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Japanese PhilosophyA Sourcebook$

James W. Heisig, Thomas P. Kasulis, and John C. Maraldo

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780824835521

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824835521.001.0001

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Beginnings, Definitions, Disputations

Beginnings, Definitions, Disputations

(p.553) Beginnings, Definitions, Disputations
Japanese Philosophy
James W. Heisig, Thomas P. Kasulis, John C. Maraldo
University of Hawai'i Press

Abstract and Keywords

This section provides an overview of Modern Academic Philosophy in Japan, with particular emphasis on disputations about terminology and the beginnings of philosophy. It first looks at the introduction of Western philosophy into Japan in the mid-sixteenth century, courtesy of Catholic missionaries who taught Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas in seminaries and appealed to proofs for the existence of God in disputations held with Buddhists. It then considers the Western analytic approach and the Eastern holistic way, along with Inoue Enryō's 1886 essay An Evening of Philosophical Conversation. It also discusses the origins of Japanese philosophy as a formal academic discipline before presenting translations of a variety of texts by Japanese philosophers, including Nishi Amane, Fukuzawa Yukichi, Nakae Chōmin, Inoue Tetsujirō, Inoue Enryō, and Ōnishi Hajime.

Keywords:   philosophy, Modern Academic Philosophy, Japan, Western philosophy, Inoue Enryō, Japanese philosophy, Japanese philosophers, Nishi Amane, Fukuzawa Yukichi, Inoue Tetsujirō


Modern Academic Philosophy in Japan began with disputations about the meaning and scope of the very term philosophy. The word and the discipline it designated entered Japan in the mid-nineteenth century as part of an enormous influx of knowledge and technology as the country opened its borders more widely to the West and the rest of the world, after more than two hundred years of relative isolation. The upheaval in social and political institutions led to the collapse of the government and the eventual rise of an imperial power with global reach. Japan’s intellectual traditions were likewise challenged by their encounter with foreign thought, epitomized in the very notion of philosophy. The nature and novelty of this concept evoked a good deal of confusion and even consternation in the early Meiji Period (1868–1912).

Indeed, if wonder or perplexity itself counts as an origin of philosophical thinking, as the Greeks suggested, then the perplexity over the meaning and scope of philosophia can be said to originate modern philosophy in Japan. Whether or not philosophy was a discipline restricted to European traditions or might be applied to traditional Japanese and Asian thinking was a subject of an intense if scattered debate. Scholars argued about whether thinkers in Japan’s past had achieved anything like philosophy and whether the Japanese who professed the discipline in that day were truly philosophers.

Comparing philosophers like Descartes, Kant, and the Utilitarians to Confucian, Buddhist, and Native Studies thinkers, as well as to the work of the Meiji translators and professors themselves, critics saw in the latter only a blurred reflection of the former, pure philosophy. Other scholars argued that philosophy did indeed have counterparts and even precedents in the traditions of China and Japan. (Remarkably, however, there was relatively little dispute about the existence of “Indian philosophy.”)

The efforts to settle the scope and nature of philosophy also dealt with problems of translation and gave rise to a new, more or less standard terminology, including the word for philosophy itself. In fact, the question of philosophy in Japan and the East was inseparable from questions about translation. The (p.554) debate about the meaning and scope of philosophy is instructive a century and a half later as professional philosophers continue to examine the origins and scope of their discipline.

The Concept of Philosophy

The Introduction of Western Philosophy into Japan

Japan’s first contact with western philosophical thought came by way of Catholic missionaries in the mid-sixteenth century. They taught Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas in seminaries and appealed to proofs for the existence of God in disputations held with Buddhists. Their efforts came to an abrupt halt in 1614 when the Tokugawa government prohibited Christianity and then, in 1633, closed Japan’s borders to Roman Catholic European countries. In the period when the secluded nation permitted only Dutch traders on the tiny island of Dejima off the coast of Nagasaki, the samurai scholar of ‘Dutch Studies’, Takano Chōei (1804–1850), published what was probably Japan’s first systematic introduction to the history of Greek and European philosophy, a survey later titled “The Theories of Western Masters.” His work is notable both for the terms it used to convey philosophical disciplines and for the connections it made to Japanese and Chinese intellectual traditions. Relying mainly on Dutch-language sources, he encountered the word wijsgeer, philosopher, which he rendered with a general Confucian term, gakushi, or learned master. Chōei’s chronological survey of thinkers from Thales to Christian Wolff skips the Middle Ages, jumping from the Greeks and Romans to Copernicus, often groups the names into schools or lineages of teachers and pupils, and uses traditional neo-Confucian terms to explain the doctrines of philosophers like Plato:

Plato connects the human spirit, as a “rarefied, undarkened spirit,” to the spirit of heaven. When mixed with earthly matter, however, it becomes defiled, ignorant, and impure. This is similar to the condition of the ‘mind’ in Zhu Xi’s theory. I would consider it a doctrine of being and ‘nothingness’, with formless spirit as nothingness and earth that has form as being.

(TAKANO Chōei 1835, 205)

Mentioning but one or two contributions of each thinker, Chōei shows a clear interest in the experimental methods of natural philosophy, the “actual measurements” of physical phenomena that allowed philosophy to progress through the ages. “Present day learning was established by Newton, Leibniz, and Locke, who had many successors but none surpassing Christian Wolff.” Chōei makes no mention of Kant or philosophers after him, but names several Dutch and English natural philosophers and mathematicians of the early eighteenth century, today considered minor figures in the history of science. “Basing their work (p.555) on actual measurements, without the least bit of groundless argument, they continually advanced clearer and more certain theories.” His “outline of the rise and fall, merits and demerits of philosophers during the 5,840 years since the creation of the western world” concludes with an explanation of the five main disciplines of philosophy. Today we would call them logic, moral and political philosophy, natural philosophy or science, mathematics, and finally metaphysics (including ontology, psychology, cosmology, and theology). To explain the words left untranslated in Dutch, Chōei called on Confucian categories, adopting a term from Zhu Xi for natural, scientific philosophy, and coining an altogether new term for logic, chirigigaku, the discipline “whose rules are established in accordance with the natural working of things to show how to tell the true from the false, what is real from what is not, and so determine the truth and falsity of various theories and arguments” (TAKANO Chōei 1835, 205, 209–10).

The Emergence of Philosophy as a Distinct Concept

It was Nishi Amane* (1829–1897) who introduced the term philosophia to Japan and, after several attempts in the early 1870s, established its translation as ‘tetsugaku’, a neologism composed of two sinographs that became standard for philosophy in China and Korea as well. Nishi began by reading the few sources available to him from Dutch Studies, and then was sent by the Tokugawa government to Leiden in the Netherlands, to absorb as much as he could of western disciplines like constitutional law, economics, and political and social thought. The year before, in 1861, in an epilogue to a book by Tsuda Mamichi, his fellow traveler to Leiden, he had glossed the transliterated term with ki-tetsugaku. The sinographs may have been taken from a Confucian term (shi-kiken in Japanese reading) for “the ‘refined person’ who aspires to wisdom,” in the eleventh century Confucian work Tongshu (“The All-Embracing Book”) by Zhou Dunyi.1 But the term ki-tetsugaku may also have been a modification of kikyū tetsuchi, roughly meant to render philosophia as the “search (kikyū) for wisdom (tetsuchi).” It should not escape our notice that the sinograph for ki is the same as that used in a now archaic word for Greece. Nishi said that kikengaku, study in search of wisdom, would also do as a translation, and abbreviated this to kengaku, but finally settled on tetsugaku in 1874 (NISHI Amane 1874A). This solution echoes older Confucian words such as tetsujin or sage, and tetsuri or roughly what is meant by the phrase “philosophy of life.” In fact, the sinograph for tetsu appears as early as the Book of History, one of the six Confucian classics, where it is used to describe the emperor Shun as “wise” and (p.556) to be praised by all Confucians as a sage ruler. The sinograph for gaku, meaning to study or to learn, likewise has ancient roots. It appears in the opening passage of the Analects of Confucius and later on when, in a rare moment of immodesty, Confucius proclaims his unmatched “love of learning” (V.28). The word tetsugaku was thus a neologism that resonated deeply with Confucian ‘learning’.

The struggle to translate philosophical terms came to be a defining feature of these early years. Do Nishi’s attempts indicate that he saw some counterpart to the western discipline, at least in Chinese traditions, or some way to explain this discipline in Chinese terms? Instead of rendering the term in sinographs, he could, after all, have left it untranslated in phonetic transcription. It would seem Nishi wanted both to stress the difference of philosophy and at the same time relate it to traditional Confucian learning. In an essay from 1870 he writes that “the ‘Way’ of Confucius and Mencius is practically the same as philosophy in the West” (NISHI Amane 1870, 305). Yet around the same time he voices a different opinion, as recorded by his student Nagami Yutaka:

My explanations so far have proceeded from Japan to China and then to the West, but when it comes to philosophy we must begin with the West. In our country there is little that can be called philosophy. In this regard, China is no match for the West, either.

(NISHI Amane 1871, 181)

Before he left for studies in the Netherlands, Nishi had already expressed the view that “the explanations of the principles of human nature and life in the study of philosophia surpass even those of Song Confucianism” (NISHI 1862, 8). Eventually he would acknowledge profound parallels between Chinese Confucian thought and western philosophy, although he continued to advocate a clear distinction:

The word comes from the meaning of the English philosophy, the French philosophie, and from the Greek for “the one who loves,” philo, and “wisdom” sophos [sic]. Therefore we call philosophy the field of study of one who loves wisdom…. This is also the meaning of the expression “the refined person who aspires to wisdom” that Zhou Dunyi used…. In later usage philosophy refers especially to the study that discusses principles. Rigaku or riron, “the study of principles” or “discourse on principles,” may be more direct translations, but so as not to confuse philosophy with Song Dynasty Confucian schools we shall translate it as tetsugaku and distinguish it from the Confucianism of the East.

(NISHI Amane 1873, 31)

For another decade or so Nishi’s translation met resistance from Japanese intellectuals such as Nishimura Shigeki, Nakae Chōmin*, and Miyake Setsurei, all of whom, like Nishi, were nurtured in Confucian studies. Until the establishment (p.557) of Tokyo University and its Department of Tetsugaku, the term rigaku was also used to translate philosophia.

In his comprehensive sketch of the history of philosophy, Nishi noted a turn, common to both Greek and early Chinese thought, from what he called—using English terms—the “objective contemplation” of the universe and all its wondrous things, to the “subjective contemplation” of the mind and soul:

So far, then, we have given an outline of the major currents of the European philosophy.… We find philosophy germinating in the very beginnings of human civilization, from the time of Yao and Shun in the East and Thales of Greece in the West, considered the founder. In the beginning philosophy did not extend to discourse on the principles of human nature. It began with objective contemplation: people looking to the heavens to observe what appeared there, then turning back to the earth to observe laws there. They looked up to the lord of the universe, glorified the magnificence and beauty of all things, and developed an objective way of seeing.

Pursuing this method as far as they could until they were unable to take their understanding any further, they turned back and developed a way of seeing based on human nature, a subjective contemplation that saw through objects to the self or subject that knows them, to the mind that directs the self, and to the human nature that directs the mind. This was a matter of course, like a law of nature. Today, for example, the knowledge of a child shows signs of developing from day to day. If that knowledge does not expand and grow by seeing and hearing things, it follows as a matter of course that the child will not be able to reflect on or think about itself. It is the same with the development of Confucian studies and philosophy. Since the time of Yao and Shun, objective contemplation based on observation produced one way of seeing things, but with Confucius a great change occurred and thought turned to an explanation of becoming humane and wise. Similarly, from Thales to the Sophists the principal matter was the observation of patterns in the heavens, but with Socrates all that changed when he endeavored to proceed from the soul.

(NISHI Amane 1873, 38–9)

Nishi developed his understanding of philosophy from examining its history in the West. What he found in all of this to be of most benefit for Japan, however, was garnered primarily from John Stuart Mill’s inductive logic and Auguste Comte’s positivistic system, subjects on which he had attended lectures in Leiden, the Netherlands, in the early 1860s. The practical significance of inductive logic as opposed to speculative metaphysics, and the progressive classification of thought leading to science, greatly impressed Nishi, although, unlike Comte, he retained the view that philosophy was the queen of the sciences:

The definition of philosophy in English states that “philosophy is the science of sciences,” foremost of all the sciences.

(NISHI Amane 1871, 146)

(p.558) In what was no doubt a criticism of the Zhu Xi School’s idealistic tendencies, Nishi also stressed the need for the sciences to be applied:

Science is preeminently what achieves truth, and once achieved, it is essential that truth be made a practical art and put to use…. Since it is difficult to apply science directly, we need to study, investigate, and acquire various techniques to make it into an art…. Inventing the telegraph from the principle of magnetism, or the windmill from the principle of wind, or making other such machines work, all show how truth is achieved in the practical arts and put to use. Whatever the issue, it is essential that we seek truth on the level of the sciences and attempt to apply it in technologies. Then science will at last become “available, profitable, applicable” as English has it, and truth will be verified. Truth will be made manifest, that is, the truth achieved in the sciences will become manifest at the level of the practical arts.

(NISHI Amane 1871, 63–4)

Nishi later clarifies that philosophy provides a view of the unity that underlies the particular sciences:

Accordingly, to explain the fields of study we must, of course, distinguish between the theoretical and the practical, where the practical primarily establishes the laws based on the principles of the mind and does not concern itself with explaining physical principles. The theoretical, on the other hand, must take the principles of matter into account. But the explanation must not conflate principles of matter and principles of mind.…

If the human being is also something material in the natural world then we must take into account physical principles and especially occidental natural history. Natural history deals with the rational grounds for the mineral, plant, and animal realms, including the human. It is divided into several branches such as geography and paleontology that reflect on the beginnings of this earth. The field that studies humans and animals includes anthropology or, as I translate it, “the study of human nature.” It starts with comparative anatomy and includes biology, psychology, ethnology, theology, as well as the study of the good and the beautiful. We must also distinguish the synthesizing arts and fields of study like history and take them into account in addition to studies that treat of physical principles.

We may inquire about principles of the mind in the research of all these fields. Taking into account all these matters, the discipline that inquires into the principles of mind and elucidates the ways of nature and the ways of human beings, at the same time as it establishes the methodology of the different fields of study, is philosophy, translated as tetsugaku.

Since ancient times philosophy has been a matter of debate in the West as well, and if I now try to coordinate the various academic disciplines under the heading “all teachings return to the one,” then this, too, may be called a kind of philosophy. If one looks only at the details, one usually ends up believing in a single school of learning and considering the others mistaken. To group all the (p.559) sciences together and elucidate their essence as one and the same, requires a very wide perspective. Philosophy must therefore discuss the principles of matter and mind together without conflating the two.

(NISHI Amane 1874A, 288–9)

At the same time, Nishi was critical of the western emphasis on objectivity. In The Foundations of Physiology and Psychology, he suggests that the Japanese and Chinese have forgotten approaches like the inductive method of J. S. Mill, but can relearn them from western philosophy. The West, meantime, has succumbed to “objective contemplation” and might have to relearn the primacy of the need to know oneself, one’s soul. Philosophy should return to incorporate “subjective contemplation” and begin anew with the study of mind.

The Western Analytic Approach and the Eastern Holistic Way

The notion that eastern thought was more likely to proceed from internal reflection than from objective observation was echoed by Nishimura Shigeki (1828–1902), Nishi’s fellow advocate of the ‘Enlightenment’ movement and cofounder of the progressive Meiji Six Society seeking to modernize Japan:

Eastern learning has by and large sought the mind internally, while western learning has mainly sought it externally. Seeking within is exemplified in teachings like the Zen School’s “directly pointing to one’s mind, seeing one’s true nature and becoming buddha” or Wang Yangming’s “reaching innate knowledge.” Seeking externally is exemplified by looking for the basis of mind in physiology, or studying it by examining mental phenomena. Those who seek mind internally view it holistically, by way of synthesis; their shortcoming is that they lack precision. Those who seek mind externally view it by way of analysis; their shortcoming is that they give in to nitpicking. When scholars today generally follow the western way of study, for the most part they seek mind from the outside, that is, they view it by the analytic method. Even though this method far exceeds that of the East in precision of analysis, because it lacks a holistic grasp of mind and a way to train it, there are many who have studied ten years or more and still do not know what mind is.

(NISHIMURA Shigeki 1899, 23)

Nishimura’s text has two significant implications for defining philosophy in Japan. First, the author finds it necessary to use a new language, reflective of western philosophical terms, to describe eastern as well as western thought. By his day many philosophical terms had translations that were to become standard, such as the words for “analysis,” “synthesis,” and “phenomenon.” At the same time many of his terms were so unusual that he felt it necessary to highlight neologisms, imported words, and particularly significant ideas. One term stands out for its bridging effect. Nishimura uses the classical word ‘kokoro’ to bridge “East” and “West” and equivocally signify both a classical Sino-Japanese (p.560) array of concepts as well as western categories like mind, soul, and spirit, or esprit and Gemüt. Inoue Tetsujirō’s* Philosophical Dictionary of 1912 lists mind as a synonym of subject as opposed to object. In general, the introduction of the foreign discipline into Japan changed the way that Japan’s past was defined.

Secondly, Nishimura’s contrast implies that the two approaches, eastern and western, are complementary. The western penchant for analysis achieves precision, but at the expense of fragmenting self-knowledge; the eastern predilection for synthesis achieves a more holistic view, but lacks definition. Most notably, the East provides a way to train the mind, not merely to study it. Could the two approaches be combined to form a new direction in philosophy? If Nishimura considered the future development of philosophy open to a symbiosis of western and eastern achievements, however, his definition of philosophy precluded its extension back in time to cover traditional Japanese thought. In 1887 he defined philosophy as “an investigation of the truths of the universe from the ground up, which has no use for founders or scriptures or anything like ‘expedient means’” (cited in FUNAYAMA Shin’ichi 1975, 67). The question of the philosophical nature of Confucianism and Buddhism is a subject to which we shall return.

A Dialogue to Define Philosophy

Just how unusual philosophy was during this period can be gauged by the preface to An Evening of Philosophical Conversation, written in 1886 by Pure Land priest and reformer Inoue Enryō* (1858–1919). Enryō begins his essay with an imaginary and humorous conversation in which several interlocutors surmise the meaning of tetsugaku, the term that had since become standard for “philosophy”:

Once when I was taking a steamboat ride there were five or six other passengers sitting next to me. The conversation turned to tetsugaku. One of them said, “This tetsugaku is a new kind of discipline that has come from the West, but just what sort of discipline is it?” Another said, “I’ve heard that tetsugaku is the discipline that investigates principles.” The third said that the study that investigates principles is physics, not tetsugaku. “It seems to me that if the tetsu of tetsugaku is that of kentetsu, a wise man, then tetsugaku is the study of the shōken, sages like Confucius and Mencius.” The fourth said, “Tetsugaku is not anything shallow like the study of Confucius and Mencius. Once I read Inoue Tetsujirō’s A New Theory of Ethics, and was astonished at how lofty tetsugaku is. The fifth said, “Recently Nishi Amane became known as a tetsugakusha. I once read a book he translated on the mind and so I came to understand tetsugaku as psychology.”

The sixth said, “I heard that the Buddhist scholar Rev. Hara Tanzan has become a professor in the department of tetsugaku at a university, so looking (p.561) at it this way Buddhism and tetsugaku must be synonymous. The seventh said, “Since all of your explanations differ, we cannot yet know just what tetsugaku is. The first smiled and said, “Well then, that’s what tetsugaku is: whatever we cannot know!” Everyone laughed and said that’s right.

Hearing all this I, too, had to laugh. “Actually, the reason you all have different views like these is that you don’t know what tetsugaku is. Generally speaking, there are two sorts of things in the universe: things that have form and things that do not. The sun, moon, stars, earth, rocks, plants, birds and beasts, fish and insects are all things that have form. Sensations, thoughts, society, gods, buddhas, and so forth are all things without form. The experimental study of things with form is called physical science, and the study that investigates what is without form is tetsugaku. This is one point of difference between the two studies. There are also those who call physical science that which experimentally treats of individual parts, and tetsugaku that which expounds on the whole. Or those who say that rigaku is an experimental study while tetsugaku is the study of ideas. That is, rigaku is the study having to do with material things, and tetsugaku is the study having to do with the formless matters of the mind. There are, however, several disciplines that have to do with matters of the mind: psychology, logic, ethics, and pure tetsugaku. People are more or less familiar with psychology, logic, and so forth, but when it comes to pure tetsugaku people haven’t the slightest idea of what it is. In short, pure tetsugaku, as the study of the pure principles of tetsugaku, must be called the study that inquires into the axioms of truth and the foundation of the disciplines.

The objective of pure tetsugaku is to provide an interpretation and explanation of various problems that have arisen, such as what the substantial reality of the mind or of matter is, what their fundamental source is, or what relationship obtains between mind and matter. I would like to indicate to people who know nothing of tetsugaku the problems of pure tetsugaku and their interpretations, and that is how I came to write the following “evening of conversation on tetsugaku.” The first part discusses the relationship between mind and matter, and points to the question of what forms the world; the second part discusses the substantiality of God and points to the question of whence matter and mind arise; and the third part discusses the nature of truth and deals with the question of what grounds the various sciences. I will be happy beyond measure if those who one evening read this conversation are able to catch a glimpse of pure tetsugaku.

(INOUE Enryō 1886, 33–4)

This preface, written in a now archaic style reminiscent of a traditional Confucian lesson, makes use of some Confucian terms to hint at what philosophy is. Yet in order to express more fully the meaning of tetsugaku, Inoue not only took the liberty of inventing new words but was also able to appeal to other newly imported or translated terms. In 1886 it remained to be seen which words would become standard translations of western terms. The whole array of compounds, (p.562) their components, and their word-order, was a mass of floating signifiers. The term meaning the “substantiality” (of God), for example, is today used for Kant’s noumenon, but in Enryō’s day was not a conventional word. Yet even if precise denotations remained elusive, any reader with a basic knowledge of sinographs would easily be able to gather some sense from these neologisms, just as an English reader would be able to make something of a term like “sophology,” had that been used to translate tetsugaku back again into English. On the other hand, the now standard terms translated here as “experimental” and “psychology” should be heard with a nineteenth-century English ear.

Some examples of words that would have been new to the Japanese, or would have signified new concepts, are Enryō’s terms for logic, ethics, truth, axioms, and “mind and matter.” The distinction between tetsugaku and rigaku, the term used here to mean the natural sciences, as well as the underlying distinction between things that have form and things that don’t, can be traced at least to Fukuzawa Yukichi’s* Encouragement of Learning—or even to Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics, although that would obscure the Buddhist origination of the distinction made by these Japanese. The division must ultimately be seen as an attempt to render the imported disciplines intelligible by appealing to distinctions familiar to readers. Enryō took terms and methods established in one cultural context and tried to convey and implement them in another. His Conversation teaches us that defining philosophy in Japan was a creative endeavor requiring more than a straightforward translation of terms.

Despite his appreciation of the distinctiveness of western philosophy, Enryō insisted that Buddhism was best understood as a kind of philosophy precisely where it intersects with “religion”—another concept novel to Japan. He wrote extensively on the scope of philosophy and its difference from science, and on Buddhist philosophy, in works like Buddhism as a Vital Theory, Mahayana Philosophy, Indian Philosophy, and The Philosophy of Religion. His set of three introductions—The Philosophy of the True Pure Land School, The Philosophy of the Zen School, and The Philosophy of the Nichiren School—do not call Shinran*, Nichiren*, or Dōgen* philosophers, but they explicitly relate some teachings of these founders of Japanese Buddhist sects to the “pure philosophy” of western vintage. All in all, it is clear that Enryō saw himself as creating philosophy in his country, as well as conveying a western heritage and re-interpreting Asian traditions. He founded the first institute of philosophy in Japan, the Hall of Philosophy, the predecessor of Tōyō University.

The Mirage of Philosophy in the East

To embellish new western categories with a sprinkling of traditional terms was not enough for Miyake Setsurei (1860–1945), a critic not only of the (p.563) overzealous westernizing of Meiji Japan but of casually claiming equivalencies between practices in the two great traditions, East and West. In his 1909 work The Universe, he attempted to synthesize eastern and western thought, but not before he proclaimed a vast difference between them. His Philosophical Trifles of 1889 puts it this way:

We may set eastern philosophy side by side with western philosophy, but those who have made a practice of doing so have yet to provide a theoretical justification, and stopped short at commenting on particular ideas and terms of the old masters. Those who have begun to speak of “eastern philosophy” and to try explaining it are coffee-house dilettantes fond of rehashing the stale doctrines of the ancients. Whatever it is they are doing, it is not eastern philosophy.

There follows a long diatribe against Confucians, Daoists, and Buddhists.

One cannot see the blemishes on one’s face without looking in the mirror. We need to turn western philosophy around so that it can shed light on the face of eastern philosophy. Western philosophy is not without its defects, but it has succeeded in thinking through the relationship between the prior and the subsequent, and has produced lengthy treatises to organize its explanations and interpretations in a consistent manner. In this regard it can serve to rectify eastern philosophy, which has become entrenched in its vocabulary and fallen into the bad habit of severing the antecedent from the consequent. Alas, eastern philosophy has long been dusty and unkempt, its hair matted and its face dirty. Is it not time for it to take this mirror in hand, change its clothes, and put on a bright smile to captivate its onlookers far and wide?

(MIYAKE Setsurei 1889, 151)

Miyake seems to heap scorn not so much on the substance of “eastern philosophy” as on the practices associated with it: thoughtless philology and exegesis of what we call the classics of the East. He persists in using the term “philosophy” (tetsugaku) to refer to these texts, and describes the core of “Chinese philosophy” as feeling, that of “Indian philosophy” as intention or will, and that of “European philosophy” as knowledge or wisdom. But he also insists on identifying western philosophy with logical and causal investigations. This identification will prove crucial.

“No Such Thing as Philosophy in Japan”

The tendency to find philosophy lacking in Japanese intellectual traditions culminated in the famous exclamation of Nakae Chōmin* (1847–1901) in the last year of his life: there is no such thing as philosophy in Japan. This inveterate advocate of liberal democracy, materialism, and atheism had studied (p.564) philosophy in France in the early 1870s and was impressed with the creative and theoretical, even impractical, force of the European discipline, unprecedented—or so he thought—in traditional Japanese thought and hardly achieved by contemporary Japanese professors:

From ancient times to the present, philosophy has been absent in Japan. Motoori Norinaga*, Hirata Atsutane*, and their ilk were nothing more than antiquarians excavating old imperial tombs and chasing after ancient words; they remained in the dark when it came to the ways of nature and life. The likes of Itō Jinsai* and Ogyū Sorai* found new meaning in old scriptures, but in the end were only scholastics. There were Buddhists who succeeded in putting new life into the sūtras and creating new temples and sects, but ultimately did not leave the domain of religion. This was not philosophy pure and simple. Although in our day a certain Katō Hiroyuki and Inoue Tetsujirō profess themselves “philosophers,” and even arouse public approval, they themselves study and import the doctrines of occidentals just as they were, leaving the enjoyment of those exotic fruits for themselves alone, hardly enough to merit the name “philosopher.” The benefits of philosophy are not necessarily evident to the eyes and ears of everyone. The ups and downs of trade, the movements of financial markets, and the changing fortunes of commerce and industry may seem to bear no relation to philosophy…. Philosophy may not always be necessary, but the fact is that without it, a people will lack profound insight into what they are doing and cannot avoid superficiality.

(NAKAE Chōmin 1901, 155–6)

For us today, the irony of Chōmin’s criticism is threefold. First, his lambasting of the antiquated efforts of Native Studies, neo-Confucianism, and Buddhism is expressed in a traditional and now archaic style. Secondly, Chōmin is considered much less a philosopher than the Katō and Inoue he denigrates. And thirdly, the importation of philosophy in his day was indeed related to commercial exchange. To capture the quaint flavor of Chōmin’s language we would have to render it into Victorian English, but even then we would not be able to find near equivalents for the archaic expressions and categories he employs. He writes, for example, of the principles of heaven and earth and life to signify what we call the laws of nature. On the other hand, his statement implies three distinctive features of “philosophy pure and simple”: it is the result of original translation, not a matter of importing doctrines as they are; it transcends practicality; and it gives our life and actions their true meaning. He also insisted that true philosophy was divorced from religious belief. If not explicitly atheistic, his convictions would be contradicted a decade later by the work of the first widely acclaimed modern philosopher in Japan, Nishida Kitarō.*

Chōmin’s fellow champion of liberalism, individualism, and democracy, (p.565) Tanaka Kiichi (alias Ōdō, 1867–1932), was of a different opinion when it came to the question of philosophy in Japan:

It may at first glance seem that Japan has only carried on the philosophical traditions imported from China and India. Yet these countries, just like Japan, for over a millennium have had to make efforts for practical and aesthetic reasons to modify and transform mythologies, histories, customs, and systems of government formed in completely different lands. Can we not infer from this fact alone that Japan already had its own philosophical thought which quite naturally differs from that in China and India?

(TANAKA Kiichi 1901, 1012)

Convinced of the close connection between culture and thought, Tanaka set out to discern the national character of Japanese philosophy. He shared with Chōmin a disdain for those compatriots who absorbed western thought without subjecting it to criticism. Tanaka had studied with George Herbert Mead and John Dewey at the University of Chicago between 1893 and 1897, and after returning to Japan he adapted Dewey’s political views to criticize the oppressive structures of authority of his homeland and to advocate individual freedoms even more forcefully than Dewey had. Outside the academy, however, Chōmin’s verdict on the lack of philosophy in Japan went unchallenged until the appearance of Nishida Kitarō’s An Inquiry into the Good in 1911.

Philosophy in the Academy

Philosophy as a formal academic discipline in Japan was born with the university system itself in 1877, thanks to the same Katō Hiroyuki (1836–1916) whom Chōmin was later to deride. Katō helped organize various educational institutes into Tokyo University in 1877 and began a tradition of hiring foreign professors to give lectures in ethics, political philosophy, logic, and evolutionary theory. Even Japanese professors such as Toyama Masakazu (1848–1900) often used English-language texts and attempted to teach in English. The study of philosophy coincided with the study of foreign languages, principally English and German; learning to philosophize meant learning a foreign idiom. Concepts that would have been unfamiliar to the ear of young Japanese students appear in the definitions offered by two of the first professors of philosophy in Japan, the Germans Ludwig Busse (1862–1907) and Raphael von Koeber (1848–1923). Using the English language, Busse defined philosophy as

the universal science which investigates the ultimate data and laws of Reality and gives… a comprehensive and satisfactory view of the Essence and Significance of all Reality.

(Ludwig BUSSE 1892, 21)

(p.566) Koeber, also writing in English, emphasized the Greek inheritance of logos:

One of these faculties, by which man distinguishes himself from animals, is the reason, the logical thinking, which is the source of language, science, and philosophy… reason is everywhere…. Reason (Logos) produced and rules the world. It is the first and the last principle, …the universal wisdom (sofia, Weisheit) and our particular (individual) wisdom is nothing but to recognize the universal wisdom.

(R. G. von KOEBER 1895, 1, 4, 5)

Koeber taught German, Greek, and Latin as well as Kant, Hegel, and the history of philosophy and of Christianity to the future novelist Natsume Sōseki and to many who would come to represent Japanese philosophy: Nishida, Kuwaki Gen’yoku, Hatano Seiichi*, Tanabe Hajime*, and Watsuji Tetsurō*. The transmission of ideas, however, was for the most part a one-way street, Europe to Japan. The exception was the effort of the first professor of philosophy, the American, Ernest Fenollosa (1853–1908), who, along with Okakura Tenshin (1862–1913), was responsible for helping persuade the Japanese to preserve their traditional arts and culture and for spreading knowledge of Japan abroad.

For Katō Hiroyuki, on the other hand, the study of Japanese intellectual traditions meant prolonging an obsolete and repressive political system. He himself championed materialism, naturalism, and Herbert Spencer’s social Darwinism as the progressive philosophies that Japan needed. In an essay that attempts to explain the mind as a result of biological evolution, Katō wrote:

The view of our critics, to put it simply, is that the struggle for survival is the most essential condition for evolutionary theory, and that to account finally for this struggle requires, first of all, a studied return to the primal origins, to some kind of great dynamism or cosmic will rising up out of the ultimately static reality of the universe. Since evolutionists have completely ignored all questions of this sort, their theories cannot possibly be counted as philosophy. Naturalists like me, however, think that there is no credible evidence at all for such a static universe. Likewise, we see the idea of a great will at work behind the universe as mere conjecture, a strange, mystical, supernatural phantom cooked up in the imagination. The universe is nothing of the sort. Rather, it is the progressive unfolding of a unity of matter and energy in an absolutely natural and causal manner. We must, therefore, conclude that if the phenomena of the universe are not studied primarily from evolutionary principles, there is simply no way to reach the truth. In short, in the future philosophy must be evolutionist.

(KATŌ Hiroyuki 1910, 41)

The target of Katō’s attack was a lecture by Inoue Tetsujirō (1855–1944), another object of Chōmin’s scorn. In this essay we find Katō examining Inoue’s claims one by one, subjecting them to criticism and countering them with claims he presents as scientifically superior. Though he may not meet the standards (p.567) of analytic philosophy today, Katō represents an early Japanese version of the effort to “naturalize” the domain of philosophy, that is, to treat its problems as solvable, if at all, through empirical investigation alone.

Inoue Tetsujirō had studied philosophy at Tokyo University under Fenollosa and then in Germany from 1884 to 1890, when he became Japan’s first native chairholder in philosophy. A student of Confucianism from early childhood, he was not prone to limit philosophy to the West, however, and compiled a History of Eastern Philosophy as early as 1881. His philosophical dictionary published the same year, and again with revisions in 1912, was the first of its kind in Japan and set the standard for translations of western terms. The term for philosophy itself, tetsugaku, was formally recognized when Tokyo Imperial University authorized various departments and chairs under that heading, including ones for “Indian Philosophy” and “Chinese Philosophy.” One of Inoue’s most important contributions was a pioneering series of historical studies of premodern Japanese philosophy, published in three volumes as The Philosophy of the Japanese Wang Yangming School (1900), The Philosophy of the Japanese Ancient Learning School (1902), and The Philosophy of the Japanese Zhu Xi School (1905).

None of these works articulated a clear sense of why Inoue thought these Confucian schools counted as philosophy. He did, however, attempt an original synthesis of his own, distinguishing philosophy from the other sciences by its comprehensive scope and specialized method, and defining it as a discipline that connects logical truth with peace of mind. He outlined its subfields, practical and theoretical, and insisted on the crucial role of pure or theoretical philosophy in formulating a “worldview,” as reflected in the selection from his writings later in this section. Beyond his purely academic interests, Inoue wrote influential tracts for the public on the ‘kokutai’ and “national morality,” and was partially responsible for the invention of ‘bushidō’ or the “Way of the Warrior.”2 The prewar construction of a national ideology, as well as the establishment of academic philosophy in Japan, owe much to Inoue Tetsujirō’s influence.

By the time Kuwaki Gen’yoku (1874–1946) succeeded Inoue in the First Chair of Philosophy, the discipline was being described in explicitly western categories. Using English terms Kuwaki defined philosophy formally as the generalized, methodical or systematic, and rational study of fundamental principles, the principles that are universal, ultimate, and unifying. As for its subject matter:

Philosophy is the progressive study of fundamental principles concerning nature, human life, and the knowledge of the actual and the ideal—or, calling the first two simply reality, the study of the fundamental principles of reality and knowledge.

(KUWAKI Gen’yoku 1900, 202)

(p.568) No attempt is made here to incorporate indigenous categories or traditional learning. Kuwaki’s inspiration came from the rigorous analysis he found in Descartes and Kant and the speculative depth he found in Hegel. He strove to be an accurate transmitter and interpreter of the western philosophical idiom, not the creator of an original set of ideas, and this preoccupation set the tone for the first stage of academic philosophy in Japan.

“Pure philosophy,” as it was called, meant exclusively western philosophy. The Department of Philosophy at Tokyo Imperial University taught its history primarily, emphasizing “De-Kan-Sho”: Descartes, Kant, and Schopenhauer. Inoue Tetsujirō’s efforts to legitimize traditional East Asian and Japanese thought as genuine philosophy were not to prevail. There was no chair or section for Japanese philosophical thought, and even the chairs for Indian Philosophy and Chinese Philosophy were shifted to their own departments. Since the early 1920s, the study of “Japanese thought” has been left to other departments, such as Ethics or Religion. (As of 2010, there is but one chair in all Japan devoted to Japanese philosophy, and that is at the University of Kyoto.) The first academic journal devoted to the field, Tetsugakkai zasshi (Journal of the Association of Philosophy, later simply Journal of Philosophy), launched in 1887, also reflected a gradual limitation of the term. The Journal began by publishing articles not only on western philosophy but on Asian thought, aesthetics, and ethics as well, but by 1912 it had limited its content to “pure (that is, western) philosophy.” Tokyo University professors like Kuwaki eventually advocated an even narrower limitation of pure philosophy to speculative German philosophy. When it came to more recent Anglo-American currents like pragmatism, Kuwaki took an expressly purist position. In a 1905 debate with Tanaka Kiichi he rejected pragmatism as “a pseudo-philosophy propounded by scholars who engage in philosophy as some sort of divertissement” (KUWAKI Gen’yoku 1906, 24).

Although Tanaka and his students continued to advance pragmatism at the private Waseda University, Kuwaki’s opinion won the day, and academic philosophy at both Tokyo and Kyoto Imperial universities came to emphasize speculative German thought to the near exclusion of utilitarianism, pragmatism, and other Anglo-American philosophy.

On the periphery of academic philosophy at the turn of the century, the social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer along with versions of Nietzsche’s philosophy exerted an influence on Japanese writers and literary critics far more extensive than the “De-Kan-Sho” of the university professors. Takayama Chogyū’s essay “On the Aesthetic Life” in 1901 sparked a vigorous two-year debate in literary journals on his Nietzsche-inspired individualism and pursuit of basic human drives. The debate prompted Kuwaki to write a book on Nietzsche’s life and works, including a critique of his ethics. While the philosophers were still (p.569) enamored with their western paragons, several of them published books summarizing Nietzsche’s thought—Watsuji Tetsurō in 1913 and Abe Jirō* in 1919.

Nishitani Keiji* was perhaps the first Japanese philosopher to address in a novel way the problem of nihilism that Nietzsche had foreseen. In fact, it was not until Nishitani’s teacher, Nishida Kitarō (1870–1945), succeeded Kuwaki in the chair for philosophy at Kyoto University in 1914, and inspired what later became known as the Kyoto School, that academic philosophy in Japan began anew to draw upon Asian as well as European thought.


Chinese and Korean Disputes

The sinographs pronounced tetsugaku in Japanese were taken over in China and Korea as well, but once again not without some lively disputation. In China several other attempts had been made to translate the western term philosophy. In the early 1600s at the end of the Ming Period, the Jesuit Giulio Aleni used five sinographs to render philosophia phonetically, followed by Confucian terms that identified it as a “branch of learning about ‘principle’.” Writers in the Qing Period used a term meaning “wisdom studies” and interpreted philosophy as the same sort of study as the Confucian ‘investigation of all things’ and “the study of human nature and principle.” Against this background the sinographs for the Japanese term tetsugaku entered China, although exactly when is not certain. Huang Zunxian’s National Magazine of Japan in 1887 mentions the term as part of the curriculum of Tokyo University. The person who presented zhexue—the Chinese pronunciation of the characters read tetsugaku in Japanese—as conceptual thought, rather than merely the name of an academic course of study, was Liang Qichao (1873–1929), an advocate of constitutional monarchy and a leader in a failed attempt to reform the government in 1898. In 1901, while in exile in Japan, he presented his fellow political reformer Kang Youwei (1858–1927) as “the philosopher Kang.” His 1903 work The Doctrine of Kant, the Greatest Savant of the Modern Age, a comparison of the philosophy of Kant and Buddhism, introduced the term zhexue to the world of Chinese thought. His Philosophy of Laozi again used zhexue to present classical Daoist thought.

The whole idea of zhexue met some strong resistance, however, particularly in debates concerning the creation of a modern educational system in China. In 1902, Zhang Zhidong (1837–1909) urged the Emperor to exclude zhexue or western philosophy. He argued not only that was it vacuous and useless but also that it misled people and subverted national morals and public order. Zhang considered zhexue incompatible with traditional Chinese learning.

(p.570) Wang Guowei (1877–1927) argued to the contrary that zhexue, insofar as it was a search for truth, did not contradict the learning found in China. An amazingly versatile scholar and poet, Wang had studied natural sciences in Tokyo and later immersed himself in German idealism. Claiming that philosophy was fundamental to education in that it sought the true, the good, and the beautiful, he strongly advocated its inclusion in the educational system. Here Wang followed the interpretation of philosophy advanced by Kuwaki Gen’yoku, whose Introduction to Philosophy Wang translated in 1902. Different from the situation in Japan, however, was the idea that in China philosophy need not be “purified” by the western discipline. “Philosophy” had always been framed in distinction from “Chinese philosophy.” The problem was how to think of “Chinese philosophy” after western philosophy had been taken in.

The first answer was that of Hu Shih (1891–1962) in his 1919 work, An Outline of the History of Chinese Philosophy. Hu Shih was a pragmatist who had studied with John Dewey at Columbia University, and his inauguration of the practice of philosophy forms a stark contrast with the situation in Japan. For Hu, doing philosophy in China meant studying the works of western philosophers to create one’s own philosophy, basing oneself on western sources but incorporating eastern thought. By writing its history, scholars could rank “Chinese philosophy” on a par with western philosophy. This newly introduced historical perspective relativized the philosophy of the West. Thus a legitimation of philosophy in China came about by composing the history of Chinese philosophy, culminating in Feng Youlan’s comprehensive A History of Chinese Philosophy, published in two volumes in 1934.

Roughly parallel to the Kyoto School in Japan, Chinese thinkers struggled to create a speculative philosophy that would be original. The school known as “New-Confucianism” attempted to refine Confucianism and Buddhism by making them philosophical. Along with Feng Youlan (1895–1990) who, like Hu Shih, had studied with Dewey, the first generation included Liang Shumin (1893–1988), whose Eastern and Western Culture and Philosophy (1921) endeavored to reinterpret Confucian traditions in the light of western philosophy, and Xiong Shili (1885–1968) whose A New Treatise on Consciousness Only of 1932 did the same with Buddhism. The second generation included two students of Xiong: Tang Junyi (1909–1978) whose Development of the Humanistic Spirit in China subjected the very category of humanism to critique; and Mou Zongsan (1909–1995), whose New Confucianism attempted to rectify Kant’s philosophy by way of Confucian and Tiantai Buddhist teachings. In The Characteristics of Chinese Philosophy, Mou presented his views on whether there is such a thing as Chinese philosophy:

From ancient times there has been no word like philosophy in China…. If (p.571) one pairs the original Greek word only with western philosophy, one could say that fundamentally there is no Chinese philosophy.… Similarly, if one speaks of religion according to the standards of Christianity, Chinese Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism would have nothing to say. If one speaks of philosophy, there has been no western-style philosophy in China…. So what is philosophy? Philosophy is a reflection on and rational explanation of all activities relating to human nature. China has thousands of years of cultural history and, of course, a long history of activity and creativity related to human nature, as well as a history of reflection and explanation, of reason and conceptualization. How could there be no philosophy?

In a statement reminiscent of Nishi Amane and Nishimura Shigeki, Mou goes on to contrast the main thrust of Chinese philosophy with the philosophy of the West:

Chinese philosophy emphasizes “subjectivity” and “inner morality.” The three main streams of Chinese thought, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism, all emphasize subjectivity, though only Confucianism, the most prominent of the three, gives it a particular definition as “inner morality,” that is, as moral subjectivity. In contrast, western philosophy does not pay attention to subjectivity as much as to objectivity. Its focus and development mainly have to do with “knowledge.”

(MOU Zongsan 1963, 1–6)

Korea borrowed the term that translated philosophia from Japan in the early twentieth century when Korea was colonized by the Japanese government. The introduction of this discipline, therefore, was linked to the political situation of the country. During Japanese colonial rule in the 1920s and 1930s, Korean scholars believed they should master disciplines like philosophy in order to understand what had subjected Korea to colonialism. At the same time, they were aware of the meaning that philosophy had for academia around the world, as an inquiry into the foundations of reality and the nature and scope of the sciences.

In his History of the Reception of Western Thought in Korea (2003), Lee Kwang-Lae (1946–), professor of Gangneung University, argued that Korean philosophers have borne a burden of patriotism that he called the “Atlas complex.” Like Atlas, who in ancient Greek mythology bowed under the weight of the entire world he was condemned to carry, many Korean philosophers of the first generation felt they were destined to carry the weight of Korea’s political reality that related primarily to Japanese colonial rule. They saw philosophy as a critical way to perceive the Korean situation in a wider perspective and finally to cope with it.

It was Park Chong-Hong (1903–1976) who adopted the term ch’ŏrhak, the Korean rendering of the sinographs pronounced tetsugaku in Japanese. Park (p.572) initiated the reception of western philosophy and was responsible for the rise of modern Korean philosophy in the western sense of the word. His book General Logic, based on traditional Aristotelian concepts, was the first of its kind in the history of Korean thought. He introduced the philosophy of Kant, Hegel, Rickert, Cohen, Hartmann, Heidegger, Jaspers, Cassirer, Russell, Wittgenstein, Carnap, Ayer, and several others. Although his primary contribution was the assimilation of western philosophy, he also nurtured a keen interest in many areas of Korean culture and published articles on traditional Korean neo-Confucianism, Buddhism, and silhak or “practical Learning.” Park commonly, though not exclusively, employed the term sasang to deal with traditional Korean “thought,” but set the tone for the use of the word ch’ŏrhak to refer to both eastern-style and western-style philosophy. Over the past century, however, there have been at least a few cases where Korean philosophers questioned the appropriateness of the term. Two examples may serve to indicate how the general sense of Korean philosophy has changed during this time.

One argument was put forth by Lee Kwan-Yong (1891–1933), the first Korean to receive a doctorate in philosophy from a western university, the University of Zurich. As a scholar from a colonized nation, he attempted to replace ch’ŏrhak with wŏnhak, meaning roughly the “science of essences.” In a brief 1923 article entitled “Philosophy as Essential Science,” published in the pages of New Life (a journal that went defunct after its first issue), Lee wrote:

Philosophy is the archetype of general science and of original science that satisfies the intellectual instinct innate in all humans. I dare to claim that in this sense, ch’ŏrhak may be defined as wŏnhak.

Citing Thales, Anaximander, Pythagoras, Heraklitus, Plato, and others, he argued that philosophy from its beginnings had studied the eternal essences of things and the final nature of the universe. Lee did not criticize what other philosophers understood by the term ch’ŏrhak; he wanted only to be more faithful to what he perceived as the original meaning of philosophy. Although Korean philosophers did not adopt Lee’s suggestion to replace ch’ŏrhak with wŏnhak, his understanding of philosophy as essential or original science represents the intellectual milieu of his day. Lee’s understanding of philosophy may have been a faithful representation of Platonic and Aristotelian traditions, but he did not seem seriously to consider eastern traditions as a way to solve problems facing Korean people.

A more recent challenge to the Japanese translation of the term philosophia comes from Paek Chong-Hyon (1950–), a professor of Seoul National University belonging to the third generation of Korean philosophers. He admits that the word ch’ŏrhak itself has long been in use, making another Korean word for philosophy unnecessary. He does, however, want to expand the range of the (p.573) meaning of the Japanese-derived term, invented as it was from Nishi Amane’s attempted translations, one of which was kitetsugaku or the study of the quest for wisdom. In his German Philosophy and Korean Philosophy in the 20th Century (2000), Paek refers back to Chinese classics such as the Analects of Confucius, and proposes that the term ch’ŏrhak should be understood to mean the science of philosophers. He considers the philosopher as second only to the “sage,” Confucius himself, and followed by seventy-two “wise men” in the Confucian tradition. In his view, a philosopher is the one who struggles to reach the perfect ‘Way’ but does not attain it. The term ch’ŏrhak would include not only “general” or “fundamental” science as opposed to the individual sciences, but also the Learning of the Way (Daoxue) and neo-Confucian Rationalism (Lixue).

Nearly eighty years separate these two examples. Lee Kwan-Yong favored the study of western philosophy, which was introduced at the same time as the individual sciences. This beginning represented the spirit and demand of the times. Under western imperialism and Japanese colonialism, Lee did not expect positive contributions from eastern philosophical traditions. On the other hand, he saw western thought as the basis of the power that made imperialism possible. Paek, in contrast, has lived in the era of an independent Republic of Korea with its remarkable economic growth, dynamic democracy, and high degree of national pride. He has incorporated Asian philosophical traditions, especially the Confucian Learning of the Way and rationalism, although he seems to treat Daoism and Buddhism less seriously. Most contemporary Korean philosophers no longer quarrel with the origin of the term ch’ŏrhak. They search for answers to the pressing epistemic, aesthetic, moral, political, economical, and environmental issues that face Korean people, and consult the philosophical traditions of both East and West.

Aside from disputations about terminology and the provenance of philosophy, thinkers in China, Korea, and Japan in the early twentieth century, began to seek recognition as original philosophers and in this period more often than not grappled with problems using German speculative philosophy as their model.


“Japan’s First Philosopher”

For Nakae Chōmin, if not for Inoue Tetsujirō, what counted as truly philosophical thinking was innovative and not imitative, systematic and not eclectic or fragmentary, metaphysical and not practical or political (despite Nishi Amane’s insistence on its applicability). For some critics, moreover, to count as Japanese philosophy its Japanese flavor had to be conspicuous. Under (p.574) these measures several commentators have declared Nishida’s An Inquiry into the Good (1911) the first true work of Japanese philosophy—in contrast to the work of earlier philosophy professors in Japan and of the scholastics of Japanese intellectual traditions. Takahashi Satomi* (1886–1964), a philosopher in his own right, commented:

Are there any “philosophical” works by our countrymen worth speaking of as independent, philosophical works? What would it mean to be philosophical? Before An Inquiry into the Good became public, I would have been at a loss to answer…. Something makes this work really seem philosophical in comparison to others. There have been respectable works like Hatano Seiichi’s Study of Spinoza, and valuable works on various branches of philosophy, but in pure philosophy, as far as I know, scarcely any thinking so far has been richly original…. Is this not the first and only philosophical work in post-Meiji Japan? I am convinced it is.

(TAKAHASHI Satomi 1912, 153–4)

Takahashi was not able structurally to define Nishida’s “originality,” nor was Funayama Shin’ichi, the great historian of Meiji philosophy, when he wrote in 1959, “With Nishida’s Inquiry into the Good, Japan’s philosophy moved from the stage of the Enlighteners to a stage of originality…. But Nishida was ultimately a metaphysician” (FUNAYAMA Shin’ichi 1959, 59–60). Funayama did imply, however, that since metaphysics—whatever that might be—was something entirely new to Japanese traditional thought, Nishida’s philosophy was novel. Nishida’s disciple Shimomura Toratarō (1902–1995) later attempted to define Nishida’s innovation in historical terms. The following passage highlights some particularly noteworthy descriptions.

Japanese thinkers came to know of “philosophy” and “science” in the European sense only after the opening of Japan in the last half of the 19th century. Japan has long had its Buddhist, Confucian and Shinto thinkers, and there was even something philosophical in the best of them, and something scientific to the extent that they did not contain elements of magic and superstition; but Buddhism and Confucianism themselves were neither “philosophy” nor “science.” It is surely only since Meiji that one has referred to “philosophy” in distinction from religion and morality. And surely even if there was philosophy before this, it was only in fragmentary form. The Meiji era is called the era of Enlightenment, but it is an enlightenment that proceeded from and opposed western thought. The Japanese had an extremely active interest in the philosophy and science of the West as well as its political, economic, and military systems. The Meiji Era that spanned half a century (1868–1912), however, stopped at the study of western philosophy; in particular there were scarcely any original thinkers who exhibited a Japanese character. In general, there were nothing but eclectics who superficially and crudely blended western philosophy and eastern thought. Around the end of this era, at the beginning (p.575) of this century, the groundwork for an original, systematic philosophy became visible for the first time. The most exemplary and, to this day, influential philosopher is Nishida Kitarō….

A time came when philosophers began to systematize their own thought by way of western methods of thinking. The very first fruit of these endeavors, the exemplary one with the most distinctive individuality, was Nishida Kitarō’s An Inquiry into the Good. Japanese philosophy in those days was a matter of being sensitive to and reacting to contemporaneous European philosophy, and of swiftly importing it. Pragmatism, neo-Kantianism, Bergson, and eventually phenomenology were current. Ever since then the Japanese philosophical world in general has developed in direct linkage to the contemporaneous western academic world. The leading Japanese thinkers have for the most part taken up the problems of western philosophers and formed their own thought by confronting them critically. Hence it would appear that philosophy in Japan does not differ from western philosophy, that an independent development and formulation of problems is hardly to be seen. A philosophy that has grasped the rigorous methods and concepts of western philosophy and yet possessed a distinctive eastern or Japanese originality has been an extremely novel development. Nishida became a model in this regard.

(SHIMOMURA Toratarō 1977, 197–8, 201)

More recent and critical appraisals continue to refer to Nishida as the first Japanese philosopher. Nakamura Yūjirō, for example, writes:

One had to wait for Nishida for a work that could disprove Chōmin’s judgment that there was no philosophy in Japan…. Nishida’s work is the first to deserve the name of philosophy.

(NAKAMURA Yūjirō 1983, 15–16)

Nishida’s Definition of Philosophy

Whether Nishida can rightly be called Japan’s first philosopher remains a matter of dispute. What is clear is that in his own work he had mastered the European philosophical idiom. In a dictionary entry he defines philosophy in distinction from religion:

Philosophy is science, that is, unified conceptual knowledge, and thereby differs from art or religion. To be sure, there are those who, like Bergson, say that philosophy is intuitive knowledge, but intuition as such cannot be called philosophy. Even if its contents can derive from intuition, philosophy finds its raison d’être when intuition takes the form of conceptual knowledge. But what sort of science is philosophy? What does philosophy study? Philosophy is originally conceived of as the most fundamental science, the science of sciences. But this way of speaking must be taken in a strict sense, for every field of study has fundamental concepts that give rise to it. The fundamental notion of geometry, for example, is space; that of physics is material phenomena. (p.576) There can be no geometry without the concept of space, but the geometry that presupposes space cannot reflect on space itself or clarify it from a more fundamental standpoint. In contrast, philosophy reflects on the basic concepts of the particular sciences in general and constructs from them one system of knowledge. That is what distinguishes philosophy from the particular sciences. Thus the objects investigated by philosophy are things very near at hand like space, time, matter, and mind.

Although philosophy reflects on and unifies the basic notions of the particular sciences, its object of study is not simply the fundamental concepts of reality. Basic normative notions such as truth, goodness, and beauty must, of course, enter into philosophical study. Philosophy not only clarifies basic notions of reality; it must also elucidate the ideals of human life, the “ought” itself. Philosophy is not simply a worldview; it is a view of human life. If, as present-day neo-Kantians claim, the “ought” is more basic than the “is”, then philosophy is the study of values (Wertlehre). Thus, philosophy may be called the ultimate unity of knowledge, the unity of the fundamental concepts relating to existence or to the “ought,” that is to say, the science of the highest principles of human life in the universe.

(NISHIDA Kitarō 1922, 667–8)

At this stage of his career, Nishida champions the ideal of philosophy as first and universal science, in language obviously echoing Fichte’s view of philosophy as Wissenschaftslehre, and Hermann Cohen’s definition of philosophy as “the theory of the principles of science and therewith of all culture.” The philosophical idiom in Japan had thus moved through three phases. When Nishi Amane began his work, the idiom was primarily alien. Japanese terms signified western terms which often implied a whole array of concepts invisible to the translators. The search for counterparts to what the western terms ultimately signified was still in its infancy. In the next phase, a new idiom began to be employed. A Japanese term might signify above all a set of concepts similar to a western array, and with a roughly similar usage. This was a kind of move “back to the concepts themselves,” exemplified in Nishi’s own explanation of ri or ‘principle’. Finally, philosophers like Nishida, Tanabe Hajime, Watsuji Tetsurō, and later Nishitani Keiji expanded the idiom by exploiting latent echoes and ambiguities in terms that could refer to traditionally western or eastern concepts such as—to use the English translations—being-nothingness in Nishida and Nishitani and human being in Watsuji. The work of the translation of ideas continues today, with philosophers like Ōmori Shōzō* infusing technical philosophy of language with insights won from ancient Japanese notions like ‘kotodama’, the spirit of words, or Sakabe Megumi* writing about slippages of meaning and the “danger of falling into a semantic vacuum under the ideological halo of the authority of newly imported western modes of thought.”


(p.577) Philosophy or Religion?

The translation of ideas brought about a transformation not only of the Japanese language and the very concept of philosophy, Japanese intellectual traditions also came to be understood in new terms. The effort to relate Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shinto to European categories like philosophy and religion led to their virtual redefinition, but not without some perplexity over the meaning of words.

Like the category philosophy, the meaning of religion, too, was a source of confusion in the early Meiji Period. Although the translations of religion and its cognates were not neologisms, they did use old terms in new ways. To try to unravel the confusion we may point out three strands in the understanding of this category. Braided together, they do more to complicate the idea of religion than to form it into a coherent concept.

First, religion was conceived along Protestant lines as a matter of personal faith and practice. In 1874 the influential translator of western categories, Nishi Amane, explained that religious beliefs were held within one’s heart and were a matter of personal preference. Religious faith began where knowledge left off. He argued that religion should be left alone by public government and law as long as it does not harm society or involve itself in temporal power (NISHI Amane 1874B, 186–7, 189).

Secondly, in the view of many intellectuals who sought to modernize Japan or to align its traditions with scientific thinking, insofar as religion is a matter of faith that exceeds rationality, it verges on the irrational and pure superstition. Despite Nishi Amane’s position on religious tolerance, he did little to conceal his own contempt for native folk Shinto as “belief in foxes and badgers.” Intellectuals who otherwise fiercely opposed one another, the materialist Katō Hiroyuki and the Buddhist Inoue Enryō, for example, shared a distaste for unscientific superstition and irrational religious belief. The bone of contention was whether such belief defined the heart of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shinto.

Thirdly, scholars understood religion to mean a set of socially shared beliefs or doctrines. Among several different words used in the 1870s to render religion, the term that won out as the preferred translation, shūkyō, literally meant the core teachings of a sect and thus tended to de-emphasize ritualistic elements.

For both scholars and government officials, the question became how Shinto, Confucianism, and Buddhism should be understood vis-à-vis the categories of philosophy and religion. The classification of Shinto is a complex story with a relatively simple conclusion for purposes of this essay. On the one hand, some philosophers like Inoue Enryō and Inoue Tetsujirō did write of Shinto as one of Japan’s philosophical traditions, but for the most part Shinto thought and Native Studies in general escaped scrutiny as a candidate for philosophy in Japan. On (p.578) the other hand, the state’s promotion of Shinto as an official national ideology from the 1890s at times resisted its classification as a religion, one among many others—until 1940, when the cabinet of Prime Minister Konoe Fumimaro declared that State Shinto was the only religion. The traditions known as Buddhism and Confucianism were a different story, and decades of discussion were devoted to their philosophical and religious nature.

Representative of the first disputations are the comments of Nishimura Shigeki and Torio Koyata (1847–1905). When Nishimura defined philosophy in contrast to Confucianism and Buddhism, as mentioned earlier in this Overview, he remarked that these two traditions

emphasize knowledge and practice together (or rather, they weigh in on the side of practice). They revere their founders as persons who taught us both to order our own personal lives and to function as members of society. In putting particular stress on devotion to the sutras and valuing the performance of expedient means, Buddhism oversteps the bounds of reason to preach about hell and paradise. Philosophy, in contrast, is an investigation of the truths of the universe from the ground up and as such it has no use for founders or scriptures or anything like expedient means.

(cited in FUNAYAMA Shin’ichi 1975, 67)

Philosophy did not rely on argument by authority. The next year, 1888, Torio attempted to refute Nishimura’s exclusion:

Are not Confucianism and Buddhism inquiries into the truth of the universe? Is not the basis of knowledge and practice also the basis of what we call “truth?” Is not truth the aim of teaching people to order their own lives, and does this not depend on belief in that truth? Do not reverence for founders and devotion to scriptures depend on belief in this truth?… Therefore, the philosophies of the Confucian and Buddhist ways share not only the same origins but also the same goal, and there is no reason this cannot be called the philosophy of the East.

(cited in FUNAYAMA Shin’ichi 1975, 68)

Torio’s rebuttal, rhetorical as it is, highlights the kind of thought to which philosophy was being contrasted. A lay disciple of the Rinzai Zen abbot Imakita Kōsen* (1816–1892), Torio took the Buddhist name Tokuan and defended the position that Buddhism itself represented a kind of philosophical thought that proved its relevance for the modern age.

Inoue Enryō and Kiyozawa Manshi* were Buddhist reformers who gave more extensive arguments on why Buddhism should count as philosophy—to be sure, a kind of philosophy that intersects with religion. Their motivation was as much a concern to demonstrate Buddhism’s rational character and compatibility with science as it was an interest to explain Buddhist theories. Their common opponents were materialists like Nakae Chōmin and Katō Hiroyuki. (p.579) In countering Katō’s evolutionist materialism with an evolutionary idealism adapted from Hegel, they shared with Katō a commitment to some form of evolutionary theory, a notion of philosophy as systematic, rational discourse, and a view that Buddhism counted as religion. Unlike Katō, the two Buddhists held the notion of religion in high regard, and Kiyozawa insisted at first on its relation to morality, a connection that Confucians also made. In the final years of his life, Kiyozawa abandoned the idea of a rational religion and stressed a religion of faith, independent of philosophy and ethics.

Scholars of Confucianism likewise debated how this tradition related to imported western categories. To classify Confucianism as philosophy might mean forcing it into a western theoretical frame and forfeiting its practical bent. To call it a religion would tie it to one or more of the three predominant understandings of that concept in late nineteenth century Japan. The core of Confucianism was for many a set of teachings, but hardly a matter of personal faith bereft of ritualism, and by no means a lapse into irrationality and superstition.

Besides philosophy and religion a third possibility appeared as a way to classify Confucianism in indigenous terms that related to imported western categories as well: Confucianism as ethics or, more precisely, as dōtoku, the way of virtue or public morality. But this possibility, too, was not without its problems. If Confucianism was thought of as a set of ethical principles, as an ethic belonging to the public realm, it could lend itself to being co-opted by the state and imposed as a matter of national obligation. For some scholars, its religious core would be ignored. Hattori Unokichi (1867–1939) addressed this problem in a fairly nuanced way, distinguishing ethnic Confucianism from the “Teaching of Confucius” accessible to the entire world.

Thought before Confucius had many religious elements. After Confucius established his teaching, it became more theoretical and ethical, its religious character diminished…. Primitive Confucianism was quite religious, but Confucius turned it into an ethical teaching—yet the teaching of Confucius is neither limited to the realm of mundane human matters nor ignorant of what is beyond them.… The fundamental belief of Confucius is religious.

(HATTORI Unokichi 1939, 32, 90–1)

Hattori defined the teaching of Confucius as a new “philosophical religiosity”:

Ancient ceremonies were altogether religious, but Confucius explained the meaning of ceremony from a wholly ethical point of view. Ancient ceremony existed to bring fortune or avoid misfortune by the power of the gods, but Confucius preached only that we repay the fundamental favors of our ancestors. Still, Confucius deeply believed in the will of heaven, and believed it to be within him. In this respect he was religious. Confucian Teaching is ultimately religious if we think of religion as the coincidence of the finite and the (p.580) infinite or the relative and the absolute. The doctrines of many philosophers ultimately advocate such a coincidence and thus are religious. Confucian Teaching, too, is religious in this sense, but this religiosity differs from the Confucian religiosity of old.

(HATTORI Unokichi 1938, 163)

Hattori was dissatisfied with any separation of public morality and private religion. His proposal of the Teaching of Confucius as modern Confucianism, ethical as well as religious, calls to mind the category of “civil religion.”

Hattori’s colleague at the University of Tokyo, Inoue Tetsujirō*, advocated the position that Confucianism was religious and ethical at the same time. His position toward Buddhism was more ambivalent. He had published a lengthy volume in 1915, Philosophy and Religion, consisting of the transcripts of university lectures on themes like life and death, in which he took Buddhism and Shinto as religions, and wrote of “the reform and the future of Chinese religions” and “the unity of religions in Japan.” In other works, however, he rejected Buddhism as an old religion, while accepting both Confucianism and Shinto. His principal agenda became the construction of a new type of religion, an “ethical religion” modeled after Confucianism. In his Morality Beyond Religion he wrote:

We need to make morality the place where our ideals become actualized to make it into our religion. We have no need for old religions, but the time has come to construct a morality as their successor. This morality is much more reasonable than any religion of old. Devoid of superstition, it aligns with the sciences of today. That old religions cannot align with current science is evidence of their obsoleteness. That today’s morality is able to align with the sciences and foster individual autonomy is proof of its value as a replacement for old religion. Morality seen in this way surpasses any religion both in value and progressiveness.

(INOUE Tetsujirō 1908A, 302–3)

Confucianism in this view was a public moral teaching that retained a religious core:

Confucianism is coincident with religion insofar as it reveres heaven as a greatness beyond human beings. It is quite different from religion, however, insofar as it ignores rituals and the afterlife.

(INOUE Tetsujirō 1908B, 309)

On the other hand, Inoue related Shinto to public morality in a way that still recognized it as religion, that is, a faith. In the 1910s it seems he tried to mediate between much public sentiment that understood shrines as places of worship, and the policy of government officials that led to State Shinto and that proclaimed, “Shinto is not a religion.” He writes that visits to shrines to pay respect to the distinguished service of the nation’s benefactors can be understood in

a moral sense, reaching the depth of reverence that may be called faith. One’s (p.581) visit is morally fruitless without this depth. We may regard it as morality, recognizing that such faith is necessary for morality.

(INOUE Tetsujirō 1917, 364)

By 1935 Inoue was promoting an amalgam of Confucianism and Shinto as the “Imperial Way” of Japan’s monarchy, superior to the merely “Kingly Way” of China and Korea that knew only Confucianism. Let it not be forgotten, though, that he had also presented Japanese neo-Confucian traditions as philosophies.

Two years earlier, Watsuji Tetsurō had made a case for the secular nature of Confucianism that distinguished it from religious faith. Watsuji regarded Confucius as one of the great teachers of humankind, but distinct from other teachers like Buddha, Socrates, and Jesus, in that he never touched on the problem of death, nor did his biography include any story about his death. The core doctrine of Confucius consisted in the “Way of humanity” with no reference to a “religious God.” For Confucius,

it sufficed to understand and realize the Way. The Way is a way of humanity, not the words of a God or a way to enlightenment. No fear or anxiety afflicted him if he followed the ethical way of humanity, that is, if he realized humaneness and practiced loyalty and tolerance. That is why his doctrine had no need for mysteries of any shade, no demands to “believe by virtue of the absurd.” The Way is completely a way of reason. The most remarkable characteristic of the doctrine of Confucius is his recognition that the Way of humanity is significant on an absolute level.

(WATSUJI Tetsurō 1933, 344]

For Watsuji the heart of philosophy was ethics, and for this reason alone the Confucian Way was philosophical at its core. Confucianism, had of course, been criticized long before, at the very beginning of the Meiji Era, by modernizers like Fukuzawa Yukichi,* but largely for the social practices that Watsuji and other philosophers divorced from its original teaching. Ōnishi Hajime,* writing at the turn of the century, is representative of the handful of philosophers who criticized Confucian values on explicitly philosophical grounds. The widespread acceptance of the appellation Confucian philosophy today is due more to the worldwide attention paid to intellectual traditions in China than to the efforts of Japanese thinkers like Inoue Tetsujirō. Indeed, Watsuji’s own work on ethics was as much Buddhist as Confucian, as the selection from his writings will demonstrate.

After the establishment of academic philosophy in Japan, there emerged a group of philosophy professors who were also steeped in Buddhist thought and practice. This group, the Kyoto School, took the philosophical nature of Buddhism for granted. As many of the selections in this volume show, the question for them had less to do with whether Buddhism counted as a philosophy than with the nature of religion and morality as seen from a Buddhist perspective. Their reflections on the intersections and divergencies of philosophy, ethics, (p.582) and religion display the depth to which such western categories had penetrated Japanese intellectual life, and the degree to which they were being transformed. From outside the Kyoto School, Maruyama Masao* offered an engaging explanation of the way Japanese thought developed through centuries of transforming concepts and categories, Confucian and Buddhist that came from China, and—from the West—Christian, democratic, and Marxist ideas. As contested as his analysis may be, it shows that Japanese philosophers have continued to take seriously the problem of the terms and categories in which they think.


Suggested Further Reading

BRAISTED, William R., Meiroku Zasshi: Journal of the Japanese Enlightenment (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976).

DAVIS, Winston Bradley, The Moral and Political Naturalism of Baron Katō Hiroyuki (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, 1996).

DEFOORT, Carine, “Is There Such a Thing as Chinese Philosophy? Arguments of an Implicit Debate,” Philosophy East and West 51/3 (July 2001), 393–423.

GODART, Gerard Clinton, “‘Philosophy’ or ‘Religion’? The Confrontation with Foreign Categories in Late Nineteenth-Century Japan.” Journal of the History of Ideas 69/1 (January 2008), 71–91.

HAVENS, Thomas H., Nishi Amane and Modern Japanese Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970).

JOSEPHSON, Jason Ānanda, “When Buddhism Became a ‘Religion’: Religion and Superstition in the Writings of Inoue Enryō,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 33/1 (2006): 143–68.

KISHINAMI, Tsunezō, The Development of Philosophy in Japan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1915).

PIOVESANA, Gino K., Recent Japanese Philosophical Thought 1862–1994: A Survey, 3rd ed. (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 1997).

REITAN, Richard M, Making a Moral Society: Ethics and the State in Meiji Japan (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2009).

TSUCHIDA, Kyoson, Contemporary Thought of Japan and China (London: Williams and Norgate Ltd., 1927).

(p.583) Nishi Amane 西 周‎ (1829–1887)

Nishi Amane is known for his pioneering work in introducing European philosophy and other disciplines into Japan. Born in the Tsuwano domain (present-day Tsuwano town in Shimane Prefecture), he was educated in Zhu Xi philosophy at a domain school for samurai youth, but later began to sympathize deeply with the thought of Ogyū Sorai,* a critic of the Zhu Xi School. Nishi learned Dutch and English in Edo (present-day Tokyo) and translated western texts for Tokugawa ‘shogunate’ officials. In 1862 he and the legal scholar Tsuda Mamichi were sent by the shogunate to study in Leiden in the Netherlands, where under the tutelage of Simon Vissering he immersed himself in legal studies, economics, and statistics. Returning to Japan in 1865, Nishi translated Vissering’s lectures on international and natural law for Tokugawa Yoshinobu, Japan’s last shōgun. He then headed a military academy and went on to become a professor at the Kaiseijo, an institute for the development of the sciences that was later incorporated into Tokyo University. After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, he contributed a rescript on military affairs, regulations for a new system of education, and a draft for a national constitution which stated that the emperor would share legislative power with a national diet. This latter proposal was roundly criticized by Inoue Kowashi (1844–1895), whose views on the emperor’s divinity ultimately prevailed in the Meiji Constitution of 1889. Nishi served as a counselor in an early form of the national assembly, as a member of the House of Peers, and as head of the Tokyo Academy.

Nishi’s philosophical works introduced formal logic to Japan and systematized both western and eastern fields of scholarship. He translated John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism and rendered parts of Auguste Comte’s positivism into Japanese. He wrote treatises on human nature and psychology that explained the distinctions between objective and subjective viewpoints for the first time in Japanese, and sketched a theory of religion that advocated freedom of belief and the separation of state and religion. Nishi coined Japanese words for philosophy, reason, sensibility, concept, idea, induction, deduction, and many other terms. Theories of military affairs and of national education, economics, and law rounded out his accomplishments.

The following selections exemplify two different challenges that Nishi faced: advancing modern, liberal ideas and conveying the meaning of western concepts. As a leading figure of the ‘Enlightenment’ and the progressive Meiji Six Society, he insisted that self-cultivation was no substitute for training in legal affairs and the art of governing. Writing about the nature and limits of “freedom,” a word that in Japanese could also denote egoism, Nishi clarifies the difference between the two notions and presents an argument that properly human freedom, in distinction from animal behavior, is gained in an ethical practice aimed not at the benefit of oneself but of society as a whole. In a more theoretical context we see Nishi comparing and contrasting the Confucian notion of ‘ri’, a concept that Zhu Xi scholars had (p.584) vigorously debated, with western counterparts like principle and reason. Addressing Zhu Xi School criticisms of western notions of principle, he goes on to advance his own understanding of ri as a term expressing a relation and not a substance.


Governing, Freedom, Independence

Nishi Amane 1874a, 237–8; 1879, 312–13

Some scholars suppose that by coming to know the ‘principle’ of all things and to have a sincere heart and ‘mind’ they can spontaneously govern the country without further study, without investigating and clarifying what is in its interests or to its advantage. It is painful to think of the harm that would result from governance based on something like a Zen monk doing ‘zazen’.

On the Idea that Freedom is Independence

All living things prefer to pursue and gain an advantage. Kites fly the skies, fish swim the waters, frogs leap—all seeking an advantage, and so is it with butterflies, lice, and fleas as well. Grasses and trees turn towards the sun and turn their backs on the shade. Human society, too, comes about because of the benefits it brings: the morality of mutual support (as with husband and wife, or father and son), the laws of division of labor (the exchange and distribution of work), the distinction between leaders and commoners (those in office and those not in office) and between government and citizens (the judiciary prevents conflicts, the army protects the nation). Hence, seeking what is beneficial is the basis of morality. The way of freedom does not gainsay the pursuit of gain.

Freedom is freedom precisely in relation to seeking gain. In this respect, it is important to note that gain cannot be a matter of freedom without rules. So in the making of a society and a nation, it is not possible for there to be no limits on the freedom of people. Savages have individual freedom, but almost without limits. Hence the indigenous in Africa are attacked, their people taken and sold as slaves. In order to eliminate calamities like these, the morality of a society emerges, governments are established and nations formed. We must be strict with people who are loose with the limits of freedom, but must not use our own freedom to violate the freedom of fellow human beings. (A vaccination steals a bit of health but in service of better health. Freely choosing one’s occupation is the beginning of freedom.) There is no freedom without restrictions. (Forfeit freedom for one to gain freedoms for all.)

Only animals, insects, fish, and the like are free to pursue and gain benefit for themselves alone. In human society, one forfeits this smaller, lower form of freedom (p.585) to obtain a greater, higher freedom. Thus in human society it may look as if the individual freedom of animals, insects, and fish is lacking, but in exchange one obtains a greater freedom. In human society people do not face the calamity of being killed and eaten. Hence freedom and acting for gain coexist; they are not contrary to one another. If we are to distinguish the two, then obtaining gain is the goal, and freedom is the means to get it. Consequently, morality exists in order to achieve freedom. Without independence, no freedom.


Principles, Reasons, Science

Nishi Amane 1873, 65; 1882, 167–72

On the Physical Basis of Psychology

Although the terms translated here as psychology and physiology had yet to assume their modern denotations, Nishi’s view shows remarkable foresight.

Psychology or the study of human nature must discard views about the immaterial and base itself on the laws of matter. Beginning anew with physiology, psychology can unravel mysteries in the study of the human.

An Explanation of Principle

I lack sufficient capacity to discover and elucidate the principles that connect physiology and psychology, so for the time being I will explain the two, the principles of mind and of matter, separately. I will also try to explain in each case whether one comes before the other. Before explaining the principles of mind and of matter separately, however, we should ask one thing: How is one to define the concept ‘ri’ (which is used in the Japanese words for physiology and psychology)? What exactly is its essence?

Nishi attempts to show that the range of meanings covered by ri overlaps with European philosophy’s central concern with reason and principle.

The word has been used since ancient times in China. Confucian works all discuss ri or “principle.” Among ancient works we find the principle of change that symbolizes phenomena and is expressed by numbers in the Book of Changes; the principle of harmony in the Doctrine of the Mean; and the principle praised in the verse as “the workings of heaven without sound or smell.” All of these express ways both lofty and profound to explain principle.


So the meaning of the word has changed through time, and today has come (p.586) most often to signify the idea of reason, reasons, or reasonableness in the term dōri—literally, “the way of principle.” In the language of our country we also read the sinograph for ri as kotowari, the understanding of something or the understanding of words.

There follows a commentary on various Japanese expressions, after which Nishi explains the use of “ri” in compounds that translate various terms in European languages such as Vernunft, natural law, fundamental principle, ground, and idea.

Accordingly, we do not find a term in European languages that accurately translates ri. One sees Confucians from this country making statements like “westerners are as yet unaware of ri.” (I think Rai San’yō3 wrote this because at that time, of course, the country had not yet been opened to European teachings.) But Europeans certainly knew of this ri. Referring to recent European terms, ri has been used in two senses, to convey both the English reason and natural law, for example, or the French raison and loi de nature, the German Vernunft and Naturgesetz, and the Dutch reden and natuurwet, respectively.

Concerning the first sense, the more general word dōri (the way or principle) and the more specific risei (the nature of being principled) have translated reason. This risei or rationality is the original sense of right and wrong and the discrimination with which human nature is endowed; it points to the reason why humans are the lord of all creation. The more general term dōri comes to mean what it does by virtue of the fact that it includes opinions, decisions, speculation, and explanations. When the sinographs are used in this broad sense of reason, their meaning ranges from reasoning on the basis of observations to the reason or principle of heaven and earth, but in the latter case they indicate only what human thought itself ordains. Consequently, one should be aware of the fact that as translations of European terms, risei and dōri do not denote anything beyond the human realm like the principle of heaven or the ‘Way’ of heaven.

Concerning the second sense, rihō translates natural law, the law of heaven or nature. Newton’s law of gravity, Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, Bode’s planetary distance law, and the like are all things that do not directly concern human affairs. Although they come about as a result of human discoveries, they differ from the ri that the human mind can ordain. They belong to the category of objective things. In addition, the English word principle, the French principe, the German Prinzip, and the Dutch beginsel in their original meanings can all be translated as genri (“original principle”) or even shugi (“doctrinal principle”). (p.587) Even though it is not the case that ri alone can express the essence of all these concepts, when we use the word it can suggest the original ideas, just as when one speaks of humaneness and righteousness to indicate Confucian ideas.

In addition, we encounter the English word idea, the French idée, the German Vorstellung and Idee, and the Dutch denkbeeld, deriving from the Greek and the Latin. These words were originally a modification of the Greek word for seeing, and in the sense of illuminating a shadow or an image, they refer originally to the impression that physical things leave on the mind. This notion came to refer to understanding and imagination in general. The word we now use to translate it, kannen, may seem to bear little relation to the word ri, but it has the same import it did for the Confucians of the Song period.

To give a little more detail about the gist of the word, with regard to the question of whether Europeans have been unaware of ri, we can say that the various European distinctions among the meanings of the word reason are more precise than Confucian meanings of ri. As Song Confucians explained it, all things, from heaven and earth and wind and rain to matters of human morality, exist within tenri, the immutable principle of heaven, and to part from this principle is to transgress against it. We must say this view is an overgeneralization. It would be a great mistake to act on such a belief. Such a way of thinking results in impossible ideas, like the idea that solar and lunar eclipses, and calamities such as droughts and floods, are related to the policies of the ruler. (That people in the past thought like this was due to their shallow level of knowledge, so we should not blame them. We should also not blame the Song Confucian scholars, because they did not yet know of European learning. But if people now still adhere to these ideas, we should be alarmed and criticize them.) It could also not be helped that people jumped to the conclusion that the ships of the Mongols were capsized by the divine winds of Ise, or by the power of the banners that read “Praise be to the wonderful dharma.” In short, things are equal insofar as they depend on ri, regardless of their size. There are a priori ri and a posteriori ri. Depending on their force, there are enduring ri and there are ri that vanish. There are fundamental ri and minor ri. We cannot capture these meanings in one generalized statement.

People often say, however, that “there are ri outside the ri.” In other words, many believe that ri may be such and such, but things do not necessarily occur in accordance with those ri. People who say this do so because they see ri as one sort of thing among others. But they do not know ri. In its vastness and in its detail, the scope of ri leaves nothing uncovered. If you let it free, so to speak, ri traverses heaven, earth, and the four directions. If you wrap it up, ri recedes and fits in the details. At its largest, there is nothing outside it. At its smallest, there is nothing inside it. If there are two things, then there is necessarily a ri between them. It is just that we cannot discern it entirely. The “ri outside the (p.588) ri” are just those things that cannot be explained with the usual ri. If there is a phenomenon or activity, then there is necessarily a reason and cause to bring it about. Also, if a ri is such and such, but the facts do not fit with this ri, this is merely because we have not yet discovered the ri that exactly applies to the facts in question. Once we have discovered this ri, it will necessarily fit the facts. For example, if you want to divide two oranges equally between two children, you will give one orange to each child. But in terms of weight and size, they are not exactly divided equally. If you would weigh them before dividing, you would get closer to dividing them precisely. But chemical characteristics such as sweetness or bitterness cannot be equally divided by measuring the weight of the oranges. So until we also find a technique to divide equally sweetness and bitterness, it will be difficult to divide the oranges perfectly.

As for the ri of the human mind, we know it only where it is constant and rather coarse. There are many ri we do not know. When people says of things they do not really understand that they lie “outside of ri” or that “the ri does not match the reality,” they can only mean not that the ri are insufficient, but that they themselves are.

There are things whose ri the human mind can know only in part but not entirely. Take the cosmos: we call it “the world” or “heaven and earth,” and we can infer that it has no limits, but we have not the slightest idea about why this is. So it is with ri. If we have two things, we may know the part entirely determined by necessity, but we have no reason to say we know the whole. This should be enough to dispel the confusion among people.


(p.589) Fukuzawa Yukichi 福沢諭吉‎ (1835–1901)

Fukuzawa Yukichi, in his own estimation, was the initiator, or at least an inspiration for, many of the reforms that took place during Japan’s process of modernization. Be that as it may, his was a strong dissenting voice against the lingering habits of feudalistic thought. Trained in western learning, Fukuzawa taught himself Dutch and English. Shortly after the opening of Japan, he made the first of three trips to the United States. On returning he was employed in the Tokugawa ‘shogunate’s’ translation bureau. It was during this period that he published his first work, Conditions in the West, which was an immediate best seller and set him off on a prolific career as a writer and social critic.

Fukuzawa’s two main points of philosophical reference, as will be seen in the following excerpts, were the European Enlightenment and modern scientific methodology, both reasonings on which he relied—but rarely rehearsed in any detail—for his relentless campaign against both traditional preconceptions and the unreflective rush to incorporate western models of government. Again and again he insists on intellectual ‘cultivation’ as the first priority for the awakening of Japan and its advance with the “spirit of the times.” The most comprehensive presentation of his philosophy is contained in his Outline of a Theory of Civilization, an opening excerpt from which stresses the need to cultivate intellect as a balance to private morality.

In addition, Fukuzawa produced a considerable body of writings on women’s questions. Although much of it may sound dated to contemporary ears, as the selection below will testify, his refutation of dominant Confucian ideas undergirding the suppression of women was very much a novelty in his own day. As someone trained in the physical sciences, he held the arguments from authority or traditional texts in rather low esteem when the result was injustice.


Virtue, Knowledge, and Wisdom

Fukuzawa Yukichi 1875, 102–43 (77–106)

Virtue means morality, probity; in the West it is called “morals.” Morals refer to a person’s interior good behavior; they enable a person to feel inwardly at peace and ashamed of nothing, not even one’s innermost thoughts. Knowledge means intelligence; in the West it is called “intellect.” It is the function of pondering, understanding, and relating things. Morality and intelligence are in turn each divided into two types. First you have what may be called private virtue: fidelity, purity, modesty, integrity, and the like—things that pertain to an individual’s own heart. Secondly you have the sense of shame, justice, (p.590) straightforwardness, courage, and the like, which appear in people’s dealings with others and in social relationships; these may be called public virtue. Thirdly you have the capacity to fathom the principles of things and respond to them; this may be called private knowledge. Fourthly you have the ability to evaluate persons and events, to give weightier and greater things priority, and to judge their proper times and places; this may be called public knowledge. Private knowledge can perhaps be called the lesser knowledge of know-how, while public knowledge can be called the greater knowledge of wisdom.

Of the four things distinguished here, the most important is the last one. Without wisdom, private virtue and private knowledge cannot develop into their public counterparts, or the public and the private functions can end up at odds with each other. There has never before been a clear discussion of these four, but by examining the views of scholars and what people commonly say one can see that they are aware of these distinctions.


There are some gentlemen who can move a whole country with a word, but who cannot regulate their own households. Though they are talented at ruling the country and bringing peace to the land, they are unable to order themselves and their own households. Some people devote all their energies to maintaining their personal integrity, but they know nothing of what is going on outside their gates. Some go so far as to fatally weaken their health and die without in any way benefiting society. All of these people are lacking in wisdom and err about the order in things; unable to distinguish between what is important and what is not, they lose a proper balance in their pursuit of virtue.

Because the function of wisdom is to regulate knowledge and virtue, when speaking about morality we should really call it the supreme virtue. However, because we are here using terms according to their popular understanding, wisdom should not be called a virtue. In ancient Japan the term “morality” referred principally to an individual’s private virtue. It was expressed in such phrases as “be gentle, modest, and deferring to others,” or “rule by inaction,” or “the holy person does not have ambition,” or “the gentleman of the highest virtue is like a fool,” or “the benevolent person is like a solid mountain.” These all refer to inner states which in the West would be described as merely “passive.” Since the word described an attitude of passive receptivity, rather than one of aggressive initiative, virtue was conceived only in terms of the liberation of a person’s inner heart. The Chinese classics, of course, do not teach only this kind of passive virtue. Some few passages imply a more dynamic frame of mind. However, the spirit that breathes throughout those works stirs up in people an attitude of patient endurance and servility. Shinto and Buddhism are practically the same as the Chinese classics when it comes to their teachings on the ‘cultivation’ of virtue. Because we Japanese have been reared according to such teachings, the (p.591) popular understanding of the concept of virtue is extremely narrow; the term does not include the function of wisdom.


In their hearts, of course, people naturally know the distinctions among the four classifications of knowledge and virtue that I described above, yet sometimes they seem to know it, sometimes they seem not to. Ultimately, then, what people in general are inclined to value most is private virtue. Therefore, I, too, shall go along with the common understanding of people and shall discuss the function of wisdom under the heading of intelligence, while morality I shall have to define narrowly as passive private virtue. When I discuss virtue…, it will be in this sense. Hence, when I compare intelligence and morality and describe the functions of the former as important and wide-ranging, and those of the latter as unimportant and narrow in range, I may seem to be biased. Scholars will not misunderstand me, however, if they are clear about what I say here.

… Now, because private virtue is a universal principle valid for all ages and all lands, the simplest and most beautiful of principles, of course later generations should not revise it. But one must choose the place to exercise it, in accord with social changes, and one must consider the proper ways to use it. For example, people’s need for food has always been the same, but whereas in antiquity people simply put things directly into their mouths with their hands, people later developed numerous new styles of eating. Again, private virtue in the human heart is like the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth in the human body; nobody argues about whether they are useful or not. No human can be without them. Discussing the usefulness of these parts of the body may be relevant in a world inhabited by deformed people, but such discussion is only a waste of breath where people are all normal.

Because Buddhism, Shinto, Confucianism, and Christianity were proclaimed in ancient and less civilized times (“immature times,” as it were), there is no denying that they were necessary at those times. Why, even today eighty to ninety percent of the world’s population is in that sense immature, and as a result moral teachings cannot be neglected. Or perhaps for that very reason there is such a drive to talk so much about them. However, because the essence of civilization lies in moving forward on all fronts, we must not rest secure with the simple ways of antiquity. If people today are not happy with eating with their fingers, and if they realize that having eyes, ears, nose, and mouth are no special cause for smugness, then it should be clear that the cultivation of private virtue is not the be-all and end-all of human attainment.…

Since intelligence and morality split the human heart, as it were, into two, each controlling its own proper sphere, there is no way of saying which is the more important. Both are needed to make a complete human being. But eighty to ninety percent of the theories of the past have stressed morality over intelligence. (p.592) Some scholars went so far as to deny the usefulness of intelligence altogether. This is a most deplorable evil in human society, and yet when one sets out to remedy this evil, one will encounter a great difficulty. For if you try to correct the evils of the past by first of all distinguishing between intelligence and morality, and then clarifying the respective spheres and functions of each, shallow people will complain that the explanation belittles virtue in favor of knowledge, that the territory of morality is being encroached upon. There might even be some who, after a cursory glance at the explanation, will mistakenly conclude that morality is of no use to people. Now, knowledge and virtue, together, are as necessary for civilized society as vegetables and grains have to be supplemented by fish and meat for the nourishment of the body. My saying that intelligence should not be overlooked is no different from offering meat to an undernourished vegetarian. Of course, it would be necessary to explain the value of meat and the problems of eating only vegetables and grains, and why both types of food should be taken together, because if the vegetarian then goes to the other extreme of eating only fish and meat, it would be the height of folly and no less a mistake.

Learned persons of ancient and modern times have also distinguished between knowledge and virtue, but because they feared the harm that would result from being misunderstood, they did not speak about it openly. But one cannot go on indefinitely knowing something and not speaking of it. When something is reasonable, ten out of ten people will not misunderstand it. Even if two or three do happen to misunderstand, it would be better to speak of it. It is unreasonable to deprive seven or eight people of an intelligent insight for fear of a misunderstanding by two or three. When you come down to it, to conceal an argument that should be discussed, or to obscure an issue for fear of being misunderstood—as they say, “adapting one’s teachings to the level of one’s audience”—is a course of action that belittles one’s fellow human beings. To take it upon oneself to refrain from telling things the way they are because of the supposed stupidity of one’s fellows shows a lack of due respect and love. This is not the way a true gentleman should act. If one thinks something is true, one should speak out on the matter frankly and leave it to others to judge whether one is right or wrong. This is precisely why I myself do not hesitate to discuss the distinction between knowledge and virtue.


Morality is the activity of one person. Its prime sphere of influence is the family circle. If the head of the family is honest, the rest of the people in his household will tend to be honest. If the words and actions of parents are refined, then the hearts of the children will naturally be the same. Even friends and relatives can exhort one another to do good and thus lead others to virtue, but ultimately the sphere in which moral encouragement can lead another to good (p.593) is extremely limited. This is what is meant by the saying, “One cannot call on every door or preach to every person.”

Intelligence is something quite different. Once some truth is discovered and announced to others, in no time at all it moves the minds of a whole nation. If the discovery is very great, the power of a single individual can change the face of the entire world. James Watt invented the steam engine, and the manufacturing industry changed all over the world as a result. Adam Smith discovered the laws of economics, and world commerce took on a new dimension. How are such ideas diffused? They are spread through word of mouth or through books. As soon as people put into actual practice ideas they have heard or read about in books, they are in reality no different from Watt or Smith. As a result, yesterday’s ignoramus can become today’s sage, and hundreds and thousands of Watts and Smiths can be born all over the world. In speed of diffusion and breadth of influence, this is in a completely different category from one person’s giving lessons in morality to his family and friends.

Someone may object that Thomas Clarkson’s4 sweeping away the evil laws of slavery in society on the strength of his inner vision, and John Howard’s5 elimination of the evils of the prison system through his own diligence were works of morality, and, therefore, that even virtue can have extremely vast, immeasurable effects. To this I answer: True, these two gentlemen broadened private virtue into public virtue and thus had a vast, immeasurable influence on the world. However, these two men accomplished what they did by fearing no odds and sparing no pains in putting their ideas into effect; they wrote books, exhausted their funds, endured criticism, braved dangers, and finally succeeded in moving people’s hearts. But this was not directly the fruit of private virtue; it was rather the work of wisdom.

The two of them accomplished great things, true, but if we look at the matter exclusively in terms of morality and understand morality the way people commonly do, then the only thing they both did was sacrifice their lives for the sake of others. As far as motivation goes, there is no difference between Howard’s loss of his life to save countless others and the case of a Confucian gentleman who would lose his life trying to save a child from falling into a well.6 The only difference is that Howard acted for the sake of countless others and left a legacy (p.594) of virtue and merit for all ages, while the latter’s deed is for the sake of only one child and would be of temporary influence. There is no difference in morality between the two as far as offering their lives goes. Howard’s saving of countless people and his legacy to countless future generations derived from his enlarging private virtue with the aid of wisdom; by this means he was able to widen his range of moral influence. Our humane person, the Confucian gentleman, possesses private virtue but is poor in public virtue and public knowledge, while Howard possessed all of them.

Private virtue may be likened to raw ore, and wisdom to craftsmanship. If the ore is not worked on, the iron will be nothing but a heavy, hard object. But when even a little craftsmanship is added, you can produce a hammer or a pot. If it is a little more skillfully wrought, it can become a knife or a saw. If it is even more skillfully worked on, and on a large scale, it can be made into a steam engine, while on a tiny scale it can become the mainspring of a watch. When people compare a big pot and a steam engine, is there anyone who does not value the steam engine more highly? And why? The reason is not that a big pot, a steam engine, and the raw ore are different materials, but that people value the craftsmanship that has gone into them. Therefore, as far as the raw ore that goes into iron instruments is concerned, the pot, the engine, the hammer, and the knife are all exactly the same, but what determines their relative values is the amount of craftsmanship involved in producing them.


Morality is not something that can be taught externally. It is something attained through interior efforts on the part of the one learning it.… Han Yu7 wrote his memorial about the bone of Buddha to remonstrate with the emperor, for which act he seemed like a perfectly loyal subject. When he was banished to the provinces, he wrote a poem expressing his loyal zeal, but after that he wrote a letter to influential quarters in the capital, pleading to be recalled. He was the first of the pseudo-gentlemen. Neither Japan, China, or the West has been lacking in people like Han Yu. Ingratiating flattery and greed for money can be discovered even in one who expounds the Confucian Analects. People out to deceive the ignorant, intimidate the weak, or grasp simultaneously for fame and profits can be found even among those westerners who preach Christian doctrine. All such base characters take advantage of the fact that there are no concrete norms by which to test another’s real moral sincerity. They are just (p.595) illicit traffickers in morality for their own selfish ends, and proof that people cannot be regulated by morality alone.

Intelligence is not like this. The world has an abundance of intelligence; without its having to be taught, people learn it from one another. It transforms people on its own, leading them into its own realm, in a manner not unlike the edification process of morality. But the power of intelligence is not limited to spreading itself only by means of edification. There are concrete methods of acquiring intelligence, and one can clearly see its effects. If the techniques of arithmetic are learned, they can be put to immediate use. When one hears about the principle of producing steam from boiling water, then learns how to make an engine and use steam power, one can produce a steam engine. This engine will be no different in its functioning from Watt’s steam engine. This is called the concrete teaching of knowledge. Since the teaching is concrete, there are also concrete norms and measuring devices for testing it.


Present-day teachers of morality say that it is the foundation of all human affairs and the prerequisite for any human enterprise. They say that if one but cultivates personal virtue, there is nothing one will not be able to accomplish. Therefore, morality must be taught and learned before anything else, even at the expense of everything else. For once morality is cultivated, the rest will take care of itself. It is said that a society without moral teaching is unable to see where it is going, like a person without a lantern on a dark night. They add that western civilization is the product of moral teaching, and that the semi-developed civilizations of Asia and the still primitive states of Africa are the way they are entirely because of their respective levels of moral development. Moral teaching is like the temperature and civilization like a thermometer whose reading is an accurate gauge of the level of virtue. Consequently, these teachers of morality lament people’s immorality and grieve over their lack of goodness, some proposing that Christianity be introduced into Japan, others advocating the revival of Shinto or Buddhism. Confucians have their solutions; Native Studies scholars have theirs; and the bitter, long-winded arguments among them go on and on. The frantic way in which they bewail the ills of society makes one think a fire or flood were about to ravage our houses. But why all the fuss?

I look at things in an entirely different way. We should not bring up extreme cases and limit our discussion to them. If we set up a complete lack of goodness and morality as our criterion, and think we have to save such people, then of course it will seem we are facing an emergency situation. But applying a remedy only to one faulty area is still far from solving all of society’s ills, just as merely living from hand to mouth cannot be called the total economy of human life. If we were to settle discussions by looking at extreme cases, even moral teaching would become powerless. Suppose for a moment we were to make moral (p.596) teaching the exclusive basis of civilization, and were to make the people of the whole world read the Christian Bible and do nothing else, then what? Or what if we promoted the Zen idea of “non-teaching,” with the result that everyone in the nation became illiterate? Shall we call people civilized if they can chant the Kojiki and the five classics by heart and have learned the feudal virtues, but do not even know how to make a living? Or shall we call people enlightened if they eliminate their desires and emotions and live ascetic lives without any knowledge of the world of human beings?

On roadsides one can see stone images of three monkeys, one covering his eyes, another his mouth, and the third his ears. Representing not-seeing, not-hearing, and not-speaking, they are supposed to symbolize the morality of patient endurance. According to this idea, one’s eyes, mouth, and ears are the vehicles of immorality, as though when heaven creates persons it gives them tools of immorality. But if there is something wrong with one’s eyes, ears, or mouth, then evil can also be performed with the hands and the feet. Therefore, a deaf, dumb, and blind person is still not yet a hundred percent good and it would be advisable to deprive such persons of the use of their four limbs as well. Or maybe the wisest course would be not to create such a useless being at all and to eliminate humankind from the face of the earth altogether. Can we say this is the plan of creation? I, at least, have my doubts. Still, those who contemplate the Christian Bible or adhere to the Zen doctrine of non-teaching or venerate the feudal virtues or eliminate their physical emotions and desires, all have an unwavering faith in moral teachings. Now, there is no reason to condemn as evil those people who have an unwavering faith in a teaching, no matter how ignorant they may be. To castigate their ignorance has to do with their intelligence and has nothing to do with their morality. In conclusion, then, if we wish to argue in terms of extremes, as far as moral teaching is concerned anybody who lacks private virtue is called an evil person, and the goal of moral teaching consists entirely in reducing the number of evil people in the world. Nevertheless, if we make a wide and careful study of the workings of the human heart and accurately observe their effects, we do have grounds for refusing to equate civilization with reducing the number of evil people in the world.…

Of course, in the last analysis, Shinto, Buddhism, Confucianism, and even Christianity are not so oppressive by nature. Yet if we look at the ways they are transmitted to the general public or how people feel when they are subjected to their teachings, we see that this abuse is inevitable. One might describe this phenomenon as similar to a man with an extremely acidic stomach: whatever he eats or drinks all turns acidic, and he cannot benefit from the food. There is nothing wrong with the food or the drink; he just has a chronic condition. Scholars should reflect on this problem of the harm that comes from ways of teaching.

(p.597) ……

Now, it would be a great mistake to govern a society on the basis of something accidental. When one is born into this world, one cannot claim that taking care of one’s own affairs is enough; one’s duty as a human being does not end there. I would like to ask all virtuous gentlemen: Where do the daily necessities of life come from? Even though the blessings of the Lord on high are great indeed, clothes do not grow in the mountains and food does not rain down from heaven. And as civilization progresses, its benefits do not stop at food and clothing. The blessings of the steam engine, the telegraph, government, business—where do they come from? They are all the gifts of intelligence. The idea that all persons have equal rights does not mean that we can just sit back and receive the gifts of others. If gentlemen of virtue were merely hanging like bottle-gourds without having to eat, their words might fit their actions, but if they take food, wear clothes, enjoy the benefits of steam and the telegraph, and share in the conveniences of government and business, they have to bear their share of responsibilities, too. Further, even though one’s physical needs are fully satisfied and one is fully virtuous in private life, there is no reason to be satisfied with stopping there. Such satisfaction and perfect virtue may suffice for present-day civilization, but they certainly have not reached the peak of their potential. The development of the human spirit knows no limits and its creative capacities have no fixed boundaries. People must fathom the fixed principles of things with their infinite spirit, so that all the things of heaven and earth, both concrete and abstract, can be comprehended within this human spirit. At that stage of human history, it will be unnecessary to distinguish between knowledge and virtue and to fight over their respective spheres. On that day humans and God will stand side by side, as it were. That day will surely come for some future generation.


In Praise of Methodic Doubt

Fukuzawa Yukichi 1876, 202–10 (93–100)

There is much that is false in the world of belief, and much that is true in the world of doubt. We need only consider how stupid people believe in other people’s words, books, novels, rumors, the gods and Buddha, and fortune-tellers. On the advice of a masseur they use grasses and herbs to cure a parent’s mortal illness. At the time of the marriage negotiations over their daughter, they believe a fortune-teller’s analysis of the “physiognomy” of a suitor’s house, and thus lose a good husband. Their faith in Amida prompts them to intone (p.598) the ‘nenbutsu’ instead of calling a doctor when they have a high fever. Because of their faith in ‘Fudō Myōō’ they die after a twenty-one-day fasting. In these cases, the quantity of truth is small indeed. But where truth is sparse, falsity cannot help being proportionately great. For even though these people believe in facts, they are believing in false facts. Hence I say that there is much that is false in the world of belief.

The progress of civilization lies in seeking the truth both in the area of physical facts and in the spiritual affairs of people. The reason for the West’s present high level of civilization is that in every instance they proceeded from some point of doubt. Galileo discovered that the earth is a planet by doubting the old theories of astronomy. Galvani discovered electricity in animals when he doubted that frogs’ legs are the cause of convulsions. Newton discovered the principle of gravity when he saw an apple falling from a tree. Watt entertained doubts concerning the properties of steam when he was experimenting with a boiling kettle. In all these cases, the truth was attained by following the road of doubt.

Let me now turn to human progress, leaving behind the investigations for natural laws. It was Thomas Clarkson who put an end to a source of great social misery for later generations by calling into question the justice of the law of buying slaves. It was Martin Luther who reformed the Christian faith through doubting the false teachings of the Roman religion. The French began the French Revolution by calling into question the authority of the ancien régime. The American colonists achieved their independence by calling into question the laws set up over them by England.

Even today the reason that the great persons of the West lead people along the path to higher civilization is that their sole purpose is to refute the once firm and irrefutable theories of the ancients, and to entertain doubts concerning practices about which common sense had never doubted before. For example, although it seems to be an almost natural human division of labor that the man should work outside the house and the woman keep order within it, John Stuart Mill wrote a book on women that set out to destroy this custom, which had been fixed and immovable since time immemorial. Many English economists advocate the doctrine of laissez faire, and its adherents believe it to be a universal law of economics. But American scholars advocate protective tariff laws. In fact, each country proposes its own economic theory. Every theory gives rise to a countertheory and disputes between rival theories never cease. In contrast to this ferment of ideas, the peoples of Asia have uncritically believed in foolish teachings, been bewitched by the gods and Buddhas, or listened to the sayings of the so-called sages. They have not come under their influence only temporarily; they have been unable to escape from these ideas for thousands of generations. The quality of their deeds, the depths of their courage of mind and (p.599) will are incomparably less than that of the peoples of the West. Pursuing the truth when there is a conflict of different opinions is like sailing a boat against the wind. The boat’s course must tack to the right and to the left. The high waves and strong winds may force it to sail through several hundred miles of water, even through the direct route would come to no more than three to five miles. It is also possible to sail with a following breeze, but this is never so in human affairs. The course to the truth lies only through a zigzag course through the disputations of rival theories. These theories all arise from doubt. Hence I have said that there is much truth in the world of doubt.

Yet if it is true that we should not lightly believe things, we should also not doubt things uncritically. One must have insight into when to believe and when to remain skeptical. The essence of learning may lie in clarifying this kind of discernment. Even in Japan, the sudden change in men’s minds since the opening of our ports, the reforms in government, the overthrow of the nobility, the development of the school system, publication of newspapers, the establishment of new railroads, telegraph, military conscription, industries, etc.—the reform of a hundred practices in a very short period of time—can all be said to have been the accomplishment of those who endeavored to effect these changes after calling into doubt customs that had been observed since time immemorial. Still, ancient customs were called into question only after Japan had been opened to intercourse with the West. The reformers saw the superiority of western civilization, and tried to imitate it. They were not motivated by self-originated doubt. They only believe in the new through the same faith with which they once believed in the old. The focus of past beliefs has only been redirected toward the modern West, but we have no guarantee that a truly critical choice has been made concerning present beliefs and doubts. I regret, of course, that due to my as yet shallow learning and limited experience I cannot enumerate in each and every case the rightness or wrongness of what is being accepted and discarded. But surveying the general trend of the changes in human life, it can be clearly shown that human sentiment tends to ride along with the times. Conservatives and liberals all go to extremes; neither side knows how far to go in believing or questioning the old and the new.


If four hundred years ago a Saint Shinran had been born in the West and a Martin Luther in Japan, and if that Shinran had reformed the Buddhism practiced in the West and spread the True Pure Land teaching, while that Luther opposed the Roman religion of Japan and founded Protestantism, the reformers would certainly change their views. They would say that the great purpose of religion lies not in killing but in the salvation of all sentient beings; and to the extent that this purpose is misunderstood, the rest of the teachings are not worthy of consideration. In the West, they would go on, Shinran embodied (p.600) this principle. He slept in the fields with a stone for a pillow. At great cost and suffering he devoted a lifetime of labor to reform his country’s religion, and so wide did his evangelism reach that today it is the religious faith of the majority of its people. And after Shinran’s death, the fact that his disciples neither murdered men of other faiths nor were murdered themselves for religious reasons can be said entirely to be due to the merits of his teaching. But reflect, they would say, on how Luther came forward to challenge the old teachings of Rome. The Catholics did not easily succumb to his attack. The old and new teachings fought each other tooth and claw, like a tiger and a wolf. After Luther’s death, the number of Japanese citizens killed and the amount of the nation’s resources wasted in the name of religion and warfare aimed at destroying other nations are too high to be recorded with the pen or spoken in words. So great were the sufferings the barbarous Japanese, with their penchant for slaughter, visited on the souls of their fellow humans as a result of the teachings of “universal salvation” and “love of one’s enemies.” As for the fruits of these efforts, Luther’s Protestantism did not succeed in converting even half of the people of Japan. This is how the proponents of reform would view the differences between the religions of East and West!

I myself have entertained doubts about these things for a long time. But I still am not sure I have grasped the real causes of the great differences between the religions of East and West. When I ponder the matter privately, the following kind of questions come to my mind. Although Christianity preached in Japan and Buddhism in the West are similar in nature, is it that they promote a spirit of killing when they are practiced in a barbarous land but create a spirit of tolerance in an enlightened country? Or do they differ in essence from the start? Or did Luther, the founder of the Japanese Reformation, and Shinran of the West differ greatly in the attainments of their virtue? The proponents of reform would say that these questions are not to be recklessly and superficially decided, but await the judgment of the scholars of future generations.

In terms of the above, our present-day reformers, who dislike the old customs of Japan and believe in the things of the West, cannot be said to have entirely escaped the criticism of having their own superficial beliefs and doubts. They believe in the new with the same blind faith with which they once believed in the old.…

As I ponder these questions, a hundred doubts well up in me. It is as if I were now groping for something in the dark. Living in the very midst of these complex and intertwining problems, is it not difficult to compare things eastern and western, to believe how things should be and to raise doubts about it, to accept and reject things with proper discernment? The responsibility for doing so falls today on none other than scholars such as ourselves. We must make every effort. To consider these problems there is nothing better than to study (p.601) them. If we read many books, touch upon many of these questions, and take a keen interest in them, without anxiety or prejudice, in order to find the truth, we shall suddenly be able to distinguish the areas of belief and doubt with clarity. Yesterday’s beliefs may become tomorrow’s doubts, and today’s doubts may melt away in tomorrow’s sun. Let us, therefore, make every effort as scholars.


The Equality of Men and Women

Fukuzawa Yukichi 1885, 9–10, 45–6 (11–13, 39–40)

Confucius said, “Whenever there is work to be done, the young will take on its burden; whenever there is wine and food, the old will be the first to enjoy it” [Analects II.8]. Borrowing this saying to describe men and women in Japan, “Whenever there is work to be done, women will take on its burden; whenever there is wine and food, men will be the first to enjoy it.”

Women of our country have no responsibility either inside or outside their homes, and their position is very low. Consequently, their sufferings and pleasures are very small in scale. It has been the custom for hundreds and even thousands of years to make them as feeble as they are, and it is not an easy matter now to lead both their minds and bodies to activity and to vigorous health. There are animated discussions on the education of women. No doubt education will be effective. When taught, women will acquire knowledge and the arts. When the body is exercised, the body will develop. But those attempts will be nothing more than attacking limited areas in a life of confinement and feebleness. The results of these attempts can be surmised even before they are begun.

I once compared the present efforts in schools for the education of women in Japan to caring for a dwarf pine in a pot and hoping it will grow into a big tree. Without doubt, fertilizer is important in a tree’s growth. When it is administered in proper measures and moisture and temperature are controlled, the pine will put out branches and leaves in profusion and their green luster will be beautiful. However, that beauty will be limited to the beauty of a potted plant. One can never hope for its growth into the sublimity of a hundred-foot giant. To rectify the sad state of women’s ignorance, the use of school instruction and such means will not be in vain. A woman may become well versed in science or in literature, even well informed in law. Such a woman may well compete with men in the classroom, but when she returns home from school, in what position does she find herself?

At home, she owns no property of her own, and in society she cannot hope (p.602) for a position of any consequence. The house she lives in is a man’s house and the children she brings up are her husband’s children. Where would such a person, without property, without authority of any sort, and with no claim on the children she bears, and herself a parasite in a man’s house, make use of the knowledge and learning she acquired? Science and literature will be of no use. Even less would her knowledge in law serve her. The normal reaction of the general public is to regard a woman who discusses law and economics as liable to bring misery upon herself.

Knowledge and scholarship deteriorate when unused, just as a machine will rust when left unused and be unfit for operation when the need arises. Highly educated women after their marriage usually appear to be normal housewives with nothing to indicate special ability. This must mean that all the education received at school has faded away during their long confinement in the home. This is an eradication of all the school education by one act of marriage. All the hard work expended at school was not as effective as the care given the pine tree in the pot, because while the pine would preserve its lustrous green for years, the luster of school education does not survive beyond the classroom.

On top of all this, suppose that school education were Confucian or Buddhist, and taught such sayings to the effect that women and tools are irredeemable, or that it is a virtue for women to lack wisdom, or that the five faults that women are liable to and the three obediences8 they must observe are proof that women are sinful by birth. Such education is less than useful, for it serves only to oppress women and to beat into them a kind of “modesty” and “reticence,” resulting in the deformation of even their physical organs—ears, eyes, nose, and tongue. Yet some educators never realize the results of their training. They have veritably been doing nothing but hindering the healthy development of women’s minds and bodies.


It is an irrefutable fact that men and women do not differ in their body structures and in the workings of their minds, and that they are equal beings. When human beings are called the masters of creation, both men and women are masters of creation. When it is said that without men a nation cannot exist nor a household stand, it should also be declared that without women a nation cannot exist. To the question of which of the two, men or women, should be rated as more important, we know of no reason to say that one is above the other in importance, rank, or nobility.

Confucianism characterizes men as yang (positive) and women as yin (negative); (p.603) that is, men are like the heavens and the sun, and women are like the earth and the moon. In other words, one is high and the other is humble. There are many men who take this idea as the absolute rule of nature, but this yin-yang theory is the fantasy of the Confucians and has no proof or logic. Its origins go back several thousand years to dark and illiterate ages when men looked around and whenever they thought they recognized pairs of something, one of which seemed to be stronger or more remarkable than the other, they called one yang and the other yin. For instance, the heavens and the earth looked very much like the ceiling and the floor of a room. One of them was low and trampled on with feet, but the other was high and beyond reach. One was classed yang and the other yin. The sun and the moon are both round and shining; one is very bright, even hot, while the other is less bright. Therefore, the sun is yang and the moon is yin. This is the level of the logic behind this theory and we today should regard it as no more than childish nonsense.

This theory simply attached itself to people’s minds with not much of a basis. On seeing a pair of similar objects, one somewhat superior to the other, they classified the first in the yang category and the other in the yin category. Then they would think up ideas to embellish their theories. That was all. Therefore, between men and women, there never existed any such distinctions as yin and yang. The idea itself being fictional to begin with, there could not have been any actual features to suggest such a theory. But some scholars of the Confucian trend must have felt like belittling women, and for no other reason than their own prejudice, classed women as yin. It was a great nuisance on the part of women to have been thus involved in an empty theory which extended to the sun and the moon and heavens and earth, and which had nothing to do with women’s relations to men. It was truly a misfortune for women to be thus made victims of the Confucian scholars’ ignorance of science.


(p.604) Nakae Chōmin 中江兆民‎ (1847–1901)

Nakae Chōmin (Nakae Tokusuke) was a journalist, an advocate of natural rights, free thinker, and politician. From 1862, he began to study “Western Learning” and the French language. As part of a government mission to Europe, he lived in France from 1871 to 1874, during which time he studied law, philosophy, history, and literature. After returning to Japan he opened his own school for French language studies, and undertook a translation of Rousseau’s Social Contract. Through articles and editorials for a number of newspapers, Chōmin made an important intellectual contribution to the popular rights movement of the 1870s and early 1880s. In 1887 he published a treatise highly critical of the government, called A Discourse by Three Drunkards on Government, which led to his expulsion from Tokyo for two years, but he returned to take an elected post in the House of Representatives. Diagnosed with throat cancer in 1901 and expecting to live only another year and a half, Chōmin produced what are perhaps the clearest statements of his materialist philosophy: A Year and a Half and A Year and a Half, Continued. He died in that same year. As the following excerpts from that work will show, Chōmin was a confirmed atheist and materialist. He argued against the existence of God and the immortal soul or spirit, presuppositions running throughout much of the idealist philosophy of Europe and America, against which he directed his critique. He reversed the idea of impermanent body and immortal spirit, arguing instead that the “true substance” of the body (the elements by which it is constituted) continue to endure in some form indefinitely, while the spirit, a mere “effect” or epiphenomenon of the body, is extinguished at death.


No God, No Soul

Nakae Chōmin 1901, 233–43, 258–9

When investigating the problems of so-called world philosophy, it is completely impossible to limit our scope to the five-foot human body. Even if such a narrow approach were possible, we would merely produce, without being fully aware of it, a partial view. And it will not do to limit our scope to humanity, nor to the eighteen-layer atmosphere, nor even to the solar system and the celestial bodies.

Naturally, space, time, and the world are each unique. If we consider these concepts, even with a limited imagination, we see that there is no reason to affirm that these things—space, time, world—must have a beginning. Moreover, there is no reason to think that up and down, east and west, have limits. And (p.605) yet we limit our scope to the five-foot body, to humanity, to the eighteen-layer atmosphere. We restrict our view to our own interests and aspirations. We focus our inquiries on the animal called the human being, displaying indifference or contempt for other creatures, the birds and beasts, the insects and fish. As a result, we put forward arguments for the existence of God and for the indestructibility of the spirit, for the view that after the body dies, the soul of each person endures. Such views are certainly convenient for this particular animal, that is, for humanity, but they give rise to extremely illogical, extremely unphilosophic nonsense.

While Plato, Plotinus, Descartes, and Leibniz were all great men with broad and deep learning, it is ridiculous that they could write such splendid books and so pontificate boldly, yet when it came to contemplating conditions after their own deaths (which they could not know of), they were concerned only with the benefits of creatures like themselves, that is, human beings, and failed to reflect on the fact that the way of heaven, hell, the belief in one god, the indestructibility of the spirit, and so on are like so much smoke. No, smoke actually exists; they are like bubbles or illusions emerging out of their words. It is no less laughable that a large number of scholars in Europe and America, guided by superstitious beliefs that they absorb together with their mother’s milk, beliefs that flow with their blood through their veins, maintain that one has committed a great crime if one says there is no God or no spirit.

Indeed, there have been extremely selfish and atrocious thieves who made mincemeat out of the flesh of others and yet lived long lives, while Yan Hui, the disciple of Confucius said to be practically a sage, suffered an early death. In addition, there are thieving “gentlemen,” ones who follow the rules when it suits them, who flourish, while those who obey the rules of justice eke out a humble living and then die in poverty. Confronted by this, many find it convenient to believe that in the next world there will be a court of justice. In particular, for those people whose bodies have come to be afflicted by a great illness, for whom, with each year, each half a year, day by day, month by month, death draws nearer, it is a great consolation to believe that there exists a deeply benevolent and just God, that the soul is immortal, and that after the body is gone, one’s unique essence will endure. But if we adopt this viewpoint, how do we address the sublimity of science? What about the qualifications of philosophers who must calmly preserve their commitment to the truth? While I have lived for fifty-five years, read a number of books, and come to understand something of the truth, I unhappily lack the courage to spout the nonsense that God exists and the soul is immortal.

Concerning philosophy, I believe that to be extremely dispassionate, extremely frank, extremely uncompromising, is a philosopher’s duty. No, more than this, it is his fundamental qualification. For this reason, I firmly assert that there is no (p.606) Buddha, no God, no soul, that is, I assert a simple materialist theory. Without limiting my theory to the five-foot body, or to humanity, or to the eighteen-layer atmosphere, or to the solar system or even to the cosmos, I place the body at the center of time and space (if we can suppose that something with no beginning and no end, with no boundary and no limit has a center), and, without drawing upon religious doctrines and not caring what those before me have said, I merely put forward my own views to make this argument.

The Soul

Let us begin our examination with the soul. What is the soul? That the eye sees, the ear hears, the nose smells, the hand grasps, the legs walk, at first glance truly one must call this wondrous and strange. Yet, what governs these actions? And when it comes to the power of imagination and of memory, these wonders are even more remarkable. We may go further to ask by what power was today’s society constructed? By what power have the various disciplines been advanced? By what power have we been able to emerge from barbarism and advance toward civilization? Must we reply that it is the power of the so-called spirit? If this body is in the end merely a mass of flesh, limited to five or six feet and formed from some thirteen or fifteen elements, the miraculous spirit would have to be its master. The body of flesh is thus slave to the spirit.

But to accept such a view as just outlined is the very first step to falling headlong into a great error. Spirit is not the true substance; rather, it is an effect or operation that emanates from this substance. The true substance is the five-foot body. The workings of this five-foot body are the miraculous effect called spirit. For example, it is like coal and flames, or like kindling and fire. Zhuangzi had already discerned the truth of this theory that spirit is an effect of the body, that the body itself is a temporary combination of thirteen or perhaps fifteen elements. With the chemical reduction of the body, that is, with its dissolution or death, the effect of the body (that is, spirit) will be extinguished at the same time. When coal is reduced to ashes and kindling to embers, the flame and ash will at the same time be extinguished. To maintain that spirit continues to exist after the dissolution of the body is absurd in the extreme.

I do not expect that those with a healthy brain, those not poisoned in the slightest by religion and not preoccupied with the conditions one is to experience after death, will understand this idea of an immortal soul. To say that when red pepper is used up a spicy taste remains, or that when a skin drum is torn, the “rum-tum-tum” of the drum will continue to sound, these are hardly the kind of statements that could come from the mouths of philosophers who speculate on the truth. In Europe prior to the seventeenth century, if one asserted the view that there is no God and no soul, one would likely be subjected to severe (p.607) punishment of fire and water. This may perhaps explain why few questioned the prevalent views of those days. But today, when we enjoy freedom of speech and are guided by reason, why continue to spout such nonsense?

Thus, the body is the true substance; spirit is the operation or effect of the body. When the body dies, the spirit immediately perishes as well. From the standpoint of humanity, this is a regrettable conclusion. Regrettable though it be, what is to be done if it is true? The aim of philosophy is not convenience, nor is it to console. And if something does not satisfy the demands of inner reason, philosophers, to the extent they are uncompromising and frank, will not say it.

Theologians and philosophers enchanted by a particular doctrine assert, as though calculating the gain of humanity, that the so-called spirit exists within the body. They claim that even if separated from the body, spirit continues to exist independently. Just like a puppeteer manipulating a puppet, spirit acts as the master of the body, and even with the body’s dissolution, that is, even though the body dies, this spirit supposedly continues to exist. But if this is the case, then where does the spirit reside while in the body? Is it in the heart, in the brain, or perhaps in the abdomen? Isn’t this kind of speculation a matter of sheer imagination? And wherever we decide the spirit is, because the body’s internal organs consist of cells, would we conclude then that spirit is in fact billions of fragments, that spirit takes up a temporary residence within these many cells?

Some say spirit has neither form nor substance. These are truly meaningless words. To say that something is without form means that it is not accessible to our eyes and ears, or even that it refers to things that we can sense but of which we take no notice. Air, for example, has form only to the eyes of science. It has form only under a microscope, but to the naked eye it is truly without form. In general, all formless objects are of this sort. Though they do indeed have substance, it is extremely miniscule. And while we may not feel it ourselves, the truth is that they do indeed have form. Now, if spirit is not like this, if it is purely formless and without substance, shouldn’t we call it nothingness? And is it really reasonable to say that nothingness is the master of the body?

Have not all the sciences throughout time been unable to grasp this thing called the “formless”? Even if science could grasp it, the body of flesh would have no way to become aware of it. That is to say, as is the case with light, warmth, and electricity, as science advances more and more, all these things become visible under a microscope, do they not? Perhaps even spirit is the effect of grey-colored brain cells, scattering extremely tiny particles with each operation of the spirit. In establishing a hypothesis concerning an unresolved point of science, it is a matter of course that we try to choose something close to the truth. In regard to spirit, we may hypothesize that the nervous system within the body merges particles together such that different particles are attracted to (p.608) one another and similar particles are repelled. With this, the operation of sight, hearing, smelling, tasting, and also of memory, sensing, thinking, and decision-making is triggered. Every time this happens, it is like drops of water dispersed about a waterfall.

And if we hypothesize that we may be able to observe these extremely tiny particles, there is no reason to view this as contrary to reason or to think it will necessarily offend anyone. On the contrary, is it not truly absurd to argue that spirit, as pure nothingness, should not be understood as a collection of particles and that it has no form or substance, and yet nevertheless acts as the master of the entire body and regulates all its operations? Is not this the quality that people should find offensive?

The Destructibility of the Spirit

Let us consider reproduction and the great principles of multiplication and division. All living things leave behind descendants after their deaths, passing on a part of their body and spirit (which emanates from the body) to their descendants. The offspring is an offshoot, a portion of the body of the parent, so that although the parent dies, the child remains and thereby satisfies the mathematical principle of the remainder theorem.

Take the silkworm moth as an example. Does it not die immediately after laying its eggs? Is it reasonable to assume that the eggs receive both the body and spirit of the parent moth and that, once these newly born moths die, only their bodies perish while their spirits continue to exist independently? Let us suppose that the fourth son of Mr. Li and the third son of Mr. Zhang, that is, two average people, each leave behind a child. If we assume that after they die their souls are not destroyed but continue on in their own independent existence, then the population of the land of souls will grow exponentially. It will grow from a billion, to ten billion, to one hundred billion, to a trillion, to ten trillion—it will infinitely multiply as none of the inhabitants of this country will perish. Can we really say that this is in accord with the principles of multiplication and division?

All living things, even the grass and the trees, are no different from humans and animals in that all have ancestors of a sort who had descendents and thus, in this sense at least, have not truly perished. One might say, therefore, that so long as one has offspring one has not truly perished. But then to claim on top of this that one continues to exist in the form of spirit is entirely too arbitrary—and extremely unphilosophical. If such a statement were to come from a rustic, half-dead old woman, it would evoke little comment, but for those who pride themselves on being philosophers to spout something as extremely unphilosophical as this is shameless.

(p.609) The Indestructibility of the Body

Thus the body is the true substance. Spirit is the operation or effect of the body. For this very reason, should the body stop breathing and die, its effects—sight, hearing, speech, movement—would immediately cease as well. In short, when the body dies, spirit is extinguished, just as the fire goes out when the kindling is consumed. Through such reasoning, immortality or indestructibility is not the quality that spirit possesses; rather, it is the quality of the body. This is because the body consists of many elements; death is merely the first step of the dissolution of these elements. And yet, though the elements break apart, they are not destroyed. Once the body breaks apart and begins to decompose, the vaporous elements within it mingle with the air while liquids and solids get mixed into the earth.

In short, though each element separates from the others, each continues to exist somewhere in the world. Some are absorbed into the air, others into the roots of grasses and trees. Not only are they not destroyed, they in fact will go on to serve some other purpose as part of an endless cycle.

Therefore, the elements (that is, the substance of the body) neither decay nor come to be destroyed, while spirit, the body’s effect, decays and perishes without a trace remaining. This is obvious and clear to reason. If the taiko drum is torn, the “toh-toh” sound dies out. If the bell is broken, its chime will cease. And yet, the broken drum and bell, no matter what form they take afterward, even if broken into pieces, continue to exist somewhere. No portion of them, however small, has been destroyed. This is the difference between the substance of an object and its operation or effect….

While the souls of ‘Shakyamuni’ and Jesus have long since perished, horse manure on the road, like all substances in the world, is eternal. Although the soul of Sugawara no Michizane9 has perished, the leaves and branches of the plum tree that he loved, broken down into tens of millions of pieces, continue to exist somewhere in the world; their elements do not decay nor do they perish.

I do not know how noble, miraculous, or mysterious the term “immortality” rings in the hearts of the religious, but in the hearts of calm-minded philosophers, this is one of the qualities of all things of substance. Among things of substance, all are immortal. The soul of nothingness, however, which is equal to true emptiness, is not immortal. What is more, it never existed to begin with. It is merely an illusion created by the language of spiritualistic philosophers….

(p.610) Synopsis

Based upon the above discussion, we can conclude that spirit is not indestructible, while the body—the true substance of spirit formed through the combination of a number of elements that eventually break apart—is indestructible.

For example, consider the death of Napoleon or of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Of the elements their bodies comprised, some of those in a vaporous form may have dispersed into the air to be ingested by birds. Solid elements may have dissolved into the water in the earth and may have been absorbed by carrots and radishes. They may perhaps have entered into someone’s stomach. Yet, though these elements in this way may move about and take on different forms, they in no way disappear. For this reason, when a person dies and the five-foot body begins to break apart, the elements scatter, but all are indestructible. Therefore, if a person dies, there is no need to hope for heaven and no need to fear hell. There should be no expectation that one will once again be born into this world and receive a human body. In this world, our second generation is our children.

Despite the arguments for many gods or for just one, there is no reason to think that any God exists. All things in this world are without beginning and without end…. As the effect of the coalescence and dissolution of elements, object A changes into object B, then into object C and then object D, without end and without any intervention on the part of the mysterious entity called God. In this way, the great history of this world unfolds.


(p.611) Inoue Tetsujirō 井上哲次郎‎ (1855–1944)

Inoue Tetsujirō was one of the most important figures in the formation of philosophy as an academic discipline in Japan. His concern with the confusion surrounding philosophical concepts and categories in the Meiji period prompted him to compile several dictionaries of philosophy. He studied in Germany from 1884 to 1890 under Eduard von Hartmann, after which he assumed a post at Tokyo University, which he held until retirement in 1923. During those years he was active in philosophical discussions, served as president of the Philosophical Society, and exerted a powerful role as ideologue for the Meiji government.

He collaborated with Ariga Nagao on Lectures in Western Philosophy, the first major work to introduce western philosophy to Japan, and later on the Philosophical Dictionary, also the first of its kind. Always more sympathetic to Buddhism and Confucianism, in 1893 he published a book entitled Collision between Religion and Education, in which he denounced Christianity as incompatible with the Japanese nation and modern science, triggering a wide debate on religion in Japan. Later he advocated the religion of ethics, based on his understanding of Confucian values. Known more for his pioneering work in establishing the history of Japanese Confucian thought as philosophy, on a few occasions Inoue also tried to locate his own position, the “theory of phenomena as reality,” within the larger world of philosophy East and West as he understood it. One of several attempts in the Meiji period to overcome the duality of subject and object, it shows Inoue’s pioneering concern with the definition, scope, and method of philosophy.


Fragments of a Worldview

Inoue Tetsujirō 1894, 489–512

The first thing to be said of the nature of philosophy is that it differs considerably from science. There are many examples to illustrate this, but let me begin by noting that philosophy investigates the general and as such is really different from those specialized fields that study only one small area. It may seem that philosophy is not a specialized field of study, but in the sense that there is no other discipline that investigates the general in a similar way, it is indeed a specialized discipline after all.… Philosophy is also a discipline that aims at acquiring spiritual peace, which again distinguishes it from science. In particular fields like chemistry, physics, algebra, and geometry, attaining spiritual peace is not an objective; in philosophy, it constitutes the loftiest ideal. To (p.612) achieve spiritual peace, it is necessary to have a worldview, which is why the kind of inquiry called “philosophy” first came into existence.…

The study of philosophy can be divided roughly into method, which is called “logic,” and contents, which can be divided into three areas: the true, the good, and the beautiful. Truth has to do with knowledge, the good with the will, and the beautiful with feelings and emotions. The inquiry into the truth gave rise to the domain of “pure philosophy,” also known as “theoretical philosophy.” This field can be further divided according to whether it studies mind, matter, or reality as such. Philosophy that studies the good can be divided into “ethics” and “political philosophy.” The field that studies the beautiful is called “aesthetics.” These three fields can together be called “practical philosophy,” in contrast to the theoretical philosophy just mentioned. It is impossible, however, to construct anything like a worldview without theoretical philosophy. There have, of course, been many attempts to attain spiritual peace by relying only on either the good, the true, or the beautiful. This can be seen in many philosophers who only relied on the intellect to attain spiritual peace, in religionists who relied only on the will, and in many poets and the like, who relied only on the emotions to attain peace of mind. But my concern here is with pure philosophy.

There is a basic problem that only pure or theoretical philosophy deals with, and traditionally there have been two totally opposite theories about it, one claiming that we cannot attain the truth, and the other that we can. The former is called “skepticism” and the latter includes all other philosophical positions. These latter can be further divided into two large groups: the subjectivist school and the realist school. If we suppose truth to be completely unattainable, pure philosophy would be impossible and only opinion would remain. It would also be impossible to construct a worldview. Without entering into this discussion here, suffice it to say that I think that truth can indeed be attained.

Philosophies holding that truth is attainable can be divided into subjectivism and realism.… The essential point on which they differ lies finally in their conception of the objective world. Realism sees the objective world as actually existing, as something different from subjectivity and existing outside the subject, and as a substance that provides us with various impressions.… The opposing position is that the objective is no different from the subjective, indeed that it is a product of the subject and originates in it, so that outside of the subject there is nothing that can be called an object. Only the subject really exists. This position is called monism, or alternatively, subjectivism.

Passing over the varieties of subjectivism, we may note two main types of realism. The first we may call “phenomena-as-reality theory.” This claims that phenomena exist as objects outside the subject and as such constitute reality. There is no independent reality outside the phenomena. A second type of realism may be called transcendental realism. It argues that various phenomena (p.613) exist in the objective world as objects for our knowledge but do not belong to reality. True reality, on this account, exists independently of and beyond those phenomena. This first type sees phenomena and true reality as the same, whereas the second does not. This distinction is clear enough, but, in fact, within phenomena-as-reality theory there are two additional branches. The first of these says that only the phenomena exist, and that there is nothing distinguishable from the phenomena that can be called reality. This position is similar to experimentalism. For the second branch, although it is possible to distinguish phenomena from reality on a theoretical level, the two are, in fact, inseparable and of the same substance, a unity in duality. Take, for example, a tool and the material of which it is made. If you are referring to the tool you do not need initially to talk about the material, even though all tools are made from materials so that the material is the tool and the tool is the material. In this sense phenomenon is reality.

Now these two positions should not be confused. I am assuming the second of them, phenomena-as-reality theory, rather than transcendental realism. The difference between phenomena-as-reality theory and subjectivism should be more or less clear from the foregoing, but to explain a bit more in detail, for phenomena-as-reality theory, the object of my knowledge is nothing other than the entirety of phenomena that make up the objective world. The objective world is different from my knowledge, exists objectively, and provides me with various sorts of impressions. In contrast, subjectivism claims that there is nothing outside of my subjective phenomena.…

Phenomena-as-reality theory is also not be confused with transcendental realism, which typically holds that a reality exists apart from the phenomena and is the origin of phenomena, whereas the phenomena themselves do not truly exist but are only appearances of this transcendental reality. Herbert Spencer’s philosophy also belongs to this position. In contrast, phenomena-as-reality theory holds that all phenomena are at the same time phenomena and reality. There is no reality outside and separate from phenomena.… What I mean is that “objective phenomena” is a name we give from the point at which these phenomena present themselves to us, but that we cannot say if this is what they are really like apart from our sense perception of them. For example, the variety of colors appears to us simply as colors, but objectively there is no variety of colors but only movements of light. What appear to us as colors are only the different intensities of the movement of light.… Where there are phenomena, there, too, is true reality; there is no separating the two.…

There is a form of subjectivism known as idealism. Not all subjectivism is of this sort, but the history of philosophy shows a tendency in that direction. Typically idealism comes down to saying that the objective world is produced by me, is a product of the subject, and eventually denies the existence of an (p.614) objective world. The objective does not exist in reality; only mind or spirit does. Up until now such a worldview has appeared at least three times, each in a different place. In Greece, the tendency towards idealism began with Parmenides and was brought to completion by Plato. In Germany, it was introduced by Kant and carried to an extreme by Hegel. In India, the idealist idea first appeared in the Upanishads and was elaborated in the Vedānta….

To illustrate where such idealism leads, imagine a coach traveling from east to west. If you want to observe it, you have to follow the course the coach is taking; you cannot do the opposite and try observing it from the west moving east. In other words, necessary causal relationships are objective. Were they totally subjective, as idealism would have it, one would be free to observe the coach from either direction. Space, time, and causality precede us and exist objectively, even if in knowledge they are a posteriori, acquired through experience. The ideas of space, time, and causality do not exist a priori in the brain. They are results of our accumulated experience, but only because prior to that experience they exist objectively.


The subjectivist and idealist worldviews, then, are fundamentally unsound. Realism, and in particular phenomena-as-reality theory, is a sound and certain worldview. Still, there are any number of schools within realism and even some who wrongly conflate it with materialism. Although materialism argues for the unity of subject and object, it is a form of realism insofar as it assumes the real existence of the object. But one needs to take care: realism is not necessarily materialism. Materialists can never explain the world, because time and space and the like cannot be material… and attempts to explain subjective phenomena and especially knowledge, which have no extension, cannot be very successful from the standpoint of materialism.…

Therefore, the position I am taking cannot be materialist, but neither can it be idealist. Expanding on this would take us to many other subjects, but let us leave it at saying that I am neither materialist nor subjectivist, and monism is just monism.

Nor do I wish my position to be confused with evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory is, of course, one form of realism…. But we have to say that evolutionary theory is not sufficient to construct a worldview. This is because evolutionary theory begins with assuming fundamental existence without explaining it. It does not pay close attention to what matter actually is, but assumes that matter as such is self-evident. It restricts itself to studying the branches, unlike philosophy which does not take the roots for granted…. In evolutionary theory, if we ask what evolves, the answer is: the objective phenomena. If one would ask what these objective phenomena are, the evolutionary theorists would answer “matter,” but if one would further ask what matter (p.615) is, the answer would amount to nothing more than that matter is matter. It is, therefore, a field that stops at the surface of things without penetrating to the subtler and more profound levels. The field of pure philosophy cannot find satisfaction in taking for granted matter with extension and only investigating its phenomena, which is little more than natural science. Naturally, doubts will arise as to whether it is possible or not to study matter more profoundly than what we usually understand it to be, or indeed whether we can understand matter at all. This is where we enter the realm of pure philosophy, and there is no way to know if we can investigate such questions unless we try.… Realism and evolutionary theory are not, therefore, in opposition to each other, but realism occupies a larger domain than evolutionary theory.…

That realism is the most rational worldview is witnessed in the fact that its interpretation of truth is free of contradiction. Realism says that truth can be attained. Too many scholars have researched extensively the question of what “truth” is to go into detail here, but one thing seems clear from where I stand: truth is a correspondence between subject and object, a correspondence between concepts that I have received through experience and the relations between phenomena in the objective world. From the standpoint of idealism, the question of what truth is will be answered simply by saying that it is impossible to establish any truth beyond what I think the truth to be. There is no standard by which to determine whether this truth is really the truth or not. In the end, there is nothing outside my thought. But it cannot be that the truth is merely what I think, and therefore the idealist worldview always ends in conflict with the experienced reality of the objective world.

This can be seen very clearly in the history of philosophy. All knowledge I have is acquired through experience. My philosophical position does not allow for any other kind of knowledge. But experience is experience of the specific, and out of these specific experiences are generated representations. Through our inner functions, these representations are combined and abstracted, allowing for concepts to be formed. The result is knowledge. Since these concepts were originally formed from experience of the world, in order to determine whether they are correct or not, there is no other way than to verify them against the phenomena of the objective world. Suppose you experience a multitude of specific stars and form the concept of “star.” There is no way for you to verify this concept except by comparing it to objectively existing stars. My philosophical position leaves no room at all for anything like a priori ideas or a priori knowledge, but I will not enter into this question any further here.

There are basically three ways of thinking about the application of knowledge acquired through experience. The first argues that such knowledge can only be applied to what has already been experienced and to nothing else. The second position claims that knowledge acquired in experience can be applied not only (p.616) to what has already been experienced but to the realm of what has not yet been but can be experienced. The third view would argue that knowledge acquired in experience can also be applied to what cannot be experienced, transcending the limits of experience.

This is a very difficult problem, but we at least can say for certain that the first option is not viable. What has been experienced does not remain exactly the way it was experienced; it changes with time, just as all phenomena are always changing, not only in terms of time and place, but also in terms of content, and indeed remain the same only for a short while. To allow knowledge acquired in experience to refer only to what has been experienced would inhibit any certain knowledge. This is how a skeptic might reason, arguing that it is totally impossible to attain certain truth and that therefore there is no truth. But any kind of skepticism is self-defeating in the face of the self-evidence of mathematical units. No matter how much one may doubt the certainty of human knowledge, there is no denying a fact like two and two are four. Nor for that matter can any brand of skeptics deny the reality of their own existence. From the outset, skepticism presupposes knowledge. Saying that all knowledge is uncertain is to take one’s own knowledge as the standard of what constitutes knowledge. In that case, skepticism ends up assuming knowledge all the same and claiming that it is certain and correct. In this case that would mean that nothing is true except the truth that the skeptic himself asserts.

I adopt the second position regarding the application of knowledge to the realm of experience or the scope of what we are able to experience. Even if we have not experienced it, we can apply the results of the multitude of experience that we have accumulated to that which we have not yet experienced. Our knowledge, laws of reason, and truths, are all practical applications of the results of past experience. We do not doubt laws of reason; we do not doubt that two plus two make four. This is not something that can be proved completely, but neither is it something that can be doubted from the start. Every time you add two and two, you end up with the same result. We do not think of it as probably true, but accept it as certain knowledge. Similarly, we do not doubt that all humans are mortal or that all phenomena are governed by cause and effect. That we consider these things as truth and certain knowledge means we can apply the knowledge acquired through accumulated experience to that part of the realm of experience that we have not yet experienced. Everyone assumes this to be the case. What I mean by “truth,” then, is simply a correspondence between subject and object, based on a great deal, if not an unlimited amount of experience, which has never been contradicted or opposed. I mean “laws,” like the laws of reason, namely, the permanent coincidence of subject and object. Skepticism would probably say that these are not truths, but that would leave us with no knowledge at all. These laws of reason are what “knowledge” is all about.

(p.617) I completely disagree with the third option, according to which knowledge can be applied to what cannot be experienced. This transcendental application is fully the same mistake made by people of old. Just as we cannot jump over our own shadow, so we cannot apply the knowledge acquired through experience to a realm beyond experiencing and totally different from what we have experienced, should such a realm exist. We can imagine a lot of things, but that is not knowledge. Imagination is completely different from knowledge.

Someone may object that if this is the case, then perhaps it is not possible to come to universally valid knowledge at all. My answer is that “universally valid knowledge” means nothing other than knowledge that is acquired as a result of countless instances of experience without ever having met with anything to contradict it. Apart from this, there is no universally valid knowledge. To say that this knowledge is absolute depends on what one means by “absolute.” Even if this knowledge is relative in relation to what lies beyond it, within the realm of experience it is absolute. In the world of experience, “two plus two equal four” must be called absolutely true. If, however, we take this as something entirely different from our world of experience, then it could no longer be called universally valid knowledge. We might, for example, imagine a world in a solar system far removed from earth and where two and two make four there as well. This clearly transcends our world experience, which means that we can neither affirm nor deny anything about it. We simply do not know.

Should the time come that we can discuss this question from such a viewpoint, we would no longer have any absolute knowledge. But it is safe to say that we will never be in a position to do so. We can, therefore, conclude that something is absolute knowledge if, in our world of experience, we have yet to encounter anything that goes against it, and if it is impossible to imagine encountering anything to contradict it. Once again, much depends on what is meant by “absolute.” If you take it in the sense of transcendental realism, then there is no absolute truth. If you mean it in an empirical sense, then there is absolute truth.

In other words, from the point of view of realism, this world is not the product of the subject, and the world is not the illusion the Vedānta says it is. It is not the case that the world does not exist or that what exists is only mind or something like it. There exists an objective reality outside and apart from the mind, a reality that provides us with a variety of impressions. Vedānta philosophers give the example of a rope lying on the ground that is mistaken at first for a snake until one realizes that it is only a rope. This, they claim, is similar to what happens when one realizes that the world is a kind of dream. When I die, I awaken to the fact that what I thought to be a the world of truth, was like a dream, an illusion. Or even before death, the eyes of one who achieves enlightenment are opened to the illusion. From the standpoint of realism, the (p.618) comparison is mistaken. What I mean by “truth” is limited to what is governed by causality. Whatever completely eludes the law of causality cannot be called truth. All the phenomena of the objective world are ruled by the law of cause and effect stretching back infinitely in time and into the future without end. Only this can be called truth; nothing else deserves the name. To return to the example of the rope, recognizing in an instant the delusion of thinking the rope to be a snake is to see that there is something that does not match the law of causality. At first glance I thought it to be a snake, but if the cause of what I saw had been a “snake,” it would function like a snake and be able to move or bite. But after watching it for a time I realize that it is not moving and does not bite, which makes me realize that it is not a snake. In other words, I discover a discrepancy in the relation between cause and effect and hence recognize my mistake. The law of causality, stretching endlessly back into the past and forward into the future, governs this world. Should the law of causality not govern the world, and that which we take for truth turn out to be an illusion, then eventually we would have to accept an extreme form of idealism like Vedānta. Northern Buddhism, Vedānta, and other idealisms of the sort are worldviews shaped by the mistakes of the ancients. Realism seems to me the only certain and sound worldview for us today.


(p.619) Inoue Enryō 井上円了‎ (1858–1919)

Inoue Enryō was probably the most influential and prolific Buddhist theorist of the Meiji period. He was expected to become a priest in the True ‘Pure Land’ sect of Buddhism, but after studying philosophy in Tokyo, decided to go his own way. He traveled widely throughout Japan and its colonies, delivering thousands of lectures in village and town halls, and journeyed around the world three times. Although a philosopher by profession, he is widely remembered for his multivolume work on supernatural phenomena, A Study of Ghosts and Phantoms.

The selections that follow are taken from Enryō’s lectures and show his simple and straightforward manner of exposition, if not a certain naiveté in his understanding of philosophical problems. They also give good insight into the problems Meiji philosophers were grappling with. As such he was a stimulus to Nishida Kitarō and is often credited for being a precursor of Kyoto School philosophy.

Writing in an age when Buddhism was under heavy criticism, Enryō became an ardent defender of a modernized and philosophical Buddhism. He was concerned with the structural distinctions among religion, philosophy, and science, as well as with the place that Buddhism should take in this grand modern reclassification of thought. These questions motivated him to formulate a “Buddhist philosophy.” In his masterful three-volume Revitalization of Buddhism, he reinterpreted Buddhism with western philosophical concepts and presented a dialectical history of Buddhist philosophy, criticizing Christianity and arguing for Buddhism’s compatibility with modern science. In order to make philosophy accessible to those who could not afford a higher education, he founded the Institute for Philosophy in 1887, which later developed into Tōyō University. He also sought to create a “philosophical religion” based on Buddhism, for which he erected a Temple of Philosophy in 1904 that people could visit in a parklike setting.


Buddhism and Philosophy

Inoue Enryō 1893, 107–113

One of the questions currently facing us is whether Buddhism is a philosophy or a religion. One hears it said that “Buddhism is a religion and not a philosophy,” or that “Buddhism is a philosophy, not a religion.” But these have both to be seen as biases leaning to one extreme. This is exactly the question I will take up. One part of Buddhism consists of religion, and another part of philosophy; it is a union of philosophy and religion, as the following diagram purports to show. (p.620)

Beginnings, Definitions, Disputations

If we let A stand for philosophy and B for religion, the area that is a union of the two, C, is Buddhism. Thus Buddhism joins philosophy and religion, each of which admits of great variety outside of Buddhism. I am not going to treat the part of Buddhism that belongs to religion, but only the part that falls under philosophy. This is what I am referring to as “Buddhist philosophy.” In order to make clear where Buddhism stands in relation to philosophy and religion, I will begin by describing the relation between philosophy and religion. If philosophy and religion are different in name, they must originally be different in nature. I first have to know what the definition of philosophy is, and how religion is explained. But since the definitions of religion and philosophy have not yet been settled, rather than risk a lack of clarity from the start, I believe a shortcut is in order to explain the relationship, the differences, and the similarities between the two. Let us begin with the differences and similarities.

Roughly speaking, the world—in the broadest possible meaning of the word—consists of two parts. Technically these are called the knowable world and the unknowable world.10 In plain language, they refer respectively to the world that can be known with the human intellect and the world that cannot. In other words, they point to the distinction between philosophy and religion. The knowable world is the world of phenomena; the unknowable world is the world of noumena. Wherever there are phenomena, their noumena must also be present, and vice versa. The knowable world of phenomena emerges from the substance of the unknowable world. In addition, the world of phenomena is finite, while the world of noumena is infinite. The multitude of beings and appearances of the world of phenomena is limited both spatially and temporally; but as the world of noumena is unknowable, it is impossible for the human intellect to put a limit on it.

Further, the finite world is relative, and the infinite world is absolute. This is because the finite world consists of all things that can be compared—moving and still, hard and soft, big and small, high and low, and the like, all existing in opposition—while the infinite world does not have anything to which it can be compared. Finally, the relative world is a world of distinctions, whereas the absolute world is the world of sameness. The multitude of things that make up the relative world, from the sun, moon, and stars above, to the insects, fish, and shellfish below, are all different in form and nature, which accounts for distinctions. But insofar as the world of the absolute exists outside of our intellect, it is impossible to see any distinction in it; it is a sameness without distinction.

(p.621) We may lay this all out in the following diagram:

Beginnings, Definitions, Disputations

In Buddhism, phenomena are referred to as the “forms of things” and their substance as “essential nature.” But the countless things that make up the world of phenomena are called ‘dharma’ and their substance ‘tathatā’. This distinction expresses the relation between religion and philosophy. The two have a different basis: philosophy goes from the knowable to the unknowable and religion begins from the unknowable and proceeds to the knowable. Philosophy admits an unknowable existence, religion attempts to explain it. Thus the two only differ in direction, the one comes from the right, as it were, the other from the left. This is one way of distinguishing between philosophy and religion.

Next, from the viewpoint of psychology, philosophy and religion treat the functions of the ‘mind’ differently. Philosophy is based on the function of the intellect, while religion is based on the functions of the feelings and emotions. And yet the two are interrelated: to some extent emotions and feelings are involved in philosophy and in several aspects the intellect plays a part in religion. Hence the distinction is a rough one. It is well known that in psychology, the human mind is divided broadly into three functions: intellect, emotions, and will.… The intellect, based on thought, reflects deeply, makes inferences, and is active. In contrast, emotions and feelings are passive, receiving outside stimuli and storing them in the mind.

Since the intellect harbors thought, while emotions and feelings engender faith, thought is based on logic and faith is based on intuition. Logic lies at the basis of reason; intuition lies at the basis of revelation. To generalize, we have the following:

philosophy → intellect—thought—logic—reason

   religion → emotions and feelings—faith—intuition—revelation

Combining this with what has been said so far, the differences and similarities between philosophy and religion should be clear. To start with, the knowable, which is the object of philosophy, is based on the intellect, which means that what the intellect reaches we call the knowable and what it does not reach, the unknowable. Employing the powers of intellect and rationality, philosophy progresses towards reason and, in the process, infers the existence of the unknowable. Religion, based on the emotions, awakens immediately to the existence of the unknowable. The unknowable is not achieved by seeking it out with the powers of the mind but is sensed spontaneously in the mind itself. This is what we call revelation. In this sense, the differences and similarities between philosophy and religion are only general and are intimately connected.

(p.622) Philosophy is mainly concerned with the knowable world but also discusses the unknowable world. So how does philosophy, which is based on the intellect, come to know anything outside human intellect? It is, of course, totally impossible to grasp the unknowable by getting inside of it and examining it. But it is possible to begin from the knowable and come to know of the existence of the unknowable as such, and even to infer more or less what it is like. In other words, the more I examine and the deeper I go, the closer I approach the boundaries of the unknowable, but in the end I can only circle around it without ever getting inside of it. I may conjecture that the unknowable is such and such a thing, and I may form a vague notion of it. But this unknowable I am thinking about slips into the knowable before I realize it, so that I have really done nothing more than apply the logic of the knowable to the unknowable. Since ancient times scholars have struggled with this problem, and Buddhism was no exception.

The discussion between Vimalakīrti and the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī in the Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa sūtra is one such example. The Buddha is said to have ordered a few of his disciples to go and inquire into Vimalakīrti’s health. In comparison to Vimalakīrti, however, the disciples’ knowledge was too shallow to grasp even part of the Buddha’s Way, with the result that Vimalakīrti refuted their views one by one and rejected their limited understanding. Then Mañjuśrī himself went and argued that the unknowable nature of things is something that cannot be grasped or thought. Vimalakīrti kept silent and did not answer, whereupon Mañjuśrī realized his error. The unknowable is the unknowable precisely because I cannot know it, so that one who utters “this is the unknowable” does not realize the true unknowable. As Laozi says, ‘Those who know, speak not; those who speak, know not” [Laozi 56]. One who understands the Buddhist Way does not speak of it, and if one does, this means that it is not the true Buddhist way. This was the reason for Vimalakīrti’s silence.

Still, I do not think that Vimalakīrti had fully realized the Buddhist Way. Even though he did not express himself in words, in his mind he thought he understood the essence of the Buddhist Way, which made his silence a logical consequence. If I were in his place, I would just fall asleep and enter a state in which there are no thoughts. The true unknowable cannot be uttered with the mouth or pictured in the mind. Before it words perish and thought is cut off. That said, there is no way to avoid thinking with my mind or speaking with my mouth. If I sense a modicum of the unknowable when philosophizing about it and try to go further and penetrate to its core, I only get bounced back. It is in this sense that philosophy and religion are both concerned with the unknowable, but only differ in the way they approach it.

From a psychological standpoint, even though religion is based on faith, the intellect is also involved to some degree. That is to say, those who believe in religion, (p.623) do so only if their minds have grasped it in some measure. No matter how uneducated ordinary people are, everyone possesses the intelligence needed to think about what they believe and to understand with their own minds what it is they believe. Scholars, too, even if they have the same religion as ordinary people, appeal to the powers of intellect. First they reason and think it through, and then they acknowledge its truth.

By the same token, philosophy, which puts primacy on these same intellectual powers, must also rely on faith. If a question is raised in philosophy, for example, one investigates it, and if a simply promising theory appears, one has to place faith in it. Insofar as Kant and Hegel believed their theories represented eternal and unchanging truth, their position does not differ at all from faith in religion. Or when a thinker like Hume advances a skepticism that rejects all theories and claims that there is no truth, no matter, and no mind, he thereby believes in the truth that there is no truth and no belief. And this belief is grounded in emotions and feelings. Hence, however distinct religion and philosophy may be on the whole, if you look at the question more closely, you will see that they are intimately linked. Buddhism’s connections to both philosophy and religion are especially close. Indeed, the link Buddhism has with philosophy has no parallel as yet among the many other religions.

We still need to explain why both religion and philosophy are to be found in Buddhism. In the teachings of every Buddhist sect there is a theoretical part and a practical part. The theoretical elements are rational investigations of the principles of each particular sect, and these belong to philosophy. The practical elements explain the methods of belief and the rules for religious training, and as such belong to pure religion. The goal of Buddhism is to reach ‘nirvāṇa’, the unknowable world of tathatā. The reality of nirvāṇa is explained rationally in the various sects. These explanations are a philosophy, but the teachings on how to attain nirvāṇa are a religion.


A View of the Cosmos

Inoue Enryō 1917, 236–40

Since ancient times views on the cosmos have included materialism and idealism, monism and dualism, superrationalism and nihilism. Everybody looks at things differently. For a thousand people there are a thousand theories, and almost none of these discussions has been settled. Each theory is no more than a partial view of the cosmos. One can only come to the truth about the cosmos by unifying all these views and integrating them into one. In sum, one can look at all these theories since ancient times as each having some logic and (p.624) truth to them. To give an account of these views and point out their strong and weak points is the domain of the history of philosophy, which is not my intent to discuss here.

A few years ago I presented my own view of the cosmos in the hopes that it would receive wide recognition. In a book entitled A New Design for Philosophy, I distinguished two perspectives on the cosmos: the surface view and the view from the back. The surface view was further divided into the vertical and horizontal dimensions. This is not the place to go into details, but I will summarize the gist.

To begin with, the vertical dimension is based on the nebular hypothesis, namely that the world began originally from a nebula that differentiated and opened up to bring a multitude of beings and phenomena into existence. This is how the cosmos evolved to where it is today, but in the future it will gradually degenerate and return to its original state of a nebula. The world thus emerges from the nebula and returns to it. I called this the “great change” of the world, but since it submits to a cycle of evolution and degeneration, I also refer to it as “recurring change.” The world evolves from the nebular world, opens up, brings numerous phenomena into existence, then degenerates, closes in on itself, and brings the manifold of phenomena together again. Once this return to the nebula has taken place, the nebula must again open up. Prior to the world as we know it today, there must have been previous worlds coursing through the process of evolution and deterioration, of opening and merging. There was a world before this one and another before that, just as there will be a world after this one, and then another and another. Coming from the past, but without a beginning, moving into the future without an end, a never-ending cycle: such is my idea of the vertical dimension of the surface view of the universe.

This theory of endless cyclical change is a conclusion that follows necessarily from the three great scientific laws of the indestructibility of matter, the conservation of energy, and the law of cause and effect. Unless we are deceived by the law of cause and effect, we can affirm as a matter of logical necessity that after several billion ‘kalpas’ an identical world like this one will come into existence. The Japanese empire will emerge again and Inoue Enryō will be reborn. It stands to reason, however, that because of the causes that direct our lives today they will no doubt undergo some measure of change. Thus my death is not a real death but a kind of “long sleep.” And if today’s events have a causal effect on the next world, this means that if I do my best for my country and for other people, this should carry over into that long sleep. As the saying goes, “Do your best and wait to see what heaven has in store for you.” But if it is obvious that the fate in store for us will appear in the next world, we should rephrase it to read: “Do your best and wait for the next world’.”

Turning next to the horizontal dimension, we see the opposition between (p.625) mind and matter. If we examine matter comprehensively, we end up back at mind, and if we examine mind comprehensively, we end up back at matter. Matter is one extreme and mind the other extreme. We might say that this union of the two extremes is what classical materialism and idealism have demonstrated clearly. The claim that either materialism or idealism is the truth is biased. Viewed from the outside, both are nothing other than two extremes of one and the same thing, two aspects of a single thing. If we apply this same logic to the relationship between the absolute and the relative, we see that a thoroughgoing examination of the relative leads us to the absolute and vice versa. Hence, the relative and the absolute are also two aspects of one and the same thing. I have called this the “theory of mutual containment and inclusion.”

In the past, as today, not a few philosophers have argued for a theory of the existence of one substance with two aspects. But their explanations were like reflections on dead matter and failed to capture the flexible and independent logic of the relationship. These theories were incapable of showing how one can see the back side in the front side and the front side in the back. As with the relation between mind and matter, in which matter is seen within mind and mind within matter, we need to see a single thought as containing the world and a single molecule and including the intellect—in a word, the two mutually include each other. This is why I say that there is one thing with two sides, but that the two sides include each other.

Through this logic of mutual inclusion the contradictions of classical theories can be overcome. One thinks of all the pain and frustration that so many scholars have suffered to locate the problem of philosophy in one or the other and thus resolve the contradiction. If one were only to apply the logic of mutual inclusion, these long-standing doubts would melt away in an instant. I want to claim, therefore, that contradiction as such is truth. In an age when people believed the earth was flat, explaining the universe caused a great deal of consternation. But once we recognized that the earth is a sphere, a host of problems and doubts were resolved. Similarly, attempts today to interpret the universe in terms of plane surfaces and straight lines has given rise to numerous contradictions.

In other words, thinking in terms of straight lines means pursuing the argument that matter is always matter and mind is always mind. Such thinking cannot avoid contradictions. One should know that small and large are extremes; small is one extreme and large the other extreme; that the same holds true of one and many, of difference and sameness, of self and other, and of being and nothingness. People may call these contradictions, but if one realizes that the truth of the cosmos is that, large and small, one and many, sameness and difference, self and other, being and nothingness, all include each other mutually, then one can awaken to the truth that contradictions are not just contradictions. (p.626) What appears as a contradiction from the general standpoint of philosophy harbors within itself the truth. Thus I have no hesitation of saying that contradiction is truth.

If one requires proof of this logic of mutual inclusion, I think there is ample evidence in the fact that it recapitulates thousands of years of philosophy. Just as materialism is idealism, so idealism is materialism; just as monism is dualism, dualism is monism; just as the theory of the relative is absolute, so the theory of the absolute is relative; the sun and moon rise and set, warm and cold come and go—everything in endless repetition. Completely opposite theories contain each other within themselves. In sum, the history of philosophy East and West, from ancient times up to the present, proves the logic of mutual inclusion. Therefore, each event and each thing, the myriad of phenomena and transformations always and everywhere possess the nature of being free and unrestricted. If I were to give a name to this, I would call it an “enryō philosophy,” based on the two sinographs that make up my name: “circle” and “complete.” To adhere to linear logic or geometrical reasoning is to run into all kinds of contradictions, to get entangled in a web of doubts, to become lost in a fog. One can hardly resist from a smile of pity at the sight.

The earth contains a sphere within a flat surface and a flat surface within a sphere. Many people can understand this easily if they take a moment to think about it. So, too, one can understand that although north, south, east, and west are nowhere to be found in the world, obviously these directions exist, and within these directions themselves there are no directions. The flat surface holds a sphere, the sphere contains a flat surface; there are no directions and yet directions appear within it; there are directions, but within them there are no directions. In the same way that one can see how the two contain each other, one should see that in solving all philosophical questions concerning the universe with this logic of mutual inclusion, time-worn problems vanish in an instant like mist before the sun, giving the world of philosophy a clear view to the deep blue sky above.

In Chinese philosophy, the emergence of all phenomena and changes in the universe is explained by the dualism of yin and yang in which yang contains yin, and yin contains yang—clearly nothing other than this same law of mutual inclusion at work. In Buddhism, theories of the nonduality of matter and mind, of the correlativity of being and emptiness, become clear when viewed through this logic of mutual inclusion. Because this theory is unknown in the West, countless debates have arisen in which neither side is given to compromise, and no one has a clue about how to decide which side is right. This is yet another point on which eastern philosophy is one step ahead. Western philosophy offers detailed views based on analytical reasoning, while eastern philosophy offers a more inclusive, intuitionist view of the whole. It is like the difference between (p.627) a microscope and a telescope. Or we may compare it to the construction of a house, where eastern philosophy is like the work of the architect and western philosophy like the work of the builders. Thinking out the grand scheme is the strong suit of eastern philosophy, while western philosophy excels in finishing and working out the details.

To know this logic of mutual inclusion is to know that my body includes the nation and our nation contains the world. So, too, it should also be clear that hope for the perfection of the world means doing one’s best for the development of the nation, just as hope for the development of the nation means attending to ‘cultivation’ of one’s own person. Never forgetting that one’s body contains the nation, and one’s nation contains the world, one should push on and work hard. That is my position: a philosophy of action.


The Temple of Philosophy

Inoue Enryō 1913, 69–72

The Temple of Philosophy began with the construction of a building in 1904 to commemorate the Ministry of Education’s recognition of the Philosophical Institute as a university. In January 1906, upon my retirement from the university, it was designated as my place of retreat. As I was to manage it myself, I wanted it to be not only a place for my own spiritual cultivation, but to be expanded into a place for the spiritual cultivation for others for years to come. It started with the Hall of the Four Sages, to which were added the Pagoda of the Six Wise Men and the Arbor of the Three Teachings. The complex as a whole was named the Temple of Philosophy. Its purpose is not one of religious worship, but simply educational, ethical, and philosophical spiritual cultivation. Accordingly, the sages and wise men who are revered here are all people whose person, character, nature, virtues, words, and deeds are models for me. To stand before them from time to time is conducive to spiritual cultivation.

The Contents of the Temple of Philosophy

The Hall of the Four Sages is a place to worship the four sages: ‘Shakyamuni’ (Buddha), Confucius, Socrates, and Kant. There are those who ask why Jesus is not included, but the answer should be obvious if one remembers that it is not a temple of religion but a temple of philosophy. Jesus is a great religious figure but not a philosopher. No matter how many different histories of philosophy by different authors you read, you will not find anyone who treats Jesus as a philosopher. In contrast, it is accepted in the East as well as in the West, that Shakyamuni is a religious figure as well as a philosopher.

(p.628) We may divide philosophy in the world of today as follows:

Beginnings, Definitions, Disputations

Following this scheme, I took one representative philosopher from each category: for Chinese philosophy, Confucius; for Indian philosophy, Shakyamuni; for classical philosophy, Socrates; and for modern philosophy, Kant. Obviously Jesus does not figure in the list.

Last year it was decided that, in addition to these four sages, the six wise men and the three teachings would also be revered. This was done in response to those people who visited the Temple of Philosophy and said they were disappointed not to find a Japanese sage in the Hall of the Four Sages. The temple was, therefore, further enlarged to accommodate two additional sages each from Japan, China, and India. From our country, one scholar was selected from each of the three teachings: Shinto, Confucianism, and Buddhism. In this way the Pagoda of the Six Wise Men, and the Arbor of the Three Teachings was constructed.

The complete scheme is shown in the following diagram:

Beginnings, Definitions, Disputations

The Temple of Philosophy

(p.629) The Hall of the Four Sages and the Park

First, the architecture of the Hall of the Four Sages. The Hall has four sides of about five and a half meters in length and four facades. In the center the bases of four pillars are suspended from the ceiling and naturally form a canopy to express the shape of the universe. The four pillars are intended to symbolize the four pillars of heaven. The gold-silver colored glass at the inside is based on ancient legends about the time before heaven and earth were separated, like the unstructured contents of a chicken’s egg. The lamp made of red-colored glass suspended from the middle of the gold-colored hemisphere represents mind, while the square incense-burners that hang down from the surrounding pillars represent matter. Together they are intended as an allegory of mind (transparent and round) and matter (opaque and angular), where mind emerges from the spiritual essence of the universe and matter is differentiated from its physical substance. Also, from the center of the ceiling and radiating outwards are a number of smaller round beams that serve as rafters and symbolize rays of light emanating from the center. All of this together, it was decided, would constitute the ideal ‘principal object of veneration’ with no other images to be added.

The park is divided into the area atop the hill and the area at the bottom of the hill. The latter has a left and a right wing. In the right wing is a garden designed in the shape of the sinograph character for matter, and in the left another in the shape of the sinograph for mind. These express materialism and idealism respectively. The following elements are contained in the garden:

Atop the hill, in the center: the Gate of Philosophical Reason (commonly known as the Gate of Ghosts, since the right side has a statue of a tengu goblin and the left side a statue of a ghost), the Gate of Commonsense, the Hall of the Four Sages, the Pagoda of the Six Wise Men, the Arbor of the Three Teachings, the Roof of Respecting Virtue, the Skull Hermitage, the Cave of Spirits, the Cabinet of All Phenomena, the Hall of the Universe (in which to place the House of the Imperial Rule of Japan), the Inexhaustible Storehouse (that will function as the library), the Slope of Time and Space, the Valley of Relativity, the Bridge of the Ideal, the Boundary of the Absolute, the Area of the Absolute, the Monument of the Sages, the Plum Tree of Spirits, the Pine Tree of Tengu, the Grass of Miscellaneous Subjects, the Harbor of the Academic World, the Hedge of Monism, the Crossroads of Dualism, the Turbulent Place of Doubt.

At the bottom of the hill, on the right wing (of materialism): the Slope of Experience, the Peak of Sensation, the Bush of All Beings, the Valley of Creation, the Den of Myths, the Pond of the A Posteriori (or more commonly, the Fan-Shaped Pond), the Bridge of Atoms (commonly known as the Bridge of Fan Ribs), the Vessel of Natural History, the Pool of Physics and Chemistry, the Channel of Evolution, the Platform in the Shape of the sinograph for “Matter,” the Hermitage of Objectivity.

(p.630) At the bottom of the hill, on the left wing (of idealism): the Station of Consciousness, the Path of Intuition, the Road of Knowledge, the Barrier of Logic, the Pass of Dogma, the Cliff of Psychology, the Spring of A Priori, the Bridge of Concepts, the Pool of Ethics, the Island of Reason, the Pond in the Shape of the Sinograph for “Mind,” the Resting Place of Subjectivity.

Such is the Temple of Philosophy. Although not yet completed, I designed it in such a way that explaining the names of its various elements clarifies the meaning of philosophy.


Addressing the Divine

Inoue Enryō 1917, 440

Christianity does not have a fixed phrase when addressing God, but in Buddhism there are namu-Amida-Butsu (I entrust myself to Amida Buddha), namu-Kanzeon-Bosatsu (I entrust myself to the Bodhisattva Kannon), namu-Daishi-Henjō-Kongō (I entrust myself to Daishi, the Universal Adamantine Illuminator), namu-myōhō-renge-kyō (I entrust myself to the Lotus Sutra), and namu-Shakamuni-Butsu (I entrust myself to Shakyamuni Buddha). These sayings are fixed. Saying one of these arouses the mind of faith, swipes away the manifold of thoughts, and is very effective. I wish to introduce such a mantra for “philosophical religion”: namu-zettai-mugenson (I entrust myself to the absolute infinite). If you concentrate your whole mind on it and chant this phrase repeatedly, there is no doubt that the great spirit of the universe will flow out naturally from the source of the absolute into the gates of the mind.


(p.631) Ōnishi Hajime 大西 祝‎ (1864–1900)

Ōnishi Hajime, philosopher, Christian apologist and social critic, studied theology at Dōshisha Eigakkō (present-day Dōshisha University) from 1877 to 1884, and then philosophy at Tokyo Imperial University from 1885 to 1889. He subsequently lectured on philosophy, ethics, aesthetics, and logic at Tōkyō Senmon Gakkō (present-day Waseda University). In 1896 he joined forces with Anesaki Masaharu and Yokoi Tokio to establish the Teiyū Ethics Society. He also assisted in the editing of the Christian socialist journal Cosmos. In 1898, he traveled to Germany to study with Otto Liebmann and Rudolf Eucken at the University of Jena, but his trip was cut short by an illness that took his life the following year. In his philosophy and ethics, Ōnishi drew upon Kant, T. H. Green, and the philosophical idealism of personalism. As a social critic, he wrote various commentaries on the 1890 Imperial Rescript on Education and defended Christianity against its critics during the so-called conflict between education and religion in the early 1890s.

In the selection below we see Ōnishi combining philosophy and social criticism together to argue against setting up loyalty and filial piety as the foundations of morality. He is responding to state-sponsored scholars who equated filial piety toward one’s parents with loyalty to the emperor (the father figure of the “family state”) and who upheld both as the moral basis for social order. Loyalty and filial piety, two key virtues espoused in the Imperial Rescript on Education, were conjoined ideologically as part of a project to construct a national morality of obedience to the state. Ōnishi sets out methodically and critically—or in his term, “scientifically”—to dismantle the various arguments for this morality of obedience. His own argument calls to mind Socrates’ reasoning in the Euthyphro, but without the assumption of a higher, divine authority. Implicit in his critique is the subversive assertion that disobedience to the state may in certain cases constitute true moral action.


Questioning Moral Foundations

Ōnishi Hajime 1893, 308–23

Some say that loyalty and ‘filial piety’ are the foundation of morality, or in particular, that they constitute the foundation of morality in our country. I am not one to reject this out of hand, but I would like to consider the significance of the term “foundation.” If we approach the meaning of the term “moral foundation” scientifically, I do not believe that it can be applied to loyalty and filial piety…. Utilitarian philosophers take the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people to be the foundation of morality. Kant takes the great law (p.632) of reason as the foundation of morality. Can we say that loyalty and filial piety form the foundation of morality in the same way? To approach loyalty and filial piety from the standpoint of ethical theory, we must begin with this kind of questioning spirit.

Scientifically, we cannot say that the foundation of morality differs from one country to the next. We cannot claim, for example, that loyalty and filial piety are the foundation for our country’s morality, and at the same time maintain that in western countries a different moral foundation exists. Some argue that the idea of a single moral foundation spanning East and West, past and present, is mere conjecture, that somehow morality must in fact differ according to time and place. If we understand this to mean that there are no fixed or universal principles, no standards, no foundation in morality, then we end up with a theory that does away with ethics. With no fixed and universal principles, no standards and foundation, the distinction between good and evil, right and wrong, become simply a matter of individual choice at any given moment. If the only basis of morality is the individual who believes something to be right at one time and wrong at another, right and wrong will themselves become meaningless. Even what we now refer to as moral fallacy will become meaningless. After all, without a general standard, how are we to distinguish truth from falsehood? If morality means one thing at one time and another thing at another time, this will ultimately lead to the destruction of ethical and moral distinctions.

For this reason, even those who uphold a desultory morality—one that differs with time and place—assume the existence of a common character that covertly pervades the people of a given nation or society. On this hypothesis, they believe it possible to construct an ethics or morality. If we accept that such a common nature is present in a nation or society, and that we can build a morality on its basis that is common and universal for that nation or society, why not presume a common nature of humanity as a basis for building a common and universal morality for all nations? The starting point for ethical theory cannot be simply the conditions particular to any given nation but rather an ultimate moral foundation common to all humanity. To discuss the morality of a nation or society scientifically, we must in the end come to this level of discussion. The claim that we can scientifically establish a national morality distinct from the way of humanity shows the ignorance of the scholars who make it. The fact that values and customs differ from one nation to the next is no different from the way evolutionary conditions differ among animals depending on climatic variation, even though all are subject to the same principle of evolution. Does the foundation of morality really differ according to the country? Scientifically, can we really say that loyalty and filial piety are the solid foundations of our country’s morality?

Some will agree that, of course, science itself does not differ from one country (p.633) to the next, and that loyalty and filial piety are not the foundation of morality in our country alone. At the same time, they will insist that loyalty and filial piety are the foundation of morality for all peoples, regardless of differences of time and place. If one follows this line or reasoning, the problem that immediately arises is whether we are inclined to see loyalty and filial piety as equally foundational for morality. After all, if we merely take loyalty and filial piety in a loose sense as a moral foundation and we disregard the relationship between the two, in the end we will be at a loss how to make sense of this foundation. If we take loyalty and filial piety as two separate things, and say that either one of them can serve as the foundation for morality, we can only conclude that morality has two discrete foundations. How, then, are we to guarantee that there will be no contradiction between the two? Can we be certain that there will never be a situation in which, out of the desire to be loyal one must be unfilial, or in which the effort to be filial requires one to be disloyal? What is one to do in such a situation? Are we to give one more weight than the other?…

Alternatively, should we then view loyalty and filial piety as identical? If they are completely identical, a single object with no differences to distinguish them, why is this object then deliberately expressed by means of two distinct sinographs, one for loyalty and one for filial piety? If we allow that loyalty and filial piety are not entirely identical, may we still argue that there is a point at which the two come together and are unified, that there is an identical spirit running through both, an identical root from which both emerge? If so, we must ask at once: What exactly is this identical root, this identical spirit? And if we are to allow that such a root exists and inquire into it, do we not need to take the further step and go beyond the discussion of mere loyalty and filial piety? We would have to conclude that the foundation of morality lies precisely in the coincidence of loyalty and filial piety, in their identical spirit and identical root. In other words, rather than say that the foundation of morality lies in loyalty and filial piety, we should say that it lies in something identical that runs through each.

But then, might we not say that this underlying element that runs equally through loyalty and filial piety runs through other moral actions as well? If so, what is to prevent us from saying that it is this root element that is the foundation of morality? These kinds of questions do not occur to many of those who preach loyalty and filial piety as the foundation of morality. Indeed, they find it distasteful to consider such issues at all, preferring instead to spew random and emotional abuse at their critics. For those concerned with the eternal plan of the state, such an attitude simply will not do. What can one say to those who claim that loyalty and filial piety are the foundation of morality in terms of ethical theory when it does not even occur to them to ask what these terms mean?

What we must first ask of those who preach loyalty and filial piety as the (p.634) foundation of morality is this: What is this loyalty, this filial piety they speak of? If they try to answer this question calmly, I fear they will not get more than halfway. What is filial piety? What is loyalty? Can they answer these questions adequately? Some will say that filial piety is to obey the commands of one’s father and mother, and that loyalty is to follow the commands of one’s ruler. This is probably the most familiar interpretation and the one that springs first to mind. Let us for the moment follow this interpretation through.

  1. 1. If we say that loyalty and filial piety mean obedience to the command of one’s ruler or father, and we take this as the foundation for morality, we cannot establish morality beyond the domain of one’s ruler or father. This is the inevitable result of such a view. Thus, the command of one’s ruler or father would actually have to extend to every sphere of social action in all of its infinite complexity….

  2. 2. If loyalty and filial piety are the foundation of morality, then all moral action must be inferred entirely from these two concepts. Even should a particular moral action appear unrelated to these concepts, on this view we would have to argue that all actions are ultimately expressions of loyalty and filial piety in one way or another. Can we really say such a thing? When we rescue a child who has fallen into a well, is even this an act of loyalty and filial piety?… Ordinarily, when we carry out such actions, do we really do it in order to be loyal or to be filial? Some suggest that if only we could disseminate the spirit of loyalty and filial piety, which incorporates the whole of moral action, then those who are properly loyal and filial in all situations would be suitably moral. But what exactly is this so-called spirit of loyalty and filial piety? If it means to obey the commands of one’s ruler or father, as discussed above, then, one would expect that the spirit that runs through both loyalty and filial piety must consist in obeying the command of one’s superior. Will the dissemination of this spirit really encourage one to rescue a child who has fallen into a well?…

  3. 3. If we interpret loyalty and filial piety to mean following the command of one’s ruler or father, and further, if we take this to be the foundation for morality, then the command of the ruler or father itself would have to lie outside the realm of morality. That is, if the right and the good first only emerge in obeying the commands of a ruler or father, and if wrong and evil only emerge in disobeying those commands, then the distinction between right and wrong, good and evil cannot be applied to the commands themselves. If we attach a moral quality to the ruler’s or father’s command itself, the foundation of morality would not lie in obedience to a command (that is, in loyalty and filial piety), but in the reason the command of the ruler or father can be said to possess such a moral quality. If we say that we must obey the command of the ruler or father because it is good or because it is right, we are assuming a notion of the right and the good that transcends the ruler’s or father’s command. Thus, right and (p.635) good cannot be the result of the command of the ruler or father; rather, the command is issued because right and good exist. In other words, the foundation of morality exists in the rightness and goodness determined by the ruler’s or father’s command. For example, if we argue that we must obey the command of the ruler or father because it is something that will protect the stability of the country and promote the happiness of the family, this is already to locate the foundation of morality not in the conception of loyalty and filial piety, but in the stability of the country and the happiness of our family. In short, if we take loyalty and filial piety as the foundation of morality and the beginning of moral action, the action of the ruler who issues a command is not a moral action, and we cannot praise it as right and good, because it lacks a moral quality.


    There will probably be some who will find the foregoing commentary on the idea of loyalty and filial piety as obedience to the command of one’s ruler or father narrow-minded. Others might argue that filial piety does not consist simply in following the commands of one’s father and mother but has to do with loving and respecting one’s parents. But even this understanding of filial piety as respect and love is, in effect, nothing more than one particular condition of morality. The reason it cannot be seen as the foundation of morality would not be difficult to see for those who have grasped the point of the foregoing argument. For unless we interpret loyalty and filial piety in the widest possible sense, as somehow incorporating all virtues, then we must view it as nothing more than one kind of moral action. As for those still eager to proclaim loyalty and filial piety as the foundation of morality, I advise them to define their terms calmly.

    In writing this essay and discussing the reason why, in the context of ethical theory, loyalty and filial piety cannot provide a foundation for morality, I may be accused of fighting enemies that do not actually exist. It is not that I do not truly welcome such criticism, but how can one deny that the reality is otherwise? Finally, I would like to register the view that upholding loyalty and filial piety as the foundation for morality is not the right way to preserve their value. The very purpose of my discussion has been to maintain throughout the value of loyalty and filial piety, and hence I do not expound on these virtues as part of any political strategy or seek to gloss over their complexities.

[RMR] (p.636) (p.637) (p.638)


(1.) Zhou Dunyi (1017–1073) was a Song philosopher whose thought was a prototype of the neo-Confucian philosophy of Zhu Xi.

(2.) See the section on “Samurai Thought.”

(3.) [Rai San’yō (1780–1832), a Confucian thinker and historian, was the author of an Unofficial History of Japan.]

(4.) [Thomas Clarkson (1760–1846) spent his life campaigning for the abolition of slavery, beginning with his native Britain and then extending to the slave trade around the world.]

(5.) [John Howard (1726–1846), a public servant in England, is known as the father of modern prison reform.]

(6.) [The reference to Mencius 2A.6, where someone reaching out to save a baby about to fall into a well is said to demonstrate not an act of reflective virtue, but the inherent goodness of the human being that emerges naturally and of its own accord.]

(7.) [Han Yu (768–824), a celebrated literary figure in Tang China, recommended burning Daoist and Buddhist books because they encouraged quietism and a distance from social affairs. His Memorial to Buddhism was written to protest Emperor Wuzong’s reverence for a bone from the finger of the Buddha.]

(8.) [The five faults are indocility, discontent, slander, jealousy, and silliness. The three obediences are obedience to one’s father while in his care, obedience to one’s husband when married, and obedience to one’s son after one’s husband’s death.]

(9.) [Sugawara no Michizane (845–903), a scholar and poet of the imperial court, died in exile but his ghost was believed to have returned to revenge his unjust treatment.]

(10.) [Inoue probably took these terms from Herbert Spencer’s First Principles. Inoue first studied philosophy under Ernest Fenollosa, who put strong emphasis on Spencer’s thought.]