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Japanese Thought Japanese Philosophy

China And Confucianism: Tokugawa Japan

Years of war and social chaos ended in the year 1600 at the battle of Sekigahara. The return of peace under the Tokugawa leadership opened a new era of intellectual creativity on the Japanese islands. The predominant concern of the Tokugawa elite was the maintenance of a peaceful and harmonious society; they emphasized human responsibility in the formation and maintenance of such a society. In order to achieve that goal, the intellectual discourse had to be rational, pragmatic, humanistic, and focused on social concerns. During the first Tokugawa century, the official discourse found inspiration in three intellectual traditions: Nativism (Shinto), Buddhism, and Confucianism. The new order drew its legitimization using insights from these three traditions, combining them in a very creative way. At the beginning of the Tokugawa era, a ruling class did not yet exist. Intellectuals were to create that virtuous ruling class of warriors, invent its new symbols, and sacralize the new order. While Buddhism and Shinto played an important role in creating a new "common sense" among peasants, craftsmen, and merchants for the legitimization of the warrior class hegemony, Confucianism produced a great variety of concepts to nourish the intellectual discourse of the elites. The genius of the Tokugawa leaders was to never name their organic intellectuals but use for their own advantage the insights of competing intellectual traditions in search of official recognition.

One of the characteristics of the new intellectual setting of the Tokugawa era was new developments in Confucian studies. Fujiwara Seika (1561–1619) and Hayashi Razan (1583–1657) were among the first Japanese intellectuals who presented Confucianism as a useful philosophical instrument for justifying the new Tokugawa policies. Over the centuries, the Japanese had received from China and Korea a variety of Confucian teachings. Japanese intellectuals of the early Tokugawa period began a process of critical analysis of the Confucian intellectual tradition. Through a process of selection and creation, they developed original types of teachings adapted to their cultural and social environment. Some of these Confucian scholars focused on human relationships of loyalty, cooperation, and obedience to superiors. Others offered the ethical incentives for the class of loyal and unselfish civil servants of the new era. Emphases on education, ceremonial, and tradition became a trademark of Confucian scholarship. Furthermore, the development of Confucian teachings included a severe criticism of Buddhism and Daoism as being too otherworldly, irrational, and opposed to Japanese tradition. Thus, Confucian scholars played an important role in the revival of Nativist or Shinto teachings. Other Confucian scholars like Nakae Toju (1608–1648) and Yamazaki Ansai (1618–1682) renewed Confucian teachings by emphasizing the importance of practicing Confucian virtues based on the notion of an "in-nate moral intuition" culminating in unique interpretations about the meaning of sincerity (makoto). The appropriate pedagogy for teaching Confucian moral virtues thus became an important theme of debate. Meanwhile, other intellectuals such as Yamaga Soko (1622–1685) defended the importance of Shinto as the only way for Japanese to put into practice the virtues that were so important to maintain the unity and peace of the kingdom. At the end of the seventeenth century, literati like Ogyu Sorai (1666–1728) criticized neo-Confucian interpretations. This marked a return to original Confucian teachings and offered the possibility to renew the reflection on virtues by abandoning relativist positions and by opening the search for eternal and natural virtues.

The critical analysis of Confucian canonical texts and the realization that the latest development in Confucian thinking might not be the most insightful, generated a movement of return to original texts that affected the entire intellectual landscape at the end of the seventeenth century. The School of Ancient Meaning (Kogaku) started by Ito Jinsai (1627–1705) focused on the direct study of the Confucian classics starting with the Analects. In parallel, the National Learning movement (Kokugaku), which specialized in the search for purely Japanese sources, unspoiled by Chinese influence, was inaugurated by Motoori Norinaga (1730–1801). This also opened a new reflection on Japaneseness around the key notions of human emotions: love, sorrow, longing, and regret. Motoori saw the superiority of Japanese thinking in the proper usage of emotions and sensibility.

In the eighteenth century, the debates between Confucian, Shinto, and Buddhist scholars were slowly corroded by the encounter with Western scholarship and the development of Dutch or Western learning (Rangaku). The growing awareness among many scholars of the suffering and poverty of ordinary people in Japan, the lack of medical progress, and the need for technical improvements, encouraged scholars to study what was seen at the time as the extraordinary achievement of Western scholarship. The growing skepticism toward the importance of Chinese learning came paradoxically from the reading of the Chinese translations of major Western authors and gave Japanese scholars their first incentive toward "modernization." These Chinese translations also exposed Japanese literati to Western philosophy.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Intuitionist logic to KabbalahJapanese Thought Japanese Philosophy - The Production Of Thought: Writing As Philosophy, The Capital City As The Space Of Thought Production