Events Tetsugaku: Wissenschaft or Michi

November 9th, 2022. 09:00 JST

Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture (hybrid)

Speakers Thomas P. Kasulis

Tetsugaku: Wissenschaft or Michi
9 November 2022

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Thomas P. Kasulis
University Distinguished Scholar, Emeritus
The Ohio State University, USA
 I will argue that Western philosophy entered Japan full force in the nineteenth century when the idea of philosophy was in the throes of redefining its own mission and identity in the European academy. As a result, the Japanese notion of tetsugaku, as a word purportedly translating the Western idea of “philosophy,” did not reflect a full picture of what philosophy had been in the West nor even all the possibilities of what it could be. This phenomenon hampered Japanese philosophers from exploring all the possible fruitful connections between the Western tradition of philosophy and traditions found in premodern Japan. 
When defined too narrowly as a Wissenschaft type of academic discipline, philosophy is at risk of losing its Way and becomes a field limited to detached observers who gather and analyze facts about reality. That deviates from the philosopher’s original mission of engaging the world and each other in the transformative pursuit of loving wisdom, knowing oneself, and adding value to the world. Both the ancient Greek schools of philosophia and the Asian traditions of the Way (michi, dao, marga) shared that common purpose of engagement. Yet, by replacing engagement with detachment, philosophy may become disembodied, ahistorical, and acultural. Even worse, the act of philosophizing (a koto 事) may become reified into a fixed thing (a mono 物) for philosophers to study. Then it will lose its sense of being a paradigm embodied and transmitted by masters to inspire the innovations and insights of apprentice philosophers. In the academic curriculum, philosophy can even become what students and scholars study instead of how they learn to philosophize. 

I will sketch how philosophy’s evolution as a discipline in the modern university—both Western and Japanese—has put it at risk of losing its Way and speculates on how it might recapture some of its lost elements: philosophizing as paradigmatic praxis learned by emulating masters; the symbiosis of bodymind or affective intellect through imagination; employing language to open us to reality rather than pin it down for our scrutiny and use. By drawing on ideas from both traditional Japanese and western philosophy, the hope is that we can reconstrue philosophizing again as a visionary and transformative praxis that engages reality and works within it instead of apart from it. The philosopher’s product could then more resemble an artistic masterwork that enhances the world instead of a denatured description of what already is. Perhaps then philosophy can more directly engage today’s global challenges in relation to ecology, education, economic justice, and human flourishing.