Kyoto School

Kyoto School

The Kyoto School is the name given to the Japanese "philosophical movement centered at Kyoto University that assimilated Western philosophy and religious ideas and used them to reformulate religious and moral insights unique to the East Asian cultural tradition." [D.S. Clarke, Jr. "Introduction" in "Nishida Kitaro" by Nishitani Keiji, 1991.] . It is used however also of the many postwar scholars from various disciplines who have taught at the same university, been influenced by the foundational thinkers of Kyoto school philosophy, and who have developed distinctive theories of Japanese uniqueness. To disambiguate the term, therefore, thinkers and writers covered by this second sense will be treated under The Kyoto University Research Centre for the Cultural Sciences.

Beginning roughly in 1913 with Nishida Kitaro, it survived the serious controversy it garnered after World War II to develop into a moderately well-known and active movement today. However, it is not a "school" of philosophy in the traditional sense of the phrase, such as with the Frankfurt School or Plato's Academy. Instead, the group of academics gathered around Kyoto University as a "de facto" meeting place, and as its founder, Kitaro steadfastly encouraged independent thinking. According to James Heisig, the name "Kyoto School" was first used in 1932 by a student of Kitaro and Tanabe, Tosaka Jun (1900-45) considered himself to be part of the 'marxist left-wing' of the school. [ Heisig 2001, p.4] Afterwards, the media and other academic institutions outside of Japan began to use the moniker, and by the 1970s it had become a universal title - practically by default.


Masao Abe writes in his introduction to a new English translation of Nishida's magnum opus, that if one thinks of philosophy in terms of Kant and Hegel, then there is no philosophy taking place in Japan. But if it is instead thought of in terms of the tradition carried out by Augustine and Kierkegaard, then Japan has a rich philosophical history, composed of the great thinkers Kūkai, Shinran, Dogen and others. [Masao Abe, "Introduction" in "An Inquiry into the Good," 1987, (1921).]

The group of philosophers involved with the Kyoto School in its nearly 100 year history (so far), is a diverse one. Individual members would sometimes come from very different backgrounds, and were not hesitant to criticise each others' work. However, to be formally accepted as a member of the movement, one had to:
#either be teaching at Kyoto University or at a nearby affiliated school,
#share Nishida's basic assumptions regarding metaphysics and the concept of "nothingness", and
#use the same philosophical vocabulary as Nishida. [D.S. Clarke, Jr. "Introduction" in "Nishida Kitaro" by Nishitani Keiji, 1991.]

Generally, most were strongly influenced by the German philosophical tradition, especially through the thought of Nietzsche and Heidegger. In addition, all had strong ties to the Buddhist religion, and while their work was not expressly religious, it was informed significantly by it.

Although the group was fluidic and largely informal, traditionally whoever occupied the Chair of the Department of Modern Philosophy at the university was considered its leader. Nishida was the first, from 1913 to 1928. Hajime Tanabe succeeded him until the mid-1930s. By this time, Nishitani had graduated from Kyoto University, studied with Martin Heidegger for two years in Germany, and returned to a teaching post since 1928. From 1955 to 1963, Nishitani officially occupied the Chair and since his departure, leadership of the school has crumbled - turning the movement into a very decentralized group of philosophers with common beliefs and common interests.

ignificance of its notable members

The significance of the group continues to grow, especially in American departments of religion and philosophy. Since the mid-1980s, there has been a growing interest in East/West dialogue, especially inter-faith scholarship. Masao Abe, now the most well-known living member, has traveled to both coasts of the United States on professorships, and lectured to many groups on Buddhist-Christian relations.

In addition, although Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki was closely connected to the Kyoto school and in some ways critical to the development of thought that occurred there—indeed, Suzuki personally knew Nishida, Tanabe, and Nishitani—he is not considered a true member of the group. [Robert Lee, "Review of "The Buddha Eye: An Anthology of the Kyoto School," in "The Journal of Asian Studies," Vol.42, No.4 (Aug.,1983).]

Nishida Kitaro

Nishida, the school's founder, is most known for his groundbreaking work "An Inquiry into the Good" and later for his elucidation of the "logic of "basho" (Japanese: 場所; usually translated as place or topos) - which brought him fame outside of Japan, and contributed largely to the attention later paid to philosophers from the Kyoto School.

Nishida's work is notable for a few reasons, chief among them however is how much they are related to the German tradition of philosophy since Schopenhauer. The logic of Basho is a non-dualistic 'concrete' logic, meant to overcome the inadequacy of the subject-object distinction essential to the subject logic of Aristotle and the predicate logic of Kant, through the affirmation of what he calls the 'absolutely contradictory self-identity', a dynamic tension of opposites that, unlike the dialectical logic of Hegel, does not resolve in a synthesis, but rather defines its proper subject by maintaining the tension between affirmation and negation as opposite poles or perspectives.

Nishitani describes East Asian philosophy as something very different from what the Western tradition of Descartes, Leibniz or Hume would indicate, Quote|It is 'intuitive and practical,' with its emphasis on religious aspects of expereince not lending themselves readily to theoretical description. True wisdom is to be distinguished from intellectual understanding of the kind appropriate to the sciences. The 'appropriation' of Nishida's thought,...'embraces difficulties entirely different from those of intellectual understanding'...and those who 'pretend to understand much but do not really understand, no matter how much they intellectually understand' are the object of his scorn. [D.S. Clarke, Jr. "Introduction" in "Nishida Kitaro" by Nishitani Keiji, 1991.]

Before his death, Nishida wrote "The Logic of Place and the Religious Worldview," developing more fully the religious implications of his work and philosophy through "Absolute Nothingness." God or the Absolute, he says, is best understood by absolute nothingness because it "contains its own absolute self-negations within itself." [ [ The Kyoto School (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) ] ] Meaning, that while the divine is dynamically paradoxical, it should not be construed as pantheism, or transcendent theism. Both Nishitani and Abe have spent much of their academic lives dedicated to this development of nothingness and the Absolute, leading on occasion to "panentheism"

Hajime Tanabe

Keiji Nishitani

Nishitani, one of Nishida's main disciples, would become the doyen in the post-war period. Nishitani's works, such as his "Religion and Nothingness", primarily dealt with the Western notion of nihilism - inherited from Nietzsche, and religious interpretation of nothingness, as found in the Buddhist idea of sunyata and the specifically Zen Buddhist concept of mu.

Masao Abe

hizuteru Ueda

A disciple of Keiji Nishitani.

Criticism of the Kyoto School

Today, there is a great deal of critical research into the school's role prior to and during the Second World War. Hajime Tanabe bears the greatest brunt of the criticism for bringing his work on "The Logic of Species" into Japanese politics, supporting the intellectual culture in being prepared for a modified version of colonialism and "manifest destiny" beliefs.Dubious|date=March 2008 [D.S. Clarke, Jr. "Introduction" in "Nishida Kitaro" by Nishitani Keiji, 1991.] [Hajime Tanabe, "Philosophy as Metanoetics" (1946)] However, it should be noted that some Western writers think this criticism misplaced, and have defended the school and its major thinkers as fundamentally right in their reading of the historical logic of Japan's long war against the imperialist 'White' world. [ David Williams, "Defending Japan's Pacific War: The Kyoto School philosophers and post-White power" RoutledgeCurzon, London and New York 2004]


* Nishida Kitaro: 1870 - 1945 (KU Philosophy Dept. 1910-13, Chair 1913-28)
* Tanabe Hajime: 1885 - 1962 (KU Philosophy Dept. ?, Chair, 1928-35?)
* Nishitani Keiji: 1900 - 1990 (KU Philosophy Dept. 1928-35, Chair 1935-63)
* Abe Masao
* Miki Kiyoshi
* Hisamatsu Shinichi
* Ueda Shizuteru ( Shizuteru Ueda)
* Saneshige Komaki
* Yamanouchi Tokuryu
* Takeuchi Yoshinori

Suggested Reading

:Scholarly Books
* "The Buddha Eye: An Anthology of the Kyoto School." Edited by Frederick Franck. New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1982.::—"Seventeen essays, most from "The Eastern Buddhist", on Zen and Pure Land Buddhism."
* "The Philosophy of the Kyoto School," edited by Fujita Masakatsu. 2001.::—"Anthology of texts by Kyoto scholars themselves, with additional biographical essays."
* "The Thought of the Kyoto School," edited by Ohashi Ryosuke. 2004.::—"Collection of essays dealing with the history of its name, and its members contributions to philosophy."
* "Philosophers of Nothingness" by James Heisig. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8248-2481-4::—"Excellent introduction to the School's history and content; includes rich multilingual bibliography."
* "Absolute Nothingness: Foundations for a Buddhist-Christian Dialogue," Hans Waldenfels. New York: Paulist Press, 1980.::—"Good early work, focuses mostly on Nishitani's relevance for the perspective of Buddhist-Christian dialogue.":Journal Articles
* "The Religious Philosophy of the Kyoto School: An Overview," by James Heisig. "Japanese Journal of Religious Studies" Vol.17, No.1, (1990), p51-81.
* "Heidegger and Buddhism," by T. Umehara. "Philosophy East and West," Vol.20 (1970), p271-281.
* "Nishida's Philosophy of 'Place'," by Masao Abe, "International Philosophical Quarterly" Vol.28, No.4 (Winter 1988), p.355-371.
* "In Memoriam: Keiji Nishitani (1900-1990)," by E. Kawamura-Hanoka. "Buddhist-Christian Studies," Vol.12 (1992), p241-245.

Readings "by" individual members

::"For further information, see the Nanzan Institute's [ Complete Bibliography for all Kyoto School members] "
* Kitaro Nishida, "An Inquiry into the Good," Translated by Masao Abe and Christopher Ives. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987 (1921).
* ——, "Art and Morality," Translated by D. Dilworth and Valdo Viglielmo. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1973.
* ——, "Intelligibility and the Philosophy of Nothingness," Translated by Robert Schinzinger. Westport: 1958.
* Hajime Tanabe, "Philosophy as Metanoetics," translated by Yoshinori Takeuchi. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.
* ——, "Logic of the Species" (no English translation yet)
* Keiji Nishitani, "Religion and Nothingness," Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982. ISBN 0-520-04946-2
* ——, "The Self-overcoming of Nihilism," translated by Graham Parkes and Setsuko Aiharo. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990.
* Yoshinori Takeuchi, "The Heart of Buddhism," translated by James Heisig. New York: 1983.

econdary sources "on" individual members

*"Nishida Kitaro," by Nishitani Keiji, translated by Yamamoto Sesaku and James Heisig. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
*"The Religious Philosophy of Tanabe Hajime," edited by Taitetsu Unno and James Heisig. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.
*"The Religious Philosophy of Nishitani Keiji," edited by Taitetsu Unno. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.


External links

* [ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry]
* [ The Fascist Next Door? Nishitani Keiji and the "Chuokoron" Discussions in Perspective] , Discussion Paper by Xiaofei Tu in the "electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies", 27 July 2006.

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