Saturday, July 12, 2014

529: The Kyoto School

Let me skip a lecture on Buddhism and Confucianism, which came to Japan in the 6th century.

We discussed Confucianism in lecture 485 and onward and Buddhism from lecture 498 and next ones. More interesting is the next subject.

In Japan something has happened, which is unique and unheard of in Chinese, Indian or Islamic philosophy. That is, the way how Japan dealt with Western philosophy.

Japan was closed as an oyster for foreign ships. And these foreign countries didn’t like that. Study for yourself why this was and what the historical situation was between 1800 and 1900..

In 1853 several warships of the U.S. Navy commanded by Commodore Matthew Perry sailed into Edo Bay, carrying a request , in fact  a demand, that Japan open her ports to foreign trading ships.

In 1854 he returned with twice as many ships to ask what the answer was, while giving a sideshow with his flat-trajectory cannons, that could fire explosive shells. He just took out a few buildings. It convinced the  Japanese.

Then in 1856 US Consul Townsend Harris scared the Japanese by abundantly pointing out the aggressive colonialism of France and Great Britain against China in the current Second Opium War (1856–1860), 

suggesting that these countries would not hesitate to go to war against Japan as well, and that the United States offered a peaceful alternative. 

A new Treaty and Japan was open and Western technology and culture were imported with amazing rapidity and thoroughness.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, not only were French positivism and British utilitarianism being received with special enthusiasm, 

but also in the interests of a thorough historical understanding of Western thought, ancient Greek and Roman thought. 

But it was German philosophy that found the most fertile ground for transplantation, from Leibniz and Kant, through German Idealism, to the more recent philosophies of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. 

It is true that Shinto still functions on the everyday level as a vessel for whatever thoughts and feelings the average Japanese may have concerning "the meaning of life," the nature of death and the beyond, and so on.                                          

But the "Kyoto School" philosopher Nishitani Keiji argues in a book on nihilism written in  1949 that the severance from the tradition on the intellectual and existential levels 

has introduced into modern Japanese life a deep seated nihilism that is all the more powerful for remaining mostly unconscious.

The “Kyoto School” was a group of 20th century Japanese thinkers who developed original philosophies based on intellectual and spiritual traditions of East Asia, those of Buddhism in particular, and the methods and content of Western philosophy.

A member of that school, Tanabe, studied with Heidegger in the early 1920s. This is a characteristic quote from him:  

“All science needs to take some entity or other as its object of study. The point of contact is always in being, not in nothing. The discipline that has to do with Nothingness is philosophy”.

Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. 

A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy. 

Mid-20th century  the existentialists helped popularize tenets of nihilism in their attempts to blunt its destructive potential. 

By the end of the century, existential despair as a response to nihilism gave way to an attitude of indifference. Watch Kurosawa’s movies for these themes.

There is  really no equivalent in the West to the shock caused by modernization in Japan. A country with a two-thousand-year-old tradition cuts itself off from the rest of the world for a period of a dozen generations, 

and then is suddenly forced into the wholesale adoption of a totally alien set of values--a process that necessitates in large part a radical break with indigenous traditions.

I am not Japanese, so I can not tell you how these ideas of nothingness and nihilism play a role in Japanese culture today, when it concerns the meaning of life.

The Discussion

[13:21] herman Bergson: Thank you...^_^

[13:21] BoaDaruma Hermine Boa claps
[13:21] Chantal: Thank you Herman
[13:21] Lizzy Pleides: great lecture!
[13:21] Zanicia: Claps
[13:21] Bejiita Imako: hmm talk about transition for sure
[13:22] herman Bergson: thank you...
[13:22] Daruma Hermine Boa: i hope Japanese have more belief today in life^^
[13:22] Chantal: Somehow... this Japanese interest in German philosophy reminded me of WW2...
[13:22] herman Bergson: seems that Shinto rituals are still an important part of Japanese life...
[13:23] herman Bergson: It was in the news today even....
[13:23] ɑsɦℓєɨɢɦ : but how did adapting to western culture actually change the Japanese culture.
[13:23] herman Bergson: There is no relation Chantal...
[13:23] Chantal: oke
[13:23] Bejiita Imako: indeed, it have not disappeared and thats an important thing, big part of Japanese culture
[13:23] Zanicia: I had ver heard of any of that and for the first time ever, have an empathy for the Japs
[13:23] ɑsɦℓєɨɢɦ : i mean we know they are big consumers now just like the rest of us
[13:23] Zanicia: *never
[13:23] Bejiita Imako: the interesting thing is they are once and for all able to let these 2 old and modern coexist and it works well
[13:24] ɑsɦℓєɨɢɦ : but beyond that.. how was the culture affected?
[13:24] herman Bergson: These ideas of nothingness are also known in buddhism...
[13:24] ɑsɦℓєɨɢɦ : seems like we know they still follow shintoist set of beliefs
[13:24] Bejiita Imako: once again we see this in manga and anime where high tech is mixed with ninjas ans samurai and other similar things from the past
[13:24] ɑsɦℓєɨɢɦ : but what changed?
[13:24] Bejiita Imako: and it works great
[13:24] herman Bergson: As I said....there is a beautiful movie of Kurosawa...
[13:25] herman Bergson: Ikiru from 1952.....
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:25] herman Bergson: Ikiru is the verb "to live"
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:25] herman Bergson: try to find that movie....
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: ok
[13:25] herman Bergson: Rashomon 1950 is another one from him
[13:25] Zanicia: I certainly will
[13:26] Chantal: (sorry to say but needs to leave, wishes everyone a good end of the class)
[13:26] Bejiita Imako: hehe found an entire collection over 32 gb
[13:26] herman Bergson: Japanese artists were strongly interested in existentialist themes
[13:26] Bejiita Imako: with kurosawa
[13:26] Zanicia: Bye Chantal
[13:26] Bejiita Imako: seen some vilm of him before but not many
[13:26] Daruma Hermine Boa: expensive films from kurosawa i see^^
[13:26] ɑsɦℓєɨɢɦ : bye chantal
[13:26] Bejiita Imako: bye chantal
[13:27] herman Bergson: But as I said in the beginning...
[13:27] Daruma Hermine Boa: nini chantal
[13:27] herman Bergson: would have been interesting if  a Japanese person would have been present today in the audience
[13:27] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:27] Daruma Hermine Boa: as always, when u need one^^
[13:27] Bejiita Imako whispers:
[13:28] herman Bergson: one thing that remained too it the respect for the superior....
[13:28] herman Bergson: Japanese language is very difficult in that respect for us to learn.....
[13:28] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:28] herman Bergson: You may speak fluent Japanese....grammatically correct....
[13:29] Bejiita Imako: the writing is the hardest
[13:29] Bejiita Imako: and 3 alphabets on that
[13:29] Bejiita Imako: Hiragana Katakana and Kanji
[13:29] Zanicia: oh my!!!!!
[13:29] herman Bergson: but you have to 'feel" the right relation with the person you are talking to to use the right verb endings etc...
[13:30] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:30] herman Bergson: The writing isn’t that hard....
[13:30] herman Bergson: not harder than Chinese....
[13:30] herman Bergson: the katakana is mainly used to transcribe foreign words ...
[13:30] Bejiita Imako: the similarity of some words are tricky
[13:30] Bejiita Imako: a good example is kawai = cute and kowai = scary
[13:31] Bejiita Imako: as made for misunderstandings
[13:31] Bejiita Imako: lol
[13:31] herman Bergson: I studied Japanese for about tne years.....could read and write it....
[13:31] Bejiita Imako: i know some expressions
[13:31] herman Bergson: but unfortunately that was about 20 years ago :-)
[13:31] ɑsɦℓєɨɢɦ : english is supposed to be much more difficult as a second language
[13:31] Bejiita Imako: also i think it sounds cool
[13:31] Bejiita Imako:
[13:31] Zanicia: Surely it has a lot to do with HOW the words are said. They are very aware of their manners
[13:32] herman Bergson: yes ZANICIA....and for those manners the words have special declinations....and endings
[13:32] Lizzy Pleides: in every language it is the most difficult to talk about abstract themes
[13:32] Bejiita Imako: yes true
[13:32] herman Bergson: to a woman you say it differently than to a you can imagine what mistakes we can make :-)
[13:32] Zanicia: so you could actually offend just by inflection?
[13:33] herman Bergson: Yes you can ZANICIA, definitely
[13:33] Zanicia: ooooh dear
[13:33] Bejiita Imako: to end a name for ex, ending with san mean its an important or high respecter person while chan is used for something cute or to chioldren
[13:33] Bejiita Imako: children
[13:33] Lizzy Pleides: i hope the Japanese are tolerant with strangers
[13:34] herman Bergson: is you say to your superior "so desyoo ne" in stead of "so desu ka"....this might be an example
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:34] herman Bergson: I may be wrong ....
[13:34] herman Bergson: too long ago...
[13:35] herman Bergson: But there was a column in the English Tokyo Newspaper.....all about such issues...
[13:35] herman Bergson: I have aseries of little books...Nihon Go Notes....collections of the columns..
[13:35] herman Bergson: really ...sometimes hilarious...
[13:35] Bejiita Imako: ok
[13:36] herman Bergson: So contrary to the surrounding countries the philosophical landscape in Japan is very different
[13:37] herman Bergson: Philosophy departments teach Continental and Analytical philosophy
[13:37] herman Bergson: I read that f you want to study Buddhist philosophy you are redirected to the department of religious Studies
[13:38] Zanicia: But going back to the awful to go into some other countries waters DEMANDING trade or ELSE!!!!! It's a wonder they have merged such a lot since
[13:38] herman Bergson: Yes....this history is amazing, ZANICIA....
[13:38] Bejiita Imako: that they accepted it but it seems they thought when they saw what the other countries had "This was not so bad after all"
[13:38] herman Bergson: Just the Western arrogance towards such an old culture
[13:39] Bejiita Imako: cause they ve really taken all the things from outside to them and accepted it
[13:39] Zanicia: but they seemed to have lost their identity through it
[13:39] Bejiita Imako: it changed it for sure
[13:39] herman Bergson: That I don't know, but indeed they have lost a lot!
[13:39] herman Bergson: but that i not completely the case...
[13:40] herman Bergson: The Kyoto School combined a lot of their own indigenous philosophy with Western philosophy....
[13:40] herman Bergson: But it ended up in some form of nihilism.....yes
[13:41] Zanicia: but as you said, Herman, it was a tremendous cultural shock
[13:41] herman Bergson: yes...must be....
[13:41] Lizzy Pleides: as it was for many colonies before
[13:41] herman Bergson: but around 1850 the country was one big political mess
[13:41] herman Bergson: so very vulnerable
[13:42] herman Bergson: unable to organize a joined defense against France England or the US
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: can imagine
[13:43] herman Bergson: So.if you ever encounter a Japanese intellectual with a philosophical twist :-)
[13:43] herman Bergson: brinfg him in ^_^
[13:43] Zanicia: hehe
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: ok
[13:44] herman Bergson: I am really curious to know how they see it themselves
[13:44] Zanicia: good point
[13:44] herman Bergson: Yukio Mishima who I mentioned in the first lecture on Japan was such a person......
[13:45] herman Bergson: one who attempted to formulate Japanese identity....
[13:45] herman Bergson: but not everyone was happy with that kind of identity....
[13:46] herman Bergson: Committing seppuku or harakiri isnt popular anymore in Japan
[13:46] herman Bergson: even tho it was Bushido....the way of the samurai
[13:47] herman Bergson: So...
[13:47] herman Bergson: before I commit harakiri...
[13:48] Bejiita Imako: lol
[13:48] herman Bergson: I'd like to thank you all again:-)
[13:48] Lizzy Pleides: please don't!
[13:48] herman Bergson: Class dismissed...
[13:48] Bejiita Imako:
[13:48] Daruma Hermine Boa: ;-) thank u herman
[13:48] Zanicia: Thank you Herman
[13:48] Bejiita Imako: awesome again Herman
[13:48] Lizzy Pleides: Thank you!
[13:48] Bejiita Imako:
[13:48] herman Bergson: thank you bejiita
[13:48] Bejiita Imako: cu soon again all
[13:48] Daruma Hermine Boa: have a nice evening all
[13:49] Bejiita Imako:
[13:49] Bejiita Imako: hugs
[13:49] Zanicia: Bye everyone
[13:49] herman Bergson: Bye ZANICIA
[13:49] Lizzy Pleides: good night everyone

[13:49] herman Bergson: Night Lizzy :-)

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