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Japanese Thought Japanese Philosophy

The West And The Western Canon: Meiji, Taisho, And Early Showa

During the nineteenth century, interest in Western rational discoveries and scientific and technological advances increased. The industrial revolution, which had led to radical political transformations and the formation of powerful and growing empires, became a source of inspiration for renewing Japanese institutions. Japan entered a phase of intense reflection on its own identity that served as the foundation for its modern intellectual history. This period is characterized by a tension between the "traditional" and the "modern" leading to the new beginnings of the Meiji era. Notions like civilization, enlightenment, progress, and success captured the imagination of a new generation of intellectuals. Western learning was no longer encountered through Chinese translations. The encounter was now without any intermediary, through attending classes taught by foreign scholars or by being sent to foreign universities. However, Japanese intellectuals found themselves in a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, they understood that without acquiring Western science and technology, Japan would become a colony of Europe the way China had become one. On the other hand, they wanted to protect Japanese identity and proclaim Japanese uniqueness and superiority. Debates about abandoning the Chinese script, about adopting one European language as the national one, and about making Christianity the national religion of a modern Japan, show how much the creative imagination of Japanese literati was again at work. With the Meiji era a turn to European philosophy began and the word tetsugaku was finally forged to mark the Japanese interest in that new discipline. The main centers for philosophical studies were the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University. Included among the most famous philosophers of the time were Kitaro Nishida (1870–1945), Hajime Tanabe (1885–1962), Keiji Nishitani (1900–1990), and Tetsuro Watsuji (1889–1960). The Japanese literati looked at Western philosophy as part of a larger whole including religion, science, and literature. For these four philosophers and also for most Japanese intellectuals, there was no antagonism between philosophy, religion, and Japanese culture. One of their important contributions is their reflection on the inner self. During the post–World War II period, questions about the involvement of Japanese thinkers in the support of imperialistic ideology shadowed the philosophical contributions of these philosophers. It is only very recently that intellectuals have shown a new interest in the first Japanese contributions to world philosophy. During the same period, in Buddhist circles, the philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was actively studied in order to defend the position that Mahayana Buddhism, especially Kegon and Tendai, could serve as a bridge between Western and Eastern thought.

The defeat and the occupation of Japan by foreign troops inaugurated a new period of reflection, this time centered on repentance. In philosophical circles, thinkers like Hajime Tanabe reflected on collective responsibility, repentance, and the new opportunities the defeat was giving to the Japanese people. However, in the fall of 1945, a new Japan was just a potentiality, and fierce debates about what that new Japan should consist of centered on the notion of democracy. Most intellectuals turned to Marxism or Christianity in order to think about that new Japan, and they developed philosophies of action. The most fascinating contribution of the period is on "subjectivity" (shutaisei). The Korean War and later the Vietnam War gave a second occasion for Japanese intellectuals to clarify their position about war, violence, and peace. At the end of the 1950s, an awareness that Japan had been able to modernize its economy and society in a matter of a few decades and had entered a phase of Westernization was felt by many intellectuals. The following decades were characterized by a turn to economy. After a period of social conflict and agitation in the universities, Japan emerged as a model of economic success. Democratic Japan had become one of the strongest economies in the world and Japanese society was the focus of the attention of Western and other Asian countries. However, many intellectuals expressed their doubts that the economic miracle has been matched with a parallel cultural development. Japan had become rich and powerful but with what kind of soul?

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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