Who is Kitaro Nishida?

Who is Kitaro Nishida?

June 25, 2021 Off By Felso

Kitaro Nishida was a Japanese philosopher who lived from June 17, 1870 to June 7, 1945.

He pioneered efforts to fuse the spiritual tradition of the East with Western philosophy.

Nishida, who received training on traditional Chinese philosophy from a Confucian teacher in her childhood, also took mathematics lessons from Hoco Takiyoshi. The fact that his education was based on Chinese culture played an important role in the formation of his personality and being influenced by Confucianism throughout his life.

Having established important friendships since his childhood, Nishida started teaching at a secondary school after graduating from the philosophy department of Tokyo University (1895). The following year, he was appointed to the Fourth College in Kanazawa, and two years later to the Yamaguchi College in Yamaguchi. Between 1899 and 1909, he taught psychology, logic, ethics and German at the Fourth High School, where he returned as a professor. During this period, he was also interested in Zen meditation practices and managed to make his name known as an original thinker of the Japanese philosophical world with his views in his work called Zen No Kenkyu (1911; Investigation of the Good).

Nishida, who was appointed professor of ethics at Kyoto Imperial University in 1909 after a professorship at Gakushuin University in Tokyo, became a professor of philosophy of religion in 1913. His philosophical views, which can be defined as the “philosophy of the ropos (place) of nothingness”, also matured in this period. In his last years at the university, he dealt with philosophical problems in more depth and tried to explain concrete facts with the logic he developed. He argued that the correct view of reality, which overcomes the duality of objectivity and subjectivity (mind and its objects) in the topos of nothingness, is of great importance for comprehending “historical reality in the historical world”. He further developed his views on absolute nothingness in his post-retirement Tetsugakuron bunfu (Philosophical Essays, 7 volumes).

Nishida’s views were attacked by nationalists and militarists during the Second World War, on the grounds that they were based on Western philosophy. In the following years, although it was criticized by Marxist and rationalist thinkers for their metaphysical approaches, such criticisms decreased over time as they could not find solid foundations. The philosophical criticisms of Takahashi Satomi and Tanabe Hacime are of greater importance.

While Nishida was developing his philosophical views, he also benefited significantly from the philosophy and psychology views of William James, as well as the Zen practices that he pursued intensively for a long time. He interpreted his own basic intuitions philosophically, using psychology concepts from James. In the first chapter of Zen no kenkyu, he tried to clarify the concept of “pure experience”, arguing that “pure experience” denotes “immediate” experience in which there is no thought element. He added his own religious experiences based on Zen education to this concept he developed. Since this concept excludes the duality of subject and object, it completely excludes the separation of whole and part. The entire universe is crystallized in one’s being. The whole being of the person becomes transparent in his actions. It means “to know in relation to events”. The themes such as the depth of reality, the person’s direct relationship with reality, and the dynamic system that develops itself within the creative consciousness flow form the basic elements of Nishida’s philosophy.

According to Nishida, judgment is formed by the analysis of the intuitive whole. For example, the judgment that a horse is running derives from the immediate experience of a running horse. The correctness of a judgment depends on the reality of the underlying intuitive totality in which that judgment is formed through the duality of subject and object. A judgment can be verified by referring to the intuition from which it originates through its duality, because here intuition is a self-forming whole like the “concept” of Hegel. Nishida uses the phrase “all reality is intuition” or “all reality is immediate consciousness”, similar to Hegel’s propositions “everything is concept” or “everything is judgment”. Because, according to him, “consciousness is the only reality.” In the second phase of Nishida’s philosophical development, he was influenced by the French philosopher Henri Bergson and tried to integrate his views with the Neo-Kantian views that were influential in Japan at that time. In his work Cikaku ni okeru Çokkan to hansei (1917; Intuition and Reflections on Self-Knowledge), he did not change his basic views, but expressed the concept of pure experience differently. Under the influence of Neo-Kantianism, he adopted a purely logical approach, purging his views from psychological terms. At the dead end he finally reached, he turned to mysticism after logic was insufficient. Thus, he tried to explain the concept of “self”, which he defined as the unity of thought and intuition, on a mystical basis.

In the third phase of his philosophical development, he reversed his previous approach. In his book, Hataraku mono kara miru mono e (1927; From the Acting Self to the Seeing Self), he broke completely with transcendental idealism and took the “I” as his point of departure.