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Engaging Japanese Philosophy: A Short History
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746pp. December 2017
Engaging Japanese Philosophy: A Short History
Author: Kasulis, Thomas P.;
Philosophy challenges our assumptions—especially when it comes to us from another culture. In exploring Japanese philosophy, a dependable guide is essential. The present volume, written by a renowned authority on the subject, offers readers a historical survey of Japanese thought that is both comprehensive and comprehensible.

Adhering to the Japanese philosophical tradition of highlighting engagement over detachment, Thomas Kasulis invites us to think with, as well as about, the Japanese masters by offering ample examples, innovative analogies, thought experiments, and jargon-free explanations. He assumes little previous knowledge and addresses themes—aesthetics, ethics, the samurai code, politics, among others—not in a vacuum but within the conditions of Japan’s cultural and intellectual history. For readers new to Japanese studies, he provides a simplified guide to pronouncing Japanese and a separate discussion of the language and how its syntax, orthography, and linguistic layers can serve the philosophical purposes of a skilled writer and subtle thinker. For those familiar with the Japanese cultural tradition but less so with philosophy, Kasulis clarifies philosophical expressions and problems, Western as well as Japanese, as they arise.

Half of the book’s chapters are devoted to seven major thinkers who collectively represent the full range of Japan’s historical epochs and philosophical traditions: Kūkai, Shinran, Dōgen, Ogyū Sorai, Motoori Norinaga, Nishida Kitarō, and Watsuji Tetsurō. Nuanced details and analyses enable an engaged understanding of Japanese Buddhism, Confucianism, Shintō, and modern academic philosophy. Other chapters supply social and cultural background, including brief discussions of nearly a hundred other philosophical writers. For additional information, cross references to material in the companion volume Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook are included. In his closing chapter Kasulis reflects on lessons from Japanese philosophy that enhance our understanding of philosophy itself. He reminds us that philosophy in its original sense means loving wisdom, not studying ideas. In that regard, a renewed appreciation of engaged knowing can play a critical role in the revitalization of philosophy in the West as well as the East.

30 b&w illustrations


Nanzan Library of Asian Religion and Culture

"Thomas P. Kasulis is a philosopher who has been wanting to understand everything like Kūkai, the founder of Japanese esoteric Buddhism, by engaging with Japanese philosophy. His most recent book, Engaging Japanese Philosophy: A Short History, is not just the outcome of his life-long philosophical endeavor, but his concrete way of walking through the history of Japanese philosophy. This book is not only addressed to English-speaking readers, but also to an audience of Japanese-speaking readers who find themselves in a postwar situation intellectually and culturally colonized by a western philosophical framework.

"Suppose a big bell is suspended in front of you. The sound of a bell changes according to the way you strike it. The type of sound you hear depends on how you strike it. Kasulis is an excellent philosopher whose ability to convey meaning is akin to a musician’s skillful handling of wooden mallets. He provides us with an opportunity to hear the subtle timbres of Japanese philosophy. Through this philosophical performance, we readers are invited to transform our ways of hearing and thinking. This is nothing less than the activity of engaging Japanese philosophy.

"Kasulis’ study focuses on seven main protagonists in Japanese philosophy: Kūkai, Shinran, Dōgen, Ogyū Sorai, Motoori Norinaga, Nishida Kitarō, and Watsuji Tetsurō. The problematics they raise are mutually intertwined and become an embellished textile. The core problematic is language. Japanese philosophy has been facing the languages of other civilizations, such as Chinese, Sanskrit, and western languages, themselves presupposing a certain universality. Kasulis carefully reads how Japanese philosophers elaborated indigenous concepts and contributed to the universal along with the languages of others. This must be one of the most highlighted parts of this book.

"As readers, we feel that every step along this short history is assured by his engaged and considerate readings. Kasulis once wrote 'A classic is a work whose last chapter is always written by its readers.' After walking through the history of Japanese philosophy with him, we become the next to start writing a final chapter." —Takahiro Nakajima, "The Last Chapter of Classics in Japanese Philosophy"

Author: Kasulis, Thomas P.;
Thomas P. Kasulis is University Distinguished Scholar and Professor Emeritus in Comparative Studies at the Ohio State University, where he has taught in the departments of comparative studies, philosophy, and East Asian studies.