Selected Bibiliography and Overview of Japanese Philosophy by reference to major Japanese Anthologies of Traditional and Modern Japanese Thought / Philosophy, listing a wide range of Japanese philosophers and thinkers from ancient times to the present.
To understand the political theory—and especially its alleged modernity—of Ogy Sorai, one of the most important philosophers of Tokugawa Japan, we need to understand the pivotal role that heaven, gods and spirits play in this theory. This is no easy task. This article will start with an analysis of the reasons of this difficulty: the numerous tensions and contradictions found in Sorai's remarks on the subject. Refusing to ignore one side of the story, refusing (...) also to reach too quickly a verdict of inconsistency, it also questions the rare attempt at a unified interpretation undertaken by Maruyama Masao. The article suggests that the solution is to understand that Sorai needs to speak from two different perspectives on the Way: the external perspective of the sages who grasp the relationships between the Way and the natural world as purveyor of the raw materials the Way is made of, and the internal perspective of commoners who must accept everything that is in a Way. This permits us to rescue the positivist interpretation of Sorai advanced by Maruyama and much criticized in recent years. (shrink)
My purpose has been more negative than positive. That is, I have challenged the view that Sorai understoodtian as an intentional agent. At minimum, Soraiâs philosophical views do not depend upon such a conception oftian, and he refrains from characterizingtian in such terms when he discusses the concept oftian directly. However, I do not claim to have proven that Soraiâs view oftian was completely naturalistic, or even that Sorai did notâat some levelâbelieve thattian had intentions. I have, I hope, shown (...) thatthe case that Sorai viewedtian as intentional has not been convincingly made. Further, something closer to a dynamic and indeterminate naturalistic view is a reasonable alternative. On my reading, Sorai steers a course between the Song Confucian view oftian as static and knowable (a view that he explicitly rejects) and a view oftian as intentional (a view he never unequivocally expresses)âindeed, he rejects the idea of personifyingtian. When Sorai speaks of thexin or mind of tian, he is best understood as employing a metaphor that implies complexity, mystery, activity, and perhaps moral structure, but not intentionality in the normal sense. The complexity, indeterminacy, and dynamism oftian, as these are expressed in Soraiâs writings, do not necessarily imply willful intent on the part oftian, for they are all consistent with the Xunzian interpretation oftian as a natural process, even iftianâs regularities have a moral character. (shrink)
While Sorai's intellectual debt to Xunzi is often mentioned, the similarities between their views have not often been explored at length in English2.2 Further, while Maruyama Masao does compare the two thinkers in his influential monograph Studies in the Intellectual History of Tokugawa Japan, he stresses (apparent) differences between Xunzi and Sorai, in order to hail Sorai's uniqueness. Without meaning to take anything away from Sorai as an independent thinker, I maintain that with regard to precisely those views for which (...) Sorai is lauded as unique - that dao is a product of real people that evolved over time and continues to evolve - his position was also held by Xunzi. In addition, there is a related yet rarely highlighted aspect of Xunzi's thought that is also acknowledged by Sorai. That is, virtues acquired by participating in the way in turn qualify one to contribute to its continuous open-ended development. (shrink)