The Japanese Philosophy Blog

News and discussion of ancient and modern Japanese philosophy

June Roundup

It’s almost officially summer, but philosophy never goes on vacation!


  • Environmental Philosophy 10.1 (Spring 2013).

    Several articles of interest to comparativists:

    • Parkes, Graham. “Zhuangzi and Nietzsche on the Human and Nature.”

      In the context of an unprecedented level of human harm to the natural world on a global scale, this essay aims to rehabilitate the category of the natural by drawing on the philosophies of the classical Daoist Zhuangzi and Friedrich Nietzsche. It considers the benefits of their undermining of anthropocentrism, their appreciation of natural limitations, their checking of human projections onto nature, and their recommendations concerning following the ways of nature while at the same time promoting human culture. The essay concludes with a few examples of how these ideas apply to some current environmental issues.

    • Chinn, Meilin. “Sensing the Wind: The Timely Music of Nature’s Memory.”

      According to the Zhuangzi, listening to the music of nature draws the self into the silence required to experience things in their self-arising spontaneity. How does this happen? This essay answers by way of the Yue Ji (Record of Music), where it is said that great music embodies the timeliness of nature. Using both texts, I develop timeliness as the opportune moment, temporal natality, and nature’s memory. Listening to the timely music of nature is shown to be an act of ecological perception that, by releasing time in favor of timeliness, reveals our aesthetic accordance with nature’s own becoming.

    • Wirth, Jason. “Dōgen and the Unknown Knowns: The Practice of the Wild after the End of Nature.”

      Thinkers like Slavoj Žižek and Tim Morton have heralded the end of our ideological constructions of nature, warning that popular “ecology” or the “natural” is just the latest opiate of the masses. Attempting to think what I call Nature after Nature, I turn to the Kamakura period Zen master Dōgen Eihei (1200–1253) to explore the possibilities of thinking Nature in its non-ideological self-presentation or what Dōgen called “mountains and rivers (sansui).” I bring Dōgen into dialogue with his great champion, the American poet Gary Snyder (who understands the process of sansui as “the wild”), as well as with thinkers as diverse as Schelling, Kundera, Žižek, Agamben, and Muir. Beyond Nature being any one thing, what Badiou derides as the “cosmological one,” I argue for the reawakening and sobering up to multiple Nature, beyond its appearance as an object to a discerning subject, as the bioregions which give us our interdependent and dynamic being.

    • Schultz, Lucy. “Creative Climate: Expressive Media in the Aesthetics of Watsuji, Nishida, and Merleau-Ponty.”

      In different ways, Watsuji, Nishida, and Merleau-Ponty describe a self that extends beyond the skin through a sort of dialectic of internal/external space of perception and action, which has implications for understanding the relationship between art and nature in artistic creation. Through an exposition of Watsuji’s conception of human being in relation to a climatic milieu, Nishida’s theory of the expressive body as the site of the world’s own self-transformations, and certain claims made by Merleau-Ponty in his essays on painting, this article provides a way of understanding how material media may become expressive when they are taken up by artists.

    • Jung, Hwa Yol. “A Prolegomenon to Transversal Geophilosophy.”

      This essay proposes the idea of transversal geophilosophy as ultima philosophia to save the earth. Geophilosophy is that philosophical discipline which embraces all matters of the earth as a whole. Since it requires global efforts on all fronts, it is necessarily cross-cultural, cross-speciesistic, and cross-disciplinary, that is, geophilosophy is transversal. It attends especially to the importance of Sinism, which incorporates Confucianism, Daoism, and Chan/Zen Buddhism, in constructing an ethico-aesthetic paradigm. Sinism is a species of relational ontology or philosophy of Interbeing which defines reality as social process, that is, in the cosmos everything is connected to everything else or nothing exists in isolation, that coincides with the “first law” of ecology. Not only is the aesthetic a discourse of the body, but also the body is our anchorage in the world. In Sinism, the aesthetic and the ethical come together in the embodied concept of harmony, which is the master keyboard, as it were, they are being played together: what is harmonious is simultaneously beautiful and ethical, which culminates in the cosmopolitan virtue of ren. Today we must walk tomorrow as well as yesterday: we steop backward in order to step forward. The Way (Dao) of Ecopiety is to be had in part by recycling the ancient wisdom of Sinism instead of abandoning it as old and foreign.

  • Philosophy East and West. 63.2 (April 2013).

    Of special interest to readers here:

    • Krueger, Joel. “Watsuji’s Phenomenology of Embodiment and Social Space.”

      This essay situates Tetsuro Watsuji within contemporary approaches to social cognition. It argues for Watsuji’s current relevance, suggesting that his analysis of embodiment and social space puts him in step with some of the concerns driving ongoing treatments of social cognition in philosophy of mind and cognitive science. It is further shown how Watsuji offers a fruitful contribution to this discussion by lending a phenomenologically informed critical perspective. First, some interpretative work is done to explore Watsuji’s conception of embodied intersubjectivity. The focus in particular is on Watsuji’s conception of what is termed here the “hybrid” body as well as his distinctive treatment of interpersonal space—what Watsuji terms “betweenness” (aidagara). Next, these notions are connected to current treatments of social cognition within philosophy of mind and cognitive science. Made explicit are several of the ways that Watsuji challenges the core cognitivist and internalist presuppositions behind the Theory of Mind paradigm, and experimental work is drawn from, among other sources, developmental psychology and gesture studies to support Watsuji’s alternative characterization of embodied social interaction.

    • MacKenzie, Matthew. “Enacting Selves, Enacting Worlds: On the Buddhist Theory of Karma.”

      The concept of karma is one of the most general and basic for the philosophical traditions of India, one of an interconnected cluster of concepts that form the basic presuppositions of Indian philosophy. The focus of this essay is on two interrelated aspects of the Buddhist theory of karma. After some preliminary comments on the general philosophical notion of karma and on the enactivist approach to philosophical psychology, I will explore the distinctively Buddhist idea that through the karmic process we enact ourselves—that is, we make and remake ourselves through our actions. Second, I will discuss the idea that we also enact our world(s) through karma—that is, our patterns of action and reaction bring forth meaningful worlds, which in turn shape those very patterns for better or worse. Finally, I will briefly discuss the character and cultivation of enlightened action, action free from the production of karma.

    • Davis, Gordon. “Traces of Consequentialism and Non-Consequentialism In Bodhisattva Ethics.”

      Barbra Clayton and Charles Goodman have recently proposed interpretations of Mahāyāna philosophy that take its fundamental ethical commitments to be consequentialist. There are aspects of the bodhisattva ideal, however, that result in a distinctive constraint on what might otherwise amount to a commitment to consequentialist maximization. Though the doctrinal provenance of this constraint is unique, the constraint itself is in some ways akin to a feature of Kant’s ideal of the kingdom of ends. This does not make Mahāyāna ethics proto-Kantian, but it does suggest that its complexity does not rule out an analysis in terms of familiar consequentialist and non-consequentialist theoretical elements.


  • FUJIOKA Tsuyoshi. “The Japanese Lysenkoism and Its Historical Backgrounds.” Studies in the History of Biology 5.1 (2013).

    Two bases of the rising tide of Lysenkoism in Japan after WW II are Japanese Marxist philosophy influenced by Soviet philosophy and evolutionary biology. Almost all Japanese Marxists left Lysenkoism after Lysenko’s downfall, however, a group of biologists continued to support Lysenko’s theory. In Japan, Lysenkoism attracted the attention of biologists who were not satisfied with Neo-Darwinism. The delay of the acceptance of the evolutionary synthesis in Japan is closely related to the influence of Lysenkoism on biologists. In this paper, I will explain the philosophical and scientific background of Japanese Lysen-koites. These factors will help to understand why the influence of Lysenkoism continued for as long as it did in Japan, long after it was abandoned in other countries.

  • Ogawa, Ruby Toshimi. “In Consideration of 18Th Century Japanese ‘Kokugaku’ Studies in Harmonizing Our Cultural Identities Within a Holistic Educational Approach for the 21St Century.” Bunkyō University Bulletin of Living Science 35 (2013).

    From the early formation of “Kokugaku” (Nativist Studies), the significance of this national narrative known as the “Kojiki-den” had valorized the intellectual movement for cultural self –determination in Japan. One of the most well respected nativist Japanese scholars exemplifying the intellectual movement of “Kokugaku” was the author and literary master, Motoori Norinaga. He originally started this work in 1764, and had authored the “Kojikiden” (“Commentaries of the Kojiki”) in 44volumes as his life’s work. Within the extensive writings of the “Kojikiden”, Norinaga supported the view of the “Japanese mind” and coined the term, “magokoro” or “pure mind”. Based on Norinaga’s idea of forming a distinct cultural identity that characterized human existence, the innate part of an individual’s national identity was potentially recoverable through a deeper sense of Japanese perceptions, judgments and values. In this regard, there is merit in establishing a formal identity whereby learning can flourish and take root to include our most common and universal value systems.

    In the last few decades, the traditional educational goals are being redefined by incorporating a more holistic approach based on our values by integrating our culture-based nationalism. In part, our social identity has been determined by our cultural milieu and social mores. Within a holistic philosophy, the educational system can be explained from the total sum of its component parts from our national, cultural and ethnic identities. Specifically , famed psychologist Abraham Moslow refers to this part of holism as “self –actualization” of a person ‘s system of cultural and nativist values. Thus, the holistic perspective is primarily concerned with the development of a person’s potential as defined by various levels such as brain intellect, emotional intelligence, communication, physical abilities, artistic creativity, and inner spirituality. Each of these parts that define us create our “holistic” selves within our environment.

    For this research inquiry on mobilizing a more “socially responsive” consciousness among learners in response to our environmental crisis, the ever-evolving role of an education system has been focusing on the harmony between the inner life and in embracing one’s cultural and personal identity. In taking strides for a more integrative, holistic approach toward education, this would enable the learner to understand the importance of social responsibilities with others from the community to global levels of connectivity based on our social and cultural personhood.

  • OMOTO Akira. “The accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Station: What went wrong and what lessons are universal?” Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research (May 2013).

    After a short summary of the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, this paper discusses “what went wrong” by illustrating the problems of the specific layers of defense-in-depth (basic strategy for assuring nuclear safety) and “what lessons are universal.” Breaches in the multiple layers of defense were particularly significant in respective protection (a) against natural disasters (first layer of defense) as well as (b) against severe conditions, specifically in this case, a complete loss of AC/DC power and isolation from the primary heat sink (fourth layer of defense). Confusion in crisis management by the government and insufficient implementation of offsite emergency plans revealed problems in the fifth layer of defense.

    By taking into consideration managerial and safety culture that might have relevance to this accident, in the author’s view, universal lessons are as follows:

    a) Resilience: the need to enhance organizational capabilities to respond, monitor, anticipate, and learn in changing conditions, especially to prepare for the unexpected. This includes increasing distance to cliff edge by knowing where it exists and how to increase safety margin.

    b) Responsibility: the operator is primarily responsible for safety, and the government is responsible for protecting public health and environment. For both, their right decisions are supported by competence, knowledge, and an understanding of the technology, as well as humble attitudes toward the limitations of what we know and what we can learn from others. c) Social license to operate: the need to avoid, as much as possible regardless of its probability of occurrence, the reasonably anticipated environmental impact (such as land contamination), as well as to build public confidence/trust and a renewed liability scheme.

  • SUZUKI Fumitaka. “Kant’s Criticism of Rational Psychology and His Theory of Transcendental Ego.” Bulletin of Aichi University of Education 62 (March 2013).

    In our previous article, “The Cogito Proposition of Descartes and Characteristics of His Ego Theory”, on the basis of which article we are going to analyze Kant’s ego theory, we asserted that through the Copernican revolution in epistemology Kant had completed the ego theory of Western modern philosophy, namely, the paradigm shift in ego theory from the substantiality theory of mind to the theory of transcendental I. In the present article, we would like to clarify Kant’s theory of transcendental I by analyzing the chapter “Of the Paralogisms of Pure Reason” (the Paralogisms Chapter) of the Critique of Pure Reason of its first edition.

    (Contains a discussion of Watsuji Tetsurō’s “Person” and “Humanity” in Kant カントにおける「人格」と「人類性」.)

  • TEZUKA Miwako. “Jikken Kōbō and Takiguchi Shūzō: The New Deal Collectivism of 1950s Japan.” Positions 21.2 (2013).

    In post-1945 Japan, the government, guided by the occupation authority, reeducated the people with a democratic ideology. Belligerent nationalism was replaced by a national mission of enrichment of arts and culture. Takiguchi Shūzō (1903 – 79), a poet-critic and supporter of vanguard art since the prewar period, continued to cultivate the spirit of defiance against the establishment in the postwar art world. However, as a respected man of culture, he was also involved in a project of building the first national museum of modern art for the purpose of public enlightenment. This article explores how Takiguchi fostered independent art movements despite his conflicting engagement with the establishment.

    In Takiguchi’s mind, artistic collectivism had to be rooted in the public domain so that art and society would inform each other. His utopian vision paralleled many objectives of the historical avant-gardes of the West, and it was transmitted to the postwar generation of artists, most notably, to the artists' collective Jikken Kōbō (Experimental Workshop; active 1951 – 57). This group exemplified the postwar Japanese reception of the Bauhausian philosophy of unified art, and Takiguchi played an important role in fostering Jikken Kōbō’s interest in the Bauhaus. By placing the transmission of utopianism from Takiguchi to Jikken Kōbō in a larger politicocultural context, this article analyzes the effect of the legacy of the US-led occupation on the idea of artistic collectivism in 1950s Japan.

    The United States was already under the influence of the Bauhaus in the 1930s as evidenced in the establishments of Black Mountain College and the Chicago Bauhaus. The concept of progressive art education promoted by these schools eventually reached Japan through the postwar occupation, whose initial directive was fueled by New Deal liberalism. This article examines a work that revisited Bauhausian philosophy, Jikken Kōbō’s 1955 The Future Eve (Mirai no ivu), an experimental ballet theater based on a science fiction novel written in 1886 by the French novelist Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. The Future Eve revealed Jikken Kōbō’s affinity with the Bauhaus in its collective engagement with production of theater, its strong interest in merging art and technology, and ultimately, its belief in art’s relevance to social and public issues of the time.



  • Park, Doyoung. “A Vehicle of Social Mobility: Utilitarian Factors in the Rise of Neo-Confucianism in the Early Tokugawa Period.” University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, 2013.

    This dissertation explores the utilitarian aspects of the Neo-Confucianism’s rise in the early Tokugawa period. Neo-Confucianism was an important intellectual foundation for political leaders because it served as the cultural medium of Chinese civilization. Since the Kamakura period, Zen monks had monopolized access to Neo-Confucian scholarship to enjoy exclusive political patronage. However, Fujiwara Seika, a Neo-Confucian convert from Zen, changed this situation. He established a private school to train a younger generation of Neo-Confucianists in Kyoto. His school liberated the access to Neo- Confucianism from Zen Buddhism’s institutional grip and expanded the pool of Neo- Confucianism’s followers. Soon, the leaders of Tokugawa politics increased recruitment of Neo-Confucianists to the detriment of Zen monks since the shogunate’s hiring of Hayashi Razan. Some previous scholars have regarded this hiring wave as a sign of Neo- Confucianism’s ideological triumph over Buddhism in Tokugawa politics. However, this dissertation disputes that idea and suggests that Tokugawa leaders preferred Neo- Confucianists because they were more accessible, professional, and economically effective than Zen monks. Successful role models like Razan stimulated the mind of commoners and rōnin, both of whom had lost vehicles of social mobility after Hideyoshi’s separation of peasants and samurai. With the ambition to enhance their social status, commoners found Neo-Confucian scholarship a useful vehicle for social mobility, and these utilitarian motives spread the increasing preference of Neo-Confucianism throughout Tokugawa Japan society.

  • Yamada, Yoshiko. “The Discursive Construction of Japanese Identity and its Haunting Others.”. Florida International University, 2013.

    This dissertation examined the formation of Japanese identity politics after World War II. Since World War II, Japan has had to deal with a contradictory image of its national self. On the one hand, as a nation responsible for colonizing fellow Asian countries in the 1930s and 1940s, Japan has struggled with an image/identity as a regional aggressor. On the other hand, having faced the harsh realities of defeat after the war, Japan has seen itself depicted as a victim. By employing the technique of discourse analysis as a way to study identity formation through official foreign policy documents and news media narratives, this study reconceptualized Japanese foreign policy as a set of discursive practices that attempt to produce renewed images of Japan’s national self. The dissertation employed case studies to analyze two key sites of Japanese postwar identity formation: (1) the case of Okinawa, an island/territory integral to postwar relations between Japan and the United States and marked by a series of US military rapes of native Okinawan girls; and (2) the case of comfort women in Japan and East Asia, which has led to Japan being blamed for its wartime sexual enslavement of Asian women. These case studies found that it was through coping with the haunting ghost of its wartime past that Japan sought to produce “postwar Japan” as an identity distinct from “wartime imperial Japan” or from “defeated, emasculated Japan” and, thus, hoped to emerge as a “reborn” moral and pacifist nation. The research showed that Japan struggled to invent a new self in a way that mobilized gendered dichotomies and, furthermore, created “others” who were not just spatially located (the United States, Asian neighboring nations) but also temporally marked (“old Japan”). The dissertation concluded that Japanese foreign policy is an ongoing struggle to define the Japanese national self vis-à-vis both spatial and historical “others,” and that, consequently, postwar Japan has always been haunted by its past self, no matter how much Japan’s foreign policy discourses were trying to make this past self into a distant or forgotten other.

    (Abstract only. Full dissertation available April 17, 2015.)