. On Nichiren, see Heisig, Kasulis, Maraldo 2011, 86–91; Kasulis 2018, 173–77.

(20) See Chapters 12 and 13 in this volume.

(22) On Christian missions in Japan and elsewhere in Asia in the context of Western imperialism, see K. M. Panikkar, Asia and Western Dominance (New York: Collier Books, 1969), 279–97. Today, only about 1% of the Japanese population is Christian (compared with, for example, with around 30% of South Koreans). Nevertheless, Christian thinkers have played a relatively prominent role in the intellectual history of modern Japan (see Chapter 26 in this volume).

(23) On the early reception of Western philosophy in Japan, see Chapter 15 in this volume; Piovesana 1997; Kasulis 2018, 403–441.

(24) Itō 1990, 112. Itō goes on to note, however, that the first time “philosophy” (fuirosofuia フィロソフィア) appears in a Japanese text is 1591, in the context of a discussion of Christian theology, and that there are other precedents leading up to Nishi’s importation and translation of the concept.

(25) See Chapters 12, 13, and 15 in this volume.

(26) See Baek and Ivanhoe 2017. In fact, in sharp contrast to the situation in Japan, Jin Park is having to work to have more attention paid to modern figures under the rubric of “Korean philosophy” (see her chapter in Baek and Ivanhoe 2017, and also Park 2017).

(27) According to Arun Iyer, a philosophy professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, “most philosophy curricula in major Indian universities contain an Indian component comprised of the schools of Hindu philosophy (aastika schools) and those of non-Hindu philosophy (the naastika Buddhist, Jaina, and Carvaka). Very few Indian universities neglect the teaching of Indian philosophy” (email correspondence, May 3, 2018).

(28) See Paul 1993; Pörtner and Heise 1995; Brüll 1993; González Valles 2000; Gene and Starling 2001; Nakamura 2002; Heisig, Kasulis, and Maraldo 2011. French scholars tend to be more conservative and Eurocentric, if not indeed Euromonopolistic, in their use of the term “philosophie.” Even M. Dalissier, S. Nagai, and Y. Sugimura—while expressing great appreciation for the “incredible richness” of traditional premodern Japanese “pensée,” and while devoting much of their introduction and a fourth of their anthology to what they call an “archéologie de la pensée japonaise”—follow the Japanese and French tendency to use “philosophie” and “tetsugaku” in the “strict sense” to refer only to discourses of the Western tradition and of non-Western peoples like the modern Japanese who have appropriated that tradition. To be sure, they are careful to point out that, while “philosophy” is a Western term, the act of philosophizing itself transcends the fixtures of any tradition; yet they suggest that the modern Japanese had to learn this manner of philosophical tradition-transcending from the West (Dalissier, Nagai, and Sugimura 2013, 13–17). Nevertheless, when they speak of it in terms of a “gesture of infinite emptying of the self” (geste infini d’évidement de soi), an East Asian Buddhist influence in their understanding of “Japanese philosophy” is implied, and indeed they cite in this context a work by the contemporary Pure Land Buddhist philosopher Hase Shōtō (16). One Italian author argues that the term “filosofia giapponese” should be applied to premodern as well as modern Japanese discourses (Arena 2008), whereas another hesitates to apply it to pre-Meiji discourses, writing: “While in a certain sense it is true that there was no ‘philosophy’ [in Japan] before the second half of the 19th century, it is also true that philosophy-tetsugaku was not born out of nothing but arose in relation to something that was already there”: namely, traditional Japanese thought (Forzani 2006, 19; I thank Raquel Bouso García for information on these two Italian sources).

(30) Nihon no tetsugaku, vol. 11 (2010).

(32) Kyoto University used to have a department of the History of Indian Philosophy (Indo-tetugaku-shi インド哲学史) and still does have a department of the History of Chinese Philosophy (Chūgoku-tetsugaku-shi 中国哲学史), although both of these are housed in the school of Philological and Cultural Studies rather than in that of Thought and Cultural Studies, which houses the departments of Philosophy, the History of Western Philosophy, and the History of Japanese Philosophy. In my experience, the relative lack of communication between these small departments inhibits cross-fertilization as well as critical discussion of topics such as the definitions of “philosophy” and “tetsugaku.” The University of Tokyo Center for Philosophy has two specialists of “Chinese philosophy” on its faculty (Nakajima Takahiro and Ishii Tsuyoshi), yet the main Department of Philosophy at the University of Tokyo focuses exclusively on Western philosophy (including specialists in “the history of Western philosophy” but none in non-Western—including Japanese—philosophical traditions). Separate departments exist at the University of Tokyo for “Chinese Thought and Culture” (which until 1990 was called “Chinese Philosophy”) and “Indian Philosophy and Buddhist Studies.” “The History of Japanese Thought” (Nihon-shisō-shi 日本思想史) is a major field of study in Japan, and the books devoted to it could fill many bookcases. Those books tend to include a wide range of discourses on “literature,” “art,” “politics,” and “religion,” and tend to focus more on pre-Meiji material but also include at least a final section on modern discourses, including “philosophy [tetsugaku]” (see Ishida 1963; Imai and Ozawa 1979; Sagara 1984; and Karube and Kataoka 2008). Some Japanese scholars do refer to “Daoist philosophy” and “Buddhist philosophy.” See, for example, Ōhama Akira, Rōshi no tetsugaku [The Philosophy of Laozi] (Tokyō: Keisō Shobō, 1962) and Sōshi no tetsugaku [The Philosophy of Zhuangzi] (Tokyō: Keisō Shobō, 1966), and, more recently, Takemura Makio, Zen no tetsugaku [The Philosophy of Zen] (Tokyo: Chūsekisha, 2002) and Tetsugaku toshite no Bukkyō [Buddhism as Philosophy] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2009). Also see Kopf 2019.

(33) There are, of course, exceptions in the West as well as in Japan. Prior to the restriction of “philosophy” to the Western tradition in the late eighteenth century (see Park 2013; Bernasconi 1997 and 2003; Wimmer 2017), many Enlightenment thinkers looked to China, and Romantic thinkers to India, for “philosophies” that could serve as what J. J. Clarke calls a “corrective mirror” for self-critique (Clarke 1997, 37–70). Of course, as Clarke recognizes, even though much of the Orientalism directed at East Asia—as opposed to the Orientalism directed at the Near and Middle East that was the primary focus of Edward Said’s landmark Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1978)—has praised rather than denigrated its object, it has by no means been free of distortions and questionable motivations (see Davis 2009, 15–17). In the twentieth century, Jaspers spoke of there being “three independent origins” of philosophy during what he called the “axial age” (800–200 bce) in China, India, and Greece (Jaspers 1976, 37, 135–6). In his The Great Philosophers, he put Buddha, Confucius, Laozi, and Nāgārjuna on par with foundational Western figures (Die Großen Philosophen [Munich: Piper, 1957]). Yet even Jaspers betrays an all too familiar lack of familiarity and thus appreciation for the rigor and depth of those Asian traditions when he writes: “As thus far accessible to us in translations and interpretations, Chinese and Indian philosophy seem far inferior to Western philosophy in scope, in development, and in inspiring formulations . . . . Only in Western philosophy do we find the clear distinctions, the precise formulations of problems, the scientific orientation, the thorough discussions, the sustained thought, which to us are indispensable” (Karl Jaspers, Way to Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy, trans. Ralph Manheim [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954], 190–1). Surely Jaspers could not have made such remarks about Chinese and Indian philosophy had he read the literature now available; for example: Radhakrishnan and Moore 1957; Chan 1963; Graham 1989; Carr and Mahalingham 1997; Ivanhoe and Van Norden 2005; Garfield and Edelglass 2009; and Emmanuel 2013. And if he could have read some of the monographs and anthologies now available on “world philosophies” (Deutsch and Bontekoe 1997; Smart 1999; Garfield and Edelglass 2011), he would have needed to take into consideration current discussions regarding African and Latin American philosophy. Of course, if one looks for strict parallels to Western philosophy in other traditions, what one finds will appear second rate at best. Whereas the Indian philosophical tradition bears many resemblances to the Western tradition, the East Asian traditions pose greater challenges to a Westerner’s or a Westernized non-Westerner’s sense of the methods as well as the content of the philosophical endeavor. Clarke notes that some continental as well as analytic philosophers in the twentieth century have not been as closed-minded as their colleagues about the potential contributions of non-Western traditions. He quotes Merleau-Ponty as writing: “Western philosophy can learn [from India and China] to rediscover the relationship to being, and to estimate the possibilities we have shut ourselves off from in becoming ‘Westerners,’ and perhaps reopen them” (Clarke 1997, 114). And Clarke quotes Nozick as writing: “The treatment for philosophical parochialism, as for parochialism of other sorts, is to come to know alternatives . . . . There may even be ways of catapulting oneself, at least temporarily, into different philosophical perspectives, e.g. from Eastern thought” (114).

(34) Sueki 2012, 10. Kida Gen expresses a discomfort with the terms “Chinese philosophy” and “Indian philosophy,” as well as “Japanese philosophy,” insofar as he views these as part of the legacy of colonialism; that is, as the projection of a Western concept (“philosophy”) on non-Western ways of thinking (Kida 2014, 45–6). Most Indian, Chinese, and Korean scholars do not share Japanese scholars’ discomfort with the application of either the term “philosophy” or its translations to their traditions of thought, preferring to appropriate and modify rather than disown the concept. Min Ou Yang even argues that the neologism used to translate “philosophy,” zhéxué, need not mean the same thing as “philosophy” does in the West (“There Is No Need for Zhongguo Zhexue to Be Philosophy,” Asian Philosophy 22:3 [2012]: 199–223).

(35) Sueki 2012, 11–13. See also Fujita 2018, 1, 13.

(36) Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 79.

(37) See Davis 2013a, 74–5; Buddhisms and Deconstructions, edited by Jin Park (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006).

(38) Du Xiaozhen and Zhang Ning, Delida zai Zhongguo jiangyanlu [Lectures by Derrida in China] (Beijing: Zhongyang Bianyi, 2002), 139, cited in Carine Defoort and Ge Zhaoguang, “Editors’ Introduction,” Contemporary Chinese Thought 37: 1 (Fall 2005): 3 and 9n14. See also Asakura 2014, v; Van Norden 2017, 25.

(39) Derrida was presumable implying that the Chinese tradition never constructed what needs to be deconstructed, given his stated appreciation for the “largely nonphonetic scripts like Chinese or Japanese” as testifying to “a powerful movement of civilization developing outside of all logocentrism” (Of Grammatology, 90). Yet Derrida’s appreciation was apparently not strong enough for him to ever learn much more about these languages and their purportedly non-logocentric traditions. For a critique of Derrida’s Orientalism, see Jin Suh Jirn, “A Sort of European Hallucination: On Derrida’s ‘Chinese Prejudice,’ ” Situations 8:2 (2015): 67–83. Karatani Kōjin argues that what Derrida calls “phonologocentrism” is not exclusively found in the Western tradition since something akin to it can be found in Japan, most explicitly in the phonocentric nationalism of the scholars of National Learning. See Karatani Kōjin, “Nationalism and Écriture,” in Heisig, Kasulis, Maraldo 2011, 1093–9.

(40) Although Asakura’s book is written in a spirit of protest against that idea that “there is no philosophy in East Asia,” his main intent is to argue that the post-Meiji Kyoto School along with the contemporaneous New Confucianism of Xiong Shili and Mou Zongsan are exemplars of “East Asian philosophy,” and he in fact supports the recent trend in Japan to refer to the traditional discourses of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism as “Chinese thought” (Chūgoku shisō) rather than as “Chinese philosophy” (Chūgoku tetsugaku) (Asakura 2014, 36). While this may indeed be the trend of the times, in response to papers I gave at the 2015 meeting of the Nishida Tetsugakkai (The Nishida Philosophy Association) in Kyoto and at a symposium in 2018 at the University of Tokyo Center for Philosophy on the theme of “Sekai tetsugaku toshite no Ajia shisō” (Asian Thought as World Philosophy), I found that at least some philosophers in Japan (albeit among the type that attend such meetings) are open to revisiting the question of the semantic and historical scope of “Nihon tetsugaku” (see Davis 2015, 2019b).

(41) Hashimoto Mineo, “Keijijōgaku wo sasaeru genri” [The Principle Supporting Metaphysics], in Furuta and Ikimatsu 1972, 55–57.

(42) Fujita 2018, 11–12.

(43) See Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2nd revised ed., translated by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald Marshall (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1989), 277–285.

(45) Kasulis 2018, 38–39.

(48) Mattice 2014, chapter 2.

(49) A. S. Cua, Ethical Argumentation: A Study in Hsun Tzu’s Moral Epistemology (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1985), 8; quoted in Mattice 2014, 26.

(50) Mattice 2014, chapters 3 and 4.

(51) Hiromatsu 1998, 1119.

(52) Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. David Carr (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970), 289. It is for this reason that Husserl claims that, while all non-Western peoples are rightly motivated to Europeanize themselves, “we [Europeans], if we understand ourselves properly, would never Indianize ourselves” (275). For a recent defense of the idea that “European philosophy” is a tautology, see Gasché 2009. For critiques, see Perkins 2011; Davis 2017.

(53) Karl Löwith, Martin Heidegger and European Nihilism, ed. Richard Wolin, trans. Gary Steiner (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 232. For an account of and critical response to Löwith’s critique, see Davis 2011.

(54) For example, in the introduction to one of his major works, Slavoj Žižek remarks, parenthetically and without argument, that philosophy is synonymous with Western philosophy (Less than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism [London/New York: Verso, 2012], 5). Neither there nor in the ensuing thousand-plus pages of his text does he make any attempt to justify this exclusionary claim. This is especially odd given that the main opponent—the near enemy, so to speak—of his entire project is clearly Buddhism: “The only other school of thought that fully accepts the inexistence of the big Other is Buddhism” (129); and yet, “This book tries to demonstrate that the Freudian drive cannot be reduced to what Buddhism denounces as desire” (3). Although Žižek returns again and again to distinguish his position from that of his characterizations (or caricatures) of Buddhism (see, for example, 38, 108–10, 123, 129–35, 928, 945), his text and footnotes contain no references whatsoever to scholarly works on Buddhism, much less to any texts from the various Buddhist traditions themselves. The apex of Western philosophy for Žižek is Hegel, and Žižek inherits the Eurocentrism of his philosophical Meister. Yet Hegel at least bothered to keep up with the growing literature of his day on Buddhism and Hinduism and to keep his mind open enough such that “Reading the memoirs of [Henry Thomas] Colebrooke actually led this denigrator of things Indian to go back on his previous judgments in the course of the last years of his education in Berlin, from 1827 to 1831 . . . . For example, he wrote that speculative Indian thought, such as Colebrooke made known, ‘completely deserves to be called philosophy [Sehr wohl den Namen Philosophie verdient]’!” Roger-Pol Droit, The Cult of Nothingness: The Philosophers and the Buddha, trans. David Streight and Pamela Vohnson (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 71; Droit is quoting Hegel’s Berliner Schriften, in Werke, vol. 11 (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1970), 144.

(55) Garfield and Van Norden 2016. For Garfield’s and Van Norden’s responses to the many shockingly aggressive and ignorantly parochial criticisms they received, see Van Norden 2017, xi–xxi, 8–12. See also Davis 2019a.

(56) Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1987), 36; quoted in Martha Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 132.

(60) Bernasconi 1997, 215–16.

(62) Gregor Paul is among those who insist that logic—beginning with the laws of identity, contradiction, and the excluded middle—is universal, the same in all languages, cultures, and philosophical traditions, including the Buddhist discourses on causality found in Japan (Paul 1993, 4–5, 16, 164–95). But some contemporary philosophers and logicians in fact dispute the principle of noncontradiction. Notable in this regard is the analytic philosopher Graham Priest, who often refers to Buddhist philosophy and especially to Nāgārjuna. See Graham Priest, J. C. Beall, and Bradley Armour-Garb (eds.), The Law of Non-Contradiction: New Philosophical Essays (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); and Graham Priest, Beyond the Limits of Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 249–70 (a chapter written with Jay Garfield). John Maraldo notes that Nishitani Keiji claims that “the classical law of contradiction abstracts from reality and cannot accommodate actual contradictions in it,” his point being not so much about the laws of formal logic themselves but rather “that the restriction to atomic propositions in abstract, formal logic is precisely what precludes an ability to grasp concrete, continually transforming reality and the relationship between things and human selves” (Maraldo 1997, 814). Whether or not Nāgārjuna’s deconstructive arguments, certain Zen kōans, Nishida’s logic of “absolutely contradictory self-identity” (zettai mujun-teki jiko-dōitsu 絶対矛盾的自己同一; see Chapters 17 and 18 in this volume), or D. T. Suzuki’s “logic of is/not” (soku hi no ronri 即非の論理; see Chapter 11) should be understood as violations of and/or replacements for the law of noncontradiction, and regardless of whether we can identify certain very basic rules of rational thought that are universally accepted, in any case, there surely remains much room for significant and even radical variation between philosophical traditions, analogous to the way in which basic facts of human biology such as the need to eat do not detract from the great variety among culinary customs and the basic facts of visual perception tell us next to nothing about the affective and symbolic significance of colors in different cultures.

(63) Gregor Paul claims that ancient “Japanese philosophers mostly raised the same questions as European philosophers, and also indicated numerous answers in the same directions as the solutions sought for in Europe” (Paul 1993, 14; see also 341). He does acknowledge that the “dharma theory” of Buddhism “is very different from almost all ontologies of the European tradition” (348); nevertheless, criticizing numerous Japanese and Western scholars, he refuses to acknowledge, for example, that there is any significant sense in which a “unity of nature and human” has been a distinguishing characteristic of Japanese culture (2, 345–7). See, however, Chapter 33 in this volume. And, in contrast to Paul’s downplaying of the philosophical significance of linguistic differences (5, 15–17), see Chapter 32 in this volume.

(64) Paul 1993, 7.

(65) Mineshima Hideo (ed.), Hikakushisōjiten [Dictionary of Comparative Thought] (Tokyo: Tokyoshoseki, 2000), 235.

(66) I have elsewhere argued that it is the Buddhist requirement of extending rational discourses into holistic practices (especially meditation), rather than a “leap of faith” into the acceptance of a rationally groundless doctrine of revelation, that both challenges and is challenged by the presuppositions and limits of modern Western philosophy. And this challenge is reflected in the Kyoto School’s “philosophies of religion” (shūkyō-tetsugaku 宗教哲学). See Davis 2004, 2006a. In his provocatively original account of the origins of Western philosophy in Ionia rather than Athens, Karatani Kōjin argues that, “As long as we follow the contemporary classifications that separate religion, philosophy, and science, we will never be able to recognize the world-historical leap in the sixth and fifth centuries bce” carried out independently by Buddha, Laozi and Confucius, Ezekiel and other Jewish prophets in Babylonian exile, and the Ionian “Presocratic” thinkers (Karatani 2012, 10). In Karatani’s Neo-Marxist interpretation, this leap entailed the emergence of a new mode of exchange (rather than, as Marx would have it, a new mode of production), one that recovers in a sublated form the freedom and equality found in the communities of nomadic hunter-gatherers that preceded the rigid systems of reciprocity found in agricultural clan societies (138).

(67) Nakamura 2002, v–vi. On Nakamura’s universalistic approach to comparative philosophy, in contrast to Izutsu Toshihiko’s more relativistic approach, see Chapter 25 in this volume. For other approaches to comparative and cross-cultural or intercultural philosophy, see Halbfass 1988; Larson and Deutsch 1988; Clarke 1997; Elberfeld 1999, 2004, 2017a; Mall 2000; Davis 2009; Ma and van Brakel 2016; Chakrabarti and Weber 2017.

(68) For an excellent anthology of texts that reveal the great diversity of definitions of “philosophy” throughout the Western tradition, see Elberfeld 2006. Elberfeld’s anthology is meant to prepare us to engage with “texts from Asia and other non-European cultures” (243), a dialogical engagement that will challenge us to once again radically rethink the self-image of philosophy (248). At the end of his historical survey of the myriad ways in which “philosophy” has been defined in the Western tradition, Regenbogen (2014) argues that, while “intercultural philosophy” is a problematic concept insofar it presupposes rigid borders across which philosophical dialogue must be established, “it makes more sense to understand philosophizing as a transcultural practice in heterogeneous cultures of knowledge . . . . The comparison between philosophical traditions is an everyday occurrence, since there is not ‘the philosophy’ but rather a pluralism worth maintaining of philosophical questions and arguments” (39). For a thought-provoking cross-cultural typology of philosophers, see Smith 2016. Smith concludes that “there are simply too many different and only partially overlapping activities to warrant to any unified and all-purpose definition of ‘philosophy’ that will be of service across different times and places” (237).

(69) In his What Is Philosophy? Heidegger claims that “Occidental-European philosophy is, in truth, a tautology . . . . the statement that philosophy is in its essence Greek says nothing more than that the Occident and Europe, and only these, are, in the innermost course of their history, originally ‘philosophical’ ” (Heidegger 1956, 31, trans. mod.). However, it is important to note that Heidegger equates “philosophy” with Western “metaphysics,” which he himself is trying to overcome or recover from. Hence, he speaks of “the end of philosophy and the task of thinking” and writes: “The thinking that is to come is no longer philosophy because it thinks more originally than metaphysics—a name identical to philosophy” (Martin Heidegger, Pathmarks, ed. William McNeill [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998], 276). And with regard to this non-metaphysical “thinking,” Heidegger was intensely interested in dialogue with East-Asian traditions (see Davis 2013b; and Bret W. Davis, “East-West Dialogue After Heidegger,” in After Heidegger?, edited by Gregory Fried and Richard Polt [London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018], 335–45). Kida Gen argues that Heidegger belongs among a litany of Western thinkers since Nietzsche who have “relativized ‘philosophy’ ” such that “philosophy” is no longer seen as a matter of “universal knowledge” that should be found everywhere (even if, factually, it is not found everywhere: hence the supposed superiority of the West over the Rest). “Philosophy,” according to Kida, is a “particular manner of thinking” that is historically limited to the Western tradition that starts with the metaphysics of Plato (not the Presocratics), was taken up by Christianity, and continues to determine the modern scientific-techonological worldview (Kida 2014, 48–50). The other figure Kida draws heavily on is Merleau-Ponty, who, in one of his final writings, referred to his own thought—and indeed to the age of thought as a whole that began after Hegel—as that of “anti-philosophie” or “non-philosophie” (see Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Philosophy and Non-Philosophy Since Hegel,” trans. Hugh Silverman, in Philosophy and Non-Philosophy Since Merleau-Ponty, ed. Hugh Silverman [Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1997]; see also Kida 2004, 2–3). However, Kida acknowledges that “philosophy” is for him an ambiguous word that can be used, on the one hand, in a more specific sense to mean the tradition of Western metaphysics from Plato to modern science and technology, and, on the other hand, in a more general sense that includes the project of “anti-philosophy” (han-tetsugaku 反哲学) that he suggests Japanese thinkers are well positioned to inherit from Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and other recent Western thinkers (Kida 2014, 51). Regardless of whether one agrees with the specifics of Kida’s interpretation of the history of Western philosophy and anti-philosophy, it does seem that we are left with the ambiguity of “philosophy” understood, on the one hand, as synonymous with “Western philosophy” and, on the other hand, as an (initially Western) expression intended to encompass, and thus allow us to compare and contrast, critically reflect on, and creatively develop, the various manners of thinking about fundamental questions to be found in various cultures, languages, and traditions. The problem that Heidegger, Kida, and others alert us to is the perhaps unavoidable conflation of these two senses. Yet, even if such a conflation cannot simply be avoided, it can be critically reflected upon as we allow other ways of thinking to contribute to a multilateral dialogue on the methods and aims, as well as the content, of philosophy.

(70) In their What Is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari define philosophy as “the art of forming, inventing, and fabricating concepts” on a “plane of immanence” that is itself “like a section of chaos and acts like a sieve” (Deleuze and Guattari 1994, 2, 42). Although in places they repeat the Euromonopolistic trope that “philosophy” is essentially Greek in origin (43, 93), in a footnote they do seem to attribute to Dōgen “the supreme act of philosophy: not so much to think THE plane of immanence as to show that it is there, unthought in every plane [ . . . as . . . ] that which cannot be thought and yet must be thought” (59–60). In this regard, they refer to “the Zen text of the Japanese monk Dôgen, which invokes the horizon or ‘reserve’ of event: Shôbôgenzô” (220n2). In another footnote, Deleuze and Guattari refer to a translation of texts by Dōgen and to an anthology of Japanese literature as manifestations of “Japanese philosophy,” which they include—alongside Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, and Chinese philosophy—among the ways in which “Today, by freeing themselves from Hegelian or Heideggerian stereotypes, certain authors are taking up the specifically philosophical question on new foundations” (223n5).

(71) Carel and Gamez 2004 consists of eighteen essays by philosophers approaching the definition of philosophy from various analytic and continental perspectives. The editors claim that “The book portrays the nature and state of philosophy at the beginning of the twenty-first century, capturing its features on a particular day, at a specific age, as it appears in a certain historical context” (2). Evidently, no Asian traditions are woven into that historical context, for, even though it contains one illuminating chapter on African philosophy and another on Latin American philosophy, there are no chapters on Indian, Buddhist, Chinese, or Japanese philosophy (the existence of Chinese philosophy is merely acknowledged in passing in the introduction). For another noteworthy collection of essays by some contemporary representatives of the analytic, pragmatist, and continental streams of Western philosophy reflecting on the meta-philosophical question of the nature and aims of philosophy, see Ragland and Heidt 2001.

(72) For a remarkable attempt to explain the divergence of continental and analytic streams of philosophy in terms of a disagreement over how to move beyond the concept/intuition dualism of Kant’s epistemology, and over how to inherit his four great questions (What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope? What is man?), see Cutrofello 2005, 1–29, 396–418. He argues that the division is not at the level of a philosophical controversy, but rather at the meta-philosophical level of “a controversy about the nature of philosophical controversies” (5, see also 402), which entails a “meta-antinomy about what it means to respond philosophically to antinomies” (413). He asks, with Russel, should we treat apparent paradoxes as logical puzzles to be solved, or, with Derrida, should we treat at least some of them as aporias in which we have a duty to “interminably persist” (404–7)? Cutrofello concludes that the real problem is not that “analytic and continental philosophers have been unable to agree about the nature of the highest philosophical good”; rather, it is that “they have been unable to [figure out a way to] argue about their respective conceptions of the philosophical enterprise.” To do that, they need to find a way to discuss “Kant’s fifth question, namely, ‘What is philosophizing good for and what is its ultimate end?’ ” (416).

(73) For a selection of key texts from analytic, continental, and pragmatist philosophers on this topic, see Baynes, Bohman, and McCarthy 1987. For attempts to clarify and/or reconcile the continental-analytic divide, see James Chase and Jack Reynolds, Analytic Versus Continental: Arguments on the Methods and Value of Philosophy (Montreal: Mcgill-Queen's University Press, 2010); and Beyond the Analytic-Continental Divide: Pluralist Philosophy in the Twenty-First Century, ed. Jeffrey A. Bell, Andrew Cutrofello, Paul M. Livingston (New York: Routledge, 2015).

(74) Yet even this agreement may be difficult to obtain. C. P. Ragland and Sarah Heidt state, on the one hand, that “the question ‘What is Philosophy?’ does seem to be a necessary part of philosophy.” And yet, on the other hand, they claim that “The nature of philosophy is not a preeminent philosophical question, and philosophers can be great without writing essays on meta-philosophy.” Why, they ask, should we “suppose that philosophers need to inquire into the nature of philosophy any more than artists need to ponder the nature of art?” (Ragland and Heidt, 3–4). Yet, one could turn this analogy around to point out that, in modern and contemporary times, at least, when the definition and purpose of art has fallen into question, most “great artists” are in fact deeply involved in the question of what it is that they are doing. At least in times of crisis, revolution, renaissance, and innovation—in other words, in times when philosophy is most called for—meta-philosophy does indeed seem to be a preeminently philosophical endeavor.

(75) H. O. Mounce, The Two Pragmatisms: From Peirce to Rorty (New York: Routledge, 1997).

(76) Fraser MacBride, “Analytic Philosophy and its Synoptic Commission: Towards the Epistemic End of Days,” in O’Hear 2014, 221.

(77) Stroll 2000, 7–8. Hans-Johann Glock finds “geo-linguistic, historiographical, formal, material and ‘ethical’ conceptions of analytic philosophy” to be wanting, yet he argues that “analytic philosophy” can be coherently defined as “a historical tradition held together by ties of influence on the one hand, family resemblances on the other” (Glock 2008, 204, 231). While he is somewhat more optimistic about the possibility of a methodological definition of analytic philosophy in terms of the shared use of a “toolbox” of a variety of “conceptions and techniques of analysis,” in the end, agrees Michael Beaney, “the only way to answer the question, ‘What is analytic philosophy?’ is to provide of history of the analytic tradition” (Beaney 2013, 29).

(78) Stroll 2000, 1–2.

(79) Joseph Margolis, The Unraveling of Scientism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003), 16. For a leading contemporary phenomenologist’s arguments against scientism, see Schmitz 2018.

(80) See Thomas Nagel’s clear rejection of scientism in The View from Nowhere (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 9–10. On Wittgenstein’s and Williams’s rejection of scientism, see Glock 2008, 119, 161, 245. Although his treatment of continental philosophies is often unfairly polemical, Glock rightly points out that the realism versus anti-realism/constructivism/relativism debates over the nature of science cannot be equated with debates between analytic versus continental camps in philosophy since there are also numerous anti-realist, constructivist, or relativist analytic philosophers (235–38).

(83) Critchley 1998, 12–13.

(84) Critchley 2001, xiii–xiv.

(85) Relatively few modern Japanese philosophers avow scientism, although many traditional and modern Japanese philosophers have been accused of indulging in obscurantism. Without denying that some may be guilty as charged, and while affirming that clarity and various kinds of rigor are very often very important virtues in philosophy, let me also point out that forced clarity obscures, especially when the matter under investigation itself involves ambiguities, ambivalences, indistinctness, paradoxes, and even aporias. In such cases, rather than force reality into our clear and distinct concepts, it is arguably the task of the philosopher to be as clear as possible about what is inherently unclear. Dōgen, for example, would probably say that, even in his most dense and playfully convoluted prose, he was being precisely as clear as possible and as appropriate to the matter at hand. He adamantly rejected the idea that Zen kōans are “beyond logic and unconcerned with thought” and reproached monks who hold such views: “the illogical stories [murikaiwa 無理会話] mentioned by those bald-headed fellows are only illogical for them, not for buddha ancestors.” Dōgen, Shōbōgenzō, edited by Mizuno Yaoko (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1990), vol. 2, p. 190; Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen’s Shobo Genzo, ed. Kazuaki Tanahashi (Boston: Shambhala, 2012), 157. On kōans as used in Rinzai Zen practice, see Chapter 10 in this volume. On Dōgen’s philosophy of language, see Chapters 9 and 32.

(86) See Peter Gratton, Speculative Realism: Problems and Prospects (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), 135–6. See also The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, edited by Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek, and Graham Harman (Melbourne:, 2011).

(87) Zahavi 2016, 92. Zahavi notes parallels between the transcendental character of both Husserlian phenomenology and analytic philosophy of language, but also indicates a divergence between the former’s bracketing of the “natural attitude” and recent attempts by analytic philosophers of mind to “naturalize phenomenology.”

(88) McEvilley 2002, 18. In the second half of his monumental book, McEvilley shows how the Greeks, having been on the receiving end during the pre-Socratic period, exerted a counter-influence on the development of Indian philosophy during the Hellenistic period. See also Elberfeld 2017a, 21–59.

(89) Park 2013, 1–2; see also Wimmer 2017.

(90) In addition to Park 2013, see Bernasconi 1995, 1997, 2003.

(91) Diogenes Laertius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, translated by R. D. Hicks (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972), vol. 1, p. 5.

(92) Emmanuel Levinas in Raoul Mortley, French Philosophers in Conversation (London: Routledge, 1991), 18. On this and other such comments by Levinas, see Robert Bernasconi, “Who Is My Neighbor? Who Is the Other? Questioning ‘the Generosity of Western Thought,’ ” in Emmanuel Levinas: Critical Assessments, vol. 4, edited by Claire Katz with Lara Trout (London: Routledge, 2005), 5–30; Bret W. Davis, “Ethical and Religious Alterity: Nishida After Levinas,” in Kitarō Nishida in der Philosophie des 20. Jahrhunderts, edited by Rolf Elberfeld and Yōko Arisaka (Freiburg/Munich: Alber Verlag, 2014), 337–41.

(93) See Clarke 1997, chapters 3 and 4.

(94) Johann Jakob Brucker, Historia critica philosophiae a mundi incunabulis ad nostrum usque aetatem deducta, 5 vols. (Leibzig: Christoph Breitkopf, 1742–1744). For an abridged English edition, see Johann Jakob Brucker, The History of Philosophy, from the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Present Century, two volumes, trans. William Enfield (London: W. Baynes, 1791).

(95) Park 2013, 70; see also Park 2013, 2.

(96) Park 2013, 9.

(97) Park 2013, 76–82.

(98) Park 2013, xi, 94, 149–50.

(99) For a concise collection of Kant’s racists assertions to the effect that “Chinese, Indians, Africans, and the Indigenous peoples of the Americas are congenitally incapable of philosophy,” see Van Norden 2017, 21–23. For a translation of the relevant texts, see Kant and the Concept of Race, edited by Jon M. Mikkelsen (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2013).

(100) Wimmer 2017, 167, 169, 172, 180; on Tiedemann and Tennemann, see also Park 2013, 82–87.

(101) For a dismal account of the minimal representation or nonrepresentation of non-Western traditions in graduate programs in the United States, see Van Norden 2017, 2–3, 162–3.

(102) Indeed, a global sociology of philosophy is called for (see Collins 1998), one which would include an investigation of the sociological reasons that many academic philosophers insist on a Eurocentric or Euromonopolistic conception of philosophy. In Japan, this would involve analyzing how philosophers (tetsugakusha) occupy a position within the hybrid society of modern Japan as representatives of Western culture vis-à-vis other positions, such as those occupied Buddhist priests, teachers of traditional artistic Ways, and other representatives of traditional Japanese culture. The social prestige of philosophy professors in Japan is manifested, for example, in the rhetorical power they wield by having a command of Western terms and texts. To suggest a delimitation of the purview of those terms and texts is in effect to threaten to delimit the prestige of the professors. Of course, a sociology of philosophy would also need to examine the social motives others have for wanting to incorporate non-Western (such as pre-Meiji Japanese) traditions into the field of philosophy.

(103) For a survey of works in Western languages over the past century that have sought to reopen the field of philosophy to non-Western traditions, see Elberfeld 2017c, 286–323.

(104) Georg Misch, The Dawn of Philosophy: A Philosophical Primer (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1951), 9.

(105) Misch, The Dawn of Philosophy, 44. See also Eric S. Nelson, Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in Early Twentieth-Century German Thought (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), chapter 5.

(106) Wilhelm Dilthey, Das Wesen der Philosohie, as excerpted in Elberfeld 2006, 196.

(107) Dilthey, Das Wesen der Philosohie, in Elberfeld 2006, 197.

(108) Ammonius, “Die Definitionen der Philosophie,” German translation by Rainer Thiel, in Elberfeld 2006, 80–91.

(109) George Anastaplo, But Not Philosophy: Seven Introductions to Non-Western Thought (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2002), xvi–xvii.

(110) Maraldo 2004, 223–4.

(111) Hadot 1995 and 2002.

(112) Elberfeld 2017a, 161–2. Kasulis contrasts “engaged knowing” with “detached knowing” and argues that the former is stressed in Greek as well as in traditional Asian philosophies, whereas the latter is stressed in modern academic philosophy as developed in the West and adopted by most modern Japanese philosophers (Kasulis 2018, 20–32, 575–7). There are, of course, exceptions. John Krummel has argued that Heidegger, Nishida, and Nishitani share an understanding of “philosophy” as a quest for the meaning of existence in the face of mortality and the experience of something—or rather “nothing”—that exceeds our horizons of meaning (Krummel 2017). Yet, although Krummel makes a good case for this being a compelling way of understanding “philosophy,” one that links at least some Western and Japanese philosophers, it would be difficult to argue that this definition of philosophy is universally shared across historical periods and traditions.

(113) Hadot 2002, 279.

(114) Hadot 1995, 59.

(115) Maraldo 2013, 21, 31.

(116) See Chapters 11, 21, 22, and 27 in this volume; Davis 2004 and 2019. Drawing on American transcendentalist and pragmatist philosophers as well as on continental phenomenologists such as Merleau-Ponty, Richard Schusterman has attempted to reincorporate somatic exercises into the practice of philosophy, and he has made some compelling connections between his project and East Asian philosophies and practices such as those of Zen Buddhism. See his Thinking Through the Body: Essays in Somaesthetics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), especially chapter 13, “Somaesthetic Awakening and the Art of Living: Everyday Aesthetics in American Transcendentalism and Japanese Zen Practice.” Nevertheless, while the pragmatic and aesthetic aims of his “somaesthetics” may intersect with, they are not the same as the soteriological or rather liberative aims of Zen. See Bret W. Davis, “Toward a Liberative Phenomenology of Zen,” in Yearbook for Eastern and Western Philosophy, vol. 2, edited by Hans Feger, Xie Dikun, and Wang Ge (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017), 304–20.

(118) In the 1920s, Heidegger suggested that anxiety or profound boredom could trigger the step back from immersion in a predetermined understanding of beings required for philosophical thinking. In the 1930s, he thought that the “other inception” of thinking will be attuned by “shock, reticence, and awe.” And, in the 1940s, after turning decisively away from a willful resoluteness, he spoke of a nonwillful “releasement” (Gelassenheit) of letting-be as the most proper attunement for philosophical thinking. See Bret W. Davis, Heidegger and the Will: On the Way to Gelassenheit (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2007).

(119) See Elberfeld 2004, 57–84.

(120) Hisamatsu Shin’ichi chosakushū (Tokyo: Risōsha, 1970), vol. 1, p. 11. On Hisamatsu, see Chapter 11 in this volume. On Nishitani Keiji’s understanding of practicing philosophy as a matter life and death, see Chapter 21.

(121) Nakae Chōmin zenshū (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1983), vol. 10, p. 155.

(124) Robert Bernasconi, “Must We Avoid Speaking of Religion: The Truths of Religions,” Research in Phenomenology 39/2 (2009): 222.

(127) Josephson 2012, 5. On the Christian and Eurocentric history of the concept of “world religions,” see Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions: Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005). It is important to bear in mind that “religio” was a Latin concept with no Greek equivalent and that the plural “religions” becomes commonly used only starting in the seventeenth century.

(128) Josephson 2012, 257. Specifically, Josephson demonstrates, “Japanese officials translated pressure from Western Christians into a concept of religion that carved out a private space for belief in Christianity and certain forms of Buddhism, but also embedded Shintō in the very structure of the state and exiled various ‘superstitions’ beyond the sphere of tolerance” (21). Before the importation of Western categories, the general term oshie (教え) or kyō (教) was used to refer to the teachings of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shintō, yet it covered a wide “combination of what we might call education, politics, religion, science, and ethics” (257). The term that came to be used in the Meiji period as a translation of “religion,” shūkyō (宗教), a term that originally referred to the main teachings of a sect, came signify “effectively what was left over from oshie after politics, education, and knowledge had been removed” (257). This meant that the three pre-Meiji “oshie—Buddhism, Shintō, and Confucianism—were fractured in new ways. Buddhism became a religion, Shintō was divided into religious and secular political forms, and Confucianism became a philosophy” (258).

(130) See Larry Shiner, The Invention of Art: A Cultural History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

(131) For rebuttals by contemporary representatives of “analytic aesthetics” to the claim—which is said to be “so pervasive in enclaves of the humanities outside philosophy” (23)—that non-Western traditions of “art” do not conform to modern Western definitions, see the final two chapters in Theories of Art Today, edited by Noël Carroll (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000): Stephen Davies, “Non-Western Art and Art’s Definition” (199–216) and Denis Dutton, “ ‘But They Don’t Have Our Concept of Art’ ” (217–38). While Davies and Dutton do point out some excessive and otherwise questionable claims made by certain ethnographers and anthropologists, the problem with attempts such as theirs to define “art” in a manner that includes artifacts and practices from all times and places is not just that these definitions end up being so general as to be rather indefinite; the more serious problem is that they inevitably end up privileging or “centering on” a certain kind of art—the kind one finds in modern Western museums and galleries: “Fine or High Art . . . art with a capital A,” as Davies writes (202)—and de jure or at least de facto marginalizing and to some extent misunderstanding, if not excluding, significant artifacts and practices of non-Western as well as premodern Western cultures. In their attempts to be inclusive, they fail to sufficiently attend to the violence of inclusion and to self-critically allow their own paradigmatically modern Western conception of art to be called into question and potentially modified by the artifacts and practices they deign to include.

(132) In this regard, see the admirable, if only moderately successful, attempt by Japanese and American craftsmen in 1909 to recreate a Japanese temple ambience for the Buddhist statues removed from Japan to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (

(133) For an attempt by a Western philosopher to approach the Way of Tea and other “Japanese arts” own their terms, see Carter 2008 and Chapter 34 in this volume. Carter begins his book by stating: “Art, philosophy, and religion are intertwined in Japanese culture” (1). However, he might have prefaced this with the phrase: “What we call, from a modern Western perspective, art, philosophy, and religion . . . .”

(134) Marra 1999, 2001, 2002.

(135) Marra 1999, 1–2.

(137) See Davis 2013b, 461.

(139) Miller 2011. This view informs the approach Miller takes in Chapter 35 of this volume.

(140) In addition to earlier sections of this introduction, see Elberfeld 2006.

(141) Blocker and Starling write: “Perhaps Hindu scholars asked Alexander’s generals whether there were any rishis among the Greeks. We can imagine Marco Polo trying to satisfy the curiosity of Yuan dynasty Confucian administrators concerning the presence or absence in Europe of zi” (Blocker and Starling 2001, 14). See also Leah E. Kalmanson, “Dharma and Dao: Key Terms in the Comparative Philosophy of Religion,” in Ineffability: An Exercise in Comparative Philosophy of Religion, edited by Timothy D. Knepper and Leah E. Kalmanson (New York: Springer, 2017), 248–9.

(142) The conference papers were later published as Heisig 2004.

(143) Heisig, Kasulis, and Maraldo 2011. See also the Spanish edition: Heisig, Kasulis, Maraldo, and Bouso Garcá 2016. The present Handbook complements the Sourcebook. Whereas the Sourcebook consists mainly of a wide-ranging sampling of primary texts in translation, the Handbook is devoted to explicating and interpreting a selection of the most significant and influential figures, schools, and sources of Japanese philosophy in a manner that allows them to address and contribute to contemporary philosophical discussions. Another noteworthy complement to the Sourcebook, as well as to the present Handbook, is Kasulis 2018, which offers an engaging interpretation of seven paradigmatic Japanese philosophers (Kūkai, Shinran, Dōgen, Ogyū Sorai, Motoori Norinaga, Nishida, and Watsuji) along with their cultural and intellectual contexts.

(144) This was confirmed by Kasulis and Maraldo at a conference in April of 2015 at Ohio State University commemorating Kasulis’s retirement. At that time, in response to my paper, “Was There Philosophy in Pre-Meiji Japan?” Maraldo expressed sympathy with the idea of referring to some pre-Meiji discourses as “philosophy.” Kasulis expressly applies the term “philosophy” to pre-Meiji as well as post-Meiji discourses in Kasulis 2018 and 2019. In his book on the Kyoto School, James Heisig writes that “if one understands philosophy in its stricter sense as the particular intellectual tradition that began in Athens” and developed in the Western tradition, a tradition that has “never been broken, spliced, enlarged, or seriously challenged by Asian thought,” then the groundbreaking achievement of the Kyoto School is to have been the first to break this Eurocentric mold by developing original “world philosophies” that draw on East Asian and Buddhist sources as well as on Western ones (Heisig 2001, 7–8). However, the momentous cross-cultural achievements of the Kyoto School notwithstanding, there have in fact been earlier episodes in the “entangled histories” (Verflechtungsgeschichten) of the Asian and Western philosophical traditions. See McEvilley 2002; Clarke 1997; Elberfeld 2017a, 21–127.

(147) Maraldo 2004, 238–44; see also Heisig, Kasulis, Maraldo 2011, 19–21; Krummel 2017, 206–14.

(149) For more on the problem of ethnocentrism and chauvinism in Nihonjin-ron discourses, see Chapter 36 in this volume. Also see Dale 1986; Sakai 1997; Kasaku Yoshino, Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary Japan: A Sociological Enquiry (New York: Routledge, 1992); Harumi Befu, Hegemony of Homogeneity: An Anthropological Analysis of Nihonjinron (Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press, 2001).

(150) In this volume, on Motoori Norinaga, see Chapter 3; on Suzuki, see Chapter 11; and on Watsuji, see Chapter 23.

(151) On this I disagree with critics such as Peter Dale (1986) and Bernard Faure (see his “The Kyoto School and Reverse Orientalism,” in Fu and Heine 1995, 245–81). See Davis 2011 and 2013. On the controversial cultural and political writings of Kyoto School philosophers, see Chapters 16, 19, 20, and 36 in this volume. For an overview of the issues, see section 4 of Davis 2019c. For an array of in-depth treatments, see Heisig and Maraldo 1995 and Goto-Jones 2008.

(152) In response to a draft of this Introduction, John Maraldo informed me that he, too, had come to view his earlier formulation of the third definition (i.e., the definition of Japanese philosophy as “a form of inquiry which has methods and themes that are Western in origin, but that can be applied to pre-modern, pre-Westernized, Japanese thinking”) as too restrictive. He pointed out that, in the Sourcebook, he added the following: “A small number of Japanese philosophers in Japan allow for the kind of balanced dialogue where the critique is allowed to run in both directions. These thinkers . . . not only read traditional Japanese texts in light of modern philosophy; they also use premodern concepts and distinctions to illuminate contemporary western philosophy and to propose alternative ways to solve modern or contemporary philosophical problems. Whether these endeavors unearth philosophy retrospectively from traditional Japanese thought, or go further to use that thought as a resource for current philosophical practice, their air is inclusion: making the Japanese tradition part of an emerging, broader tradition of philosophy” (Heisig, Kasulis, Maraldo 2011, 20; see also Maraldo 2017, 6–11). Nevertheless, Maraldo rightly stresses that all of our reflections on what “Japanese philosophy” was, is, and can be “proceed from a contemporary standpoint in which Japan has already imported ‘Western’ philosophy and developed tetsugaku” (email correspondence, 7 August 2018). I concur that while we can, as it were, make the hermeneutical street run in two directions, we cannot simply reverse its direction. In other words, we can allow pre-Meiji discourses to modify our current understandings of philosophy, but we cannot label those discourses “philosophy” without at least provisionally projecting upon them modern Western and modern Japanese understandings of what is meant by that term.

(154) Heisig, Kasulis, and Maraldo 2011, 25–8. See also Kasulis 2019 and chapter 1 of Kasulis 2018.

(155) See Nishida 1987–89, 11: 434, 458; Nishida 1987, 99, 118.

(156) See Chapter 3 in this volume. While duly recounting his fervent nationalism, Blocker and Starling write that “Motoori uses philosophy to challenge philosophy, and in a way that has postmodern resonances” (Blocker and Starling 2001, 186). In his critique of what he sees as Chinese abstract rationalizations of human suffering, and in his defense what he sees as the honest and sincere emotionalism of indigenous Japanese poetry, Motoori is said to help us “see more clearly that this perennial debate between the head and the heart is not a debate between East and West, but within philosophy, both Eastern and Western” (Blocker and Starling 2001, 110). Ueyama Shunpei claims that Japanese Buddhism and Japanese Confucianism also evince a critique of excessive rationality and civilization, a critique that corresponds to a return to “naturalness” (jinen 自然) and “simplicity” (soboku 素朴). He says that this movement can be called a radical “negation of philosophy” (tetsugaku hitei 哲学否定) (Ueyama 1972, 1–2). Kida Gen reads Nietzsche, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida, and other recent Western philosophers as developing an “anti-philosophy” (han-tetsugaku 反哲学) that seeks to overcome the metaphysical tradition that runs from Plato to the materialistic and mechanized view of nature in modern science and technology, and he suggests that the Japanese, whose tradition was not based on such a metaphysical delimitation and denigration of nature, are well positioned to take up this project of overcoming the supernatural legacy of Western philosophy as metaphysics and recovering a more positive and holistic sense of nature (Kida 2014, 50–1).

(157) Charles Inoyue writes in this regard: “The syllogism that brings evanescence and sorrow together to yield something more ‘positive’ would go something like this: A: Life is evanescent and, as a result, sorrowful. B: Sorrow heightens the beauty of things. C: Therefore, evanescent life is beautiful” (Inoyue 2008, 85). Inoyue shows that “a Japanese sensitivity to ‘all things changing all the time’ predates Buddhism’s entry into the country in the sixth century,” and his book is a remarkable interpretation of “the tendency toward the formal”—whether it is ritualized commemorations of seasonal changes or formalized social behavior—in Japanese culture as “an effort to give meaning to a constantly changing reality. In Japan, radical form balances radical change” (215). Rather than seeking eternal forms that transcend the transient processes of nature, however, the Japanese have often looked for form within the changing world, that is to say, within what Inoyue calls “the order of here-and-now” as opposed to “the transcendental order” (51–65).

(158) Dōgen, Shōbōgenzō, 1: 90; Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, 243.

(159) See Chapter 2 in this volume. Motohisa Yamakage (Jp. Yamakage Motohisa) writes that the etymology of musubi is related also to the sense of “to bind together” (musubu). And he says that “the basic religious idea of Shintō is the continuous process of creation” (Yamakage 2006, 125–6).

(160) See Chapter 12 in this volume.

(161) See Chapters 4 and 5 in this volume.

(162) See Chapters 23, 30, 33, and 34 in this volume.

(163) Tachikawa Musashi, Kū no shisōshi: Genshibukkyō kara Nihon kindai e [A History of the Thought of Emptiness: From Early Buddhism to Modern Japan] (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 2003), 6, 324–9. For a more detailed examination of the “positive” manner in which the doctrine of emptiness is developed in Japan, see Tamura 1982. Tamura discusses the challenge of “affirming actual reality” (genjitsu kōtei 現実肯定) when “actual reality” ambiguously means both impermanence and samsaric existence on the one hand and the ignorance and psychic defilements that cause and characterize suffering on the other. Whereas some Tendai monks fell into a licentious brand of “original enlightenment thought” (hongaku shisō 本覚思想), and whereas Hōnen called for a rejection of actual reality and an aspiration for birth in a transcendent Pure Land, according to Tamura, Shinran, Dōgen, and Nichiren attempted to somehow sublate or unify the two standpoints such that ignorance and psychic defilements were negated and yet this world of impermanence and finitude is affirmed (Tamura 1982, 896–7). Such subtleties are not recognized by the so-called Critical Buddhists of late who reject anything resembling “original enlightenment thought” and “affirmation of actual reality” as purportedly un-Buddhist (see Hubbard and Swanson 1997, Shields 2011, and Chapter 4 in this volume).

(165) Kasulis 2002, 8; see also Kasulis 2018, 41–2. I agree with Kasulis that, even though “generalizations are always distortions,” insofar as they are selective, highlight some things or facets of things and leave out or marginalize others, and so on, we can use them—indeed, we cannot help but use them heuristically in scholarship as in daily life.

(166) See Chapter 1 in this volume.

(167) Pure Land Buddhists distinguish themselves from practitioners of Zen and other schools of Buddhism who purportedly rely on their own efforts with practices such as meditation. Arguing the futility of such a reliance on self-power given our thoroughly corrupt nature, they argue that the only possible path to nirvāna left open to us is an utter reliance on the other-power of Amida (Sk. Amitābha or Amitāyus) Buddha. However, the opposition between at least Shinran’s interpretation of Pure Land Buddhism and Zen is not as clear-cut as such polemics make it out to be, and these apparently rival schools of Japanese Buddhism in fact share some profound commonalities, the ideal of “naturalness” (jinen 自然) among them. See Bret W. Davis, “Naturalness in Zen and Shin Buddhism: Before and Beyond Self- and Other-Power,” Contemporary Buddhism 15/2 (July 2014): 433–47. On Shinran’s Shin Buddhism, see Chapters 6 and 7 in this volume.

(168) See Chapters 12 and 13 in this volume.

(169) See Chapters 16 and 19 in this volume; Davis 2019c; Sugimoto Kōichi, “Tanabe Hajime’s Logic of Species and the Philosophy of Nishida Kitarō: A Critical Dialogue within the Kyoto School,” in Japanese and Continental Philosophy: Conversations with the Kyoto School, edited by Bret W. Davis, Brian Schroeder, and Jason M. Wirth (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011), 52–67.

(170) Ueda 2011, 19.

(171) Ueda 2011, 20.

(172) Ueda 2011, 30. On Ueda, see Chapter 22 in this volume.

(173) Hashimoto Mineo, “Keijijōgaku wo sasaeru genri” [The Principles Supporting Metaphysics], in Furuta and Ikimatsu 1972, 53; see also Fujita 2011, 993–4.

(174) Kant, Die Metaphysik der Sitten, excerpted in Elberfeld 2006, 152–3.

(175) Compare in this regard the longstanding debates in the field of African philosophy over the notion of “ethnophilosophy.” See D. A. Masolo, African Philosophy in Search of an Identity (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994).

(176) See note 52.

(177) See Clarke 1997, 43–50.

(178) Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (second edition), trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald Marshall (New York: Crossroad, 1989), 270.

(180) Jürgen Habermas sees Gadamer’s revival of the “authority of tradition” as having gone too far in limiting the critical resources of the Enlightenment that enable us to uproot the prejudices of the tradition. See his “A Review of Gadamer’s Truth and Method,” in The Hermeneutic Tradition, ed. Gayle L. Ormiston and Alan D. Schrift (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990), 213–44. Keta Masako argues that Gadamer fails to fully account for the aspect of religious experience that exceeds reabsorption into the enveloping continuity of tradition and its structure of understanding/interpretation. See her Nihirizumu no shisaku [Thinking of Nihilism] (Tokyo: Sōbunsha, 1999), 112.

(181) Gadamer, Truth and Method, 304–7. On the potential and limits of Gadamer’s contribution to cross-cultural philosophy, see Davis 2013a, 68–71; Bret W. Davis, “Sharing Words of Silence: Panikkar After Gadamer,” Comparative and Continental Philosophy 7/1 (2015): 52–68.

(182) Hilary Putnam, “Must We Choose Between Patriotism and Universal Reason?” in Martha C. Nussbaum, For Love of Country? (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002), 94. Putnam seems here to answer his own question of a few years earlier: “Why can we not just be philosophers without an adjective?” (quoted in Chase and Reynolds, Analytic Versus Continental, 4).

(185) See Nishida 1987–89, vols. 4–7. On Nishida’s idea of the place of absolute nothingness, see Chapters 17 and 18 in this volume.

(186) On Nishida’s confrontation with Tanabe over the question of “species” in between individual and universal, see Sugimoto, “Tanabe Hajime’s Logic of Species and the Philosophy of Nishida Kitarō.” On Nishida’s potential contributions to as well as actual ventures and misadventures in cross-cultural philosophy, see Chapter 36 in this volume; Davis 2006b and 2014, 175–82; Bret W. Davis, “Nishida’s Multicultural Worldview: Contemporary Significance and Immanent Critique,” Nishida Tetsugakkai Nenpō [The Journal of the Nishida Philosophy Association] 10 (2013): 183–203; Elberfeld 1999; Gereon Kopf, “Ambiguity, Diversity and an Ethics of Understanding: What Nishida’s Philosophy Can Contribute to the Pluralism Debate,” Culture and Dialogue 1/1 (2011): 21–44; Kopf 2014.

(187) Ueda Shizuteru, “Nishitani Keiji: Shūkyō to hishūkyō no aida” [Nishitani Keiji: Between Religion and Non-Religion], in Nishitani Keiji, Shūkyō to hishūkyō no aida [Between Religion and Non-Religion], edited by Ueda Shizuteru (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1996), 309.

(188) Fujita 2013, 7. See also Fujita 2011.

(189) See Chapter 23 in this volume.

(190) See Chapter 32 in this volume.

(192) The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, and Dugald Murdoch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), vol. 2, p. 122.

(194) Nishida 1990, 3–4.

(195) See Chapter 17 in this volume.

(196) John Maraldo rightly points out (in an email correspondence dated 7 August 2018) that some Western philosophers, notably Nietzsche, have also doubted the existence of a substantial ego-subject that preexists the act of thinking. Nevertheless, I think it is noteworthy that Nietzsche suggests that this “prejudice of philosophers” may stem from the particularities of the grammar of Indo-European languages (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Walter Kaufmann [New York: Vintage, 1966], 23–4). Moreover, Nietzsche goes on to speculate that “It is highly probable that philosophers within the Ural-Altaic languages [a now contested language family that includes Japanese] (where the concept of the subject is least developed) look otherwise ‘into the world,’ and will be found on paths of thought different from those of the Indo-Germanic peoples and the Muslims” (27–8). However, Maraldo notes that Pierre Gassendi had objected directly to Descartes that one cannot infer the existence of an agent that thinks merely from the existence of the operation of thinking. See section 3 of Saul Fisher, “Pierre Gassendi,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>. Other Western thinkers before and after Nietzsche, including Georg Lichtenberg and William James, also made similar objections. Thus, while we might agree with Fujita that the philosophies of Descartes and Nishida were likely influenced by the grammars of their respective languages, it is not the case that grammar strictly determines the parameters of what can be thought and what can be questioned.

(197) Fujita 2011, 17. See also Chapter 32 in this volume.

(198) Fujita 2011, 18. Fujita has recently revised and published his lectures on the history of modern Japanese philosophy (Fujita 2018).

(199) Fujita Masakatsu, Tetsugaku no hinto [Hints of philosophy] (Tokyo: Iwanami, 2013), 1–16.

(200) The in other respects informative anthology, Begriff und Bild der modernen japanischen Philosophie (Steineck, Lange, Kaufmann 2014a), suffers from a failure to effectively recognize this distinction between Japanese philosophy and philosophy in Japan. Moreover, the editors fail to conceive of a positive conception of “Japanese philosophy” as philosophy that critically and creatively draws on the intellectual, linguistic, cultural, religious, and other sources of Japanese tradition and instead tend to paint all such “Japanese philosophies” with the broad polemical brush of ethnocentric Japanism. As a result, they misleadingly censure the editors of Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook (Heisig, Kasulis, and Maraldo 2011), as well as the Frontiers of Japanese Philosophy series published under Heisig’s direction, for purportedly operating under a “cultural relativistic conception of philosophy” (Steineck, Lange, and Kaufmann 2014b, 30). The editors of Begriff und Bild are right to stress the diversity of modern Japanese philosophies, and they rightly point out that the development of modern Japanese philosophy can be exclusively characterized “neither in the direction of a dialectical materialism on the one hand nor as a specifically Asian thinking on the other.” They stipulate the aim of their volume as that of bringing the full breadth of modern Japanese philosophy to light by offering a “corrective” to what they see as “the predominant reduction in Western literature of modern Japanese philosophy to its Japanistic, self-orientalizing streams” (34–5). Yet their own “corrective” is often as problematic as what they aim to criticize. For example, just prior to this passage, they lump the Kyoto School together with “the long dominant apologetical ‘state philosophy’ in the line of Inoue Tetsujirō,” against which they pit a variety of Japanese philosophers who stood for the “political independence of philosophy” (34). This is a mischaracterization or at best a gross oversimplification of the complexity of the political writings of the Kyoto School philosophers and the controversy surrounding them (see note 151). The editors of Bild und Begriff complain that works such as Sourcebook for Modern Japanese Philosophy (Dilworth, Viglielmo, Zavala 1998) unduly restrict the scope of (modern) Japanese philosophy to thinkers more or less affiliated with the Kyoto School. They also lodge this complaint against some Japanese works (Fujita 1997; Tsunetoshi 1998), and they could have mentioned many others (Tanaka 2000; Fujita and Davis 2005; Kumano 2009; Higaki 2015). It is indeed the case that attention given to the Kyoto School both in Japan and abroad has overshadowed other interesting and important modern Japanese philosophies, many of which are featured in the second part of the present volume’s section on “Modern Japanese Philosophies.” However, although the title of their volume speaks of “modern Japanese philosophy,” its contents are better characterized as “philosophy in modern Japan” or, indeed, as “the reception of currents of modern Western philosophy in modern Japan.” Even though they begin by stating that the “Occidentalization” of philosophy in modern Japan—such that it has tended to be done “in a Western key”—is regrettable, their editorial decision to categorize the main “philosophical streams in Japan” in terms of the reception of Western streams, and so to commission chapters on empiricism, German idealism, phenomenology, existentialism, environmental philosophy, and analytic philosophy as they have been taken up by Japanese philosophers, perpetuates and exacerbates the problem. As informative as those chapters are on aspects of philosophy in modern Japan that get marginalized in works that, like the present one, focus on Japanese philosophy, presenting “modern Japanese philosophy” as merely a set of receptions of currents of Western philosophy paints an Ameri-Eurocentric—albeit also an anti-Japanistic—picture of modern Japanese philosophies as mere branches of Western trees. In effect, they oversimplify and exaggerate the pervasiveness of Japanism and counter it with an unrecognized retrenchment of Eurocentrism. In the introduction to his anthology of contemporary philosophy in Japan, Hans Peter Liederbach (2017a) is sharply critical of the editors of Begriff und Bild for their lack of attention to the hermeneutical situatedness of philosophies in Japan or elsewhere. Yet he is also wary of claims made by Kyoto School philosophers such as Nishitani and Ueda (and philosophers working in their lineage, such as myself) to be able to draw on Japanese traditions in order to develop a post-metaphysical philosophy that fruitfully responds to the critiques of Western metaphysics by philosophers such as Nietzsche and Heidegger (Liederbach 2017b). In effect, like the editors of Begriff und Bild, Liederbach is suggesting that such claims are cut from the same cloth as the cultural ideology of Nihonjin-ron theorists. To my mind, however, these critics themselves ironically make the same kind of error as do the cultural ideologues they purport to criticize; in both cases, the cultural cart is put before the philosophical horse. What matters most is not whether a proponent of Japanese philosophy argues for the compelling quality of certain Japanese ideas, but whether he or she argues for them because they are Japanese OR because they are philosophically compelling. Nishitani and Ueda (and I) are surely intending to do the latter.

(201) The modern concept of culture first came to prominence in the middle of the eighteenth century. Along with the concept of civilization, until the mid-nineteenth century, the concept of culture was only used in the singular (i.e., as a singulare tantum). Even Herder, in his influential writings about the differences among countries, peoples, languages, and religions, only used Kultur in the singular. It was apparently first Burckhart and then Nietzsche who developed a plural understanding of Kulturen. Since the mid-nineteenth century, the plural concept of cultures has served as a means of criticizing Eurocentric conceptions of “progress” as entailing cultural imperialism (see Elberfeld 2017a, 222–4). However, after Spengler’s controversial yet influential organistic conception of essentially separate cultures, there has been a persistent tendency to reify different cultural spheres or civilizations into incommensurable monoliths (see, for example, Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations [New York: Touchtone, 1996]). Rather, we need to understand cultures as having interwoven histories; we need to understand cultures as fluid and porous spheres that repeatedly enter into a variety of relations of influence and sometimes confluence with other fluid and porous spheres. Japanese culture, often singled out for its purported uniqueness, is in fact a shape-shifting sphere of iterating patterns that has been formed and reformed over the course of its history, most notably through its formative contacts in the past with Chinese cultural streams and more recently with Western cultural streams.

(202) See note 149.

(203) Here I agree with Gregor Paul that the locution “Japanese philosophy” has at times been used and abused, usually alongside such expressions as “Japanese spirit” (nippon seishin 日本精神) and “indigenous Japanese spirit” (yamato damashii), in a politically nefarious manner (Paul 1993, 14). Although I do not agree with Paul’s portrayal of Nishida and the Kyoto School as mere ideologues of Japanism (136), it is true that Nishida’s student Kōyama Iwao, and, to a lesser extent, Nishida himself, at times fell into the trap of essentializing Japanese culture (see Davis 2006b, 227–38).

(204) Raud 2017, 19. See also Davis 2011.

(205) See Kasulis 2018, 578–80, for a trenchant critique of the Ameri-Eurocentrism of postwar academic philosophy in Japan. Claiming that most modern academic philosophers in Japan are in effect acting as accomplices of their own cultural and intellectual colonization, ignoring both Socratic and traditional Japanese injunctions to “know thyself,” Kasulis accuses them of “denying their own philosophical heritage” as they “do their technical work as if they were western philosophers working in outposts of European or American departments of philosophy” (578–9).

(206) Dōgen goes on to say that “to learn the self is to forget the self” and that “to forget the self is to be verified by the myriad things of the world.” See Chapter 8 in this volume.

(207) See Chapters 1, 2, and 15 in this volume.

(209) Rather than simply describing the world, I believe that philosophers are called on to critique, redescribe, and participate in its transformation. Philosophy, I believe, should be prescriptive as well as descriptive, normative as well as analytical. Here I find myself at odds with Wittgenstein (see The Blue and Brown Books, 18; also note 3 above), yet in accord both with most continental philosophies, insofar as engagement in a transformative practice of critique is a distinctive trait of that tradition (Critchley 1998, 10), and with most Japanese (and more generally Asian) philosophies, insofar as transformative and liberative practices are also a prominent characteristic of them.

(210) See also Carter 2001; Kasulis 2004; and Iwasawa 2011. Moreover, note the manner in which modern philosophers such as Watsuji Tetsurō (see Chapter 23 in this volume), Kuki Shūzō (Chapter 24), and Sakabe Megumi (see Chapters 30 and 31) draw on the philosophical resources embedded in Japanese linguistic usage (Chapter 32) and literary texts without claiming that these resources are themselves philosophy. For a contemporary attempt to draw out the philosophical implications of indigenous Japanese words and expressions (yamato-kotoba やまと言葉), see Takeuchi 2012 and 2015. Takeuchi’s endeavor is based on the idea that, as Nishida Kitarō puts it, “Insofar as philosophy entails coming to a logical self-awareness of our life, it must have an ethnic character to it” (Nishida 1987–1989, 13: 217; Takeuchi 2015, 186), and he repeatedly echoes Watsuji’s call for Japanese philosophers to philosophize on the basis on their everyday experience as expressed in everyday language (Watsuji 2011, 90–1; Takeuchi 2015, 3, 165, 209). Takeuchi affirms Watsuji’s definition of philosophy as an “academic discipline that attempts to clarify our self-understanding that precedes reflection” (Takeuchi 2015, 9, 169). Yet, on its own, this is surely an insufficient definition of philosophy insofar as this phenomenological and hermeneutical endeavor to “clarify” what Heidegger calls our everyday “pre-ontological understanding” must be combined with a critical endeavor that runs in both directions, seeking to correct pernicious habits or implicit biases (such as racism) embedded in our everyday experience and language as well as to reformulate abstract concepts that cover over and distort our more concrete experiences of reality. In emphasizing the task of philosophy as an elucidation of prereflective self-understanding, Takeuchi’s project must take care not to repeat an ethnically reductive and relativistic conception of philosophy that sees it as primarily the expression of “the genius of an ethnic nation” (see Takeuchi 2015, 185), not to mention the assertions of superiority and exclusionary nationalism of the eighteenth-century scholars of National Learning (see Takeuchi 2015, 8).

(211) While I agree with many of his points and appreciate his efforts to foster attention to the wider field of “Japanese thought,” I think that Richard Calichman goes too far when he claims in his introduction to Contemporary Japanese Thought that “there seems to be little reason to determine thought on the basis of its geographical or cultural background” (Calichman 2005, 2). What sense would it make to call something “Japanese thought” if it has nothing to do with the Japanese archipelago or with the cultures that have developed there? Does Calichman renounce the legitimacy of the title of his book when he questions “the very possibility of assigning to thinkers and their thoughts any fixed regional properties” (2)? Perhaps not, if we highlight the qualifier “fixed.” I agree with Calichman that the editor of a book such as his, or this one, of necessity participates in the ongoing (re)definition of terms such as “Japanese thought” and “Japanese philosophy.” But I do not think of this participation in the apparently voluntaristic and explicitly decisionistic terms of Calichman. What he calls “the departure point of phenomenology” is in fact more of an existential voluntarism: “that things in their natural existence are meaningless in and of themselves; objective meaning is something that can by right be arrived at only through the participation of consciousness in its repeated acts of inscription” (12). “Japan is nothing,” he quotes Takeuchi Yoshimi as writing, “meaning in this context that no substantial reality can precede the operation in which Japan comes to be temporarily inscribed or marked up as meaningful” (12). Yet, in terms of Heidegger’s early phenomenological ontology, this is to overly stress our projection (Entwerfen) of meaning without sufficiently attending to our thrownness (Geworfenheit) in a world already provisionally determined by historicity and facticity. To be sure, “Japan” was never a “substantial reality” endowed with ahistorical essences. But neither was it ever merely “nothing”; there was never a blank slate upon which the first theorist of Japan Studies arbitrarily inscribed a definition of this term. “Japan” was not invented ex nihilo, such that a theorist could just as effectively have decided to inscribe the same meanings on the factical givenness—or, as Watsuji would say, on the “climate-and-culture” (fūdo 風土)—of, for example, what has come to be called “Iceland.”

(212) See Matsunaga and Matsunaga 1976, 1: 26–137.

(213) It can be said that “Anglo-American ‘analytic’ philosophy of the 1950s and ‘60s scarcely made a dent in Japanese consciousness” (Blocker and Starling 2001, 189) and, in general, that “the influence of Anglo-American analytic philosophy has lagged behind the impact of European thinking on modern Japanese philosophy” (Maraldo 1997, 828). As in other places in the “globalizing” world, however, Anglo-American analytic philosophy presently appears to be gaining popularity in Japan. The Tokyo Forum for Analytic Philosophy, at which papers are given in English, was first formed in 2012. Yamaguchi Shō goes so far as to claim that analytic philosophy is “the most intensively received and researched” current of philosophy in Japan today (“Analytische Philosophie,” in Steineck, Lange, and Kaufmann 2014a, 269). (One of the main figures Yamaguchi presents as representative of analytic philosophy in Japan is Ōmori Shōzō, an original thinker whose work in fact defies easy categorization. He is treated in Chapter 31 of the present volume.) Yet Toda Takefumi, in the same volume, gives a more commonly heard and probably more accurate portrayal: “Still today philosophy in the Anglo-Saxon tradition is a minority in Japan” (“Empiricism,” in Steineck, Lange, and Kaufmann 2014a, 155). Among the reasons for this, Toda notes the predominant influence of German philosophy in Japan since the Meiji period.

(214) For a recent anthology of Japanese environmental philosophy, see Callicott and McRae 2017. For a substantial discussion of Japanese bioethics (seimei rinrigaku 生命倫理学), see Heisig, Kasulis, and Maraldo 2011, 1231–45.

(215) In addition to Chapter 16 in this volume, see Davis 2019c.

(216) Chapter 16 includes brief treatments of Tosaka Jun, Kōyama Iwao, Mutai Risaku, Shimomura Toratarō, and other philosophers associated with the Kyoto School who are not treated extensively elsewhere in this volume. Tosaka has received much attention from Neo-Marxist intellectual historians, and his interventions certainly played a very important role in the modern intellectual history of Japan (see Tosaka Jun: A Critical Reader, edited by Ken C. Kawashima, Fabian Schafer, and Robert Stolz [New York: Cornell University Press, 2014]). Nevertheless, although his leftist credentials are more ambiguous, Miki Kiyoshi is surely the most original and philosophically influential of the Marxist philosophers associated with the Kyoto School (see Chapter 20; on some significant postwar Marxist philosophers, see Chapter 28).

(217) Inevitably, some noteworthy recent philosophers, such as Nakamura Yūjirō (see Pörtner and Heise 1995, 385–9; Heisig, Kasulis, and Maraldo 2011, 952–7) and Karatani Kōjin (see Karatani 2017 as well as notes 39 and 66 above and Chapter 36 in this volume), did not receive as much attention as they probably deserve; nor arguably did certain topics and movements, for example, debates over “Critical Buddhism” (see Hubbard and Swanson 1997, Shields 2011, and Chapter 4 in this volume) and developments of “clinical philosophy” (see Kimura and Noe 2014, and Chapter 30 in this volume).

(218) For a range of other contemporary work being done in Japanese philosophy and/or philosophy in Japan, see Maraldo 1997; Calichman 2005; Steineck, Lange, and Kaufmann 2014; Liederbach 2017a; Yusa 2017; Krummel 2019; the Frontiers of Japanese Philosophy series published by Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture (; Studies in Japanese Philosophy series published by Chisokudō Publishing (; the Tetsugaku Companions to Japanese Philosophy series published by Springer; Journal of Japanese Philosophy; European Journal of Japanese Philosophy; and the Japanese journals: Nihon no tetsugaku, Nihontetsugakushi kenkyū, and Nishida tetsugakkai nenpō. Also see the websites of the following societies devoted to Japanese philosophy: Nishida Philosophy Association (; European Network for Japanese Philosophy (; and International Association of Japanese Philosophy (