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Kyoto School

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-G105-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 29, 2023, from

Article Summary

The Kyoto school of philosophy pivots around three twentieth-century Japanese thinkers who held chairs of philosophy or religion at Kyoto University: Nishida Kitarō (1870–1945), Tanabe Hajime (1885–1962) and Nishitani Keiji (1900–91). Its principal living representatives, who also held chairs at Kyoto until their retirement, are Takeuchi Yoshinori (1913–) and Ueda Shizuteru (1926–). The keynote of the school was struck by Nishida in his attempt, on the one hand, to offer a distinctively Eastern contribution to the Western philosophical tradition by bringing key Buddhist concepts to bear on traditional philosophical questions, and on the other, to enrich Buddhist self-understanding by submitting it to the rigours of European philosophy.

The name ‘Kyoto school’ was coined in 1932 by the Marxist philosopher Tosaka Jun (1900–45) to denounce what he saw as a bourgeois ideology – which he characterized as ‘hermeneutical, transhistorical, formalistic, romantic, and phenomenological’ – that had grown up around Nishida, Tanabe and their immediate disciples at the time. These latter included Miki Kiyoshi (1897–1945), Kosaka Masaaki (1900–69) and Koyama Iwao (1905–93) as well as the young Nishitani. At the time the Japanese state had taken its first definitive steps in the direction of a militaristic nationalism that would involve it in the ‘fifteen-year war’ with Asia and finally the West over the period 1930–45. As the leading philosophical movement in Japan, the Kyoto school was caught up in this history, although there was little unanimity among the responses of the principal figures.

Postwar criticisms and purges of the Japanese intelligentsia attached a certain stigma to the school’s name, but later and more studied examination of those events, as well as the enthusiastic reception of translations of their works into Western languages, has done much to ensure a more balanced appraisal. Today, the philosophy of the Kyoto-school thinkers is recognized as an important contribution to the history of world philosophy whose ‘nationalistic’ elements are best recognized as secondary, or at least as an unnecessary trivialization of its fundamental inspirations.

As a school of thought, the common defining characteristics of the Kyoto school may be seen in an overlap of four nodal concerns: self-awareness, the logic of affirmation-in-negation, absolute nothingness and historicity.

Citing this article:
Heisig, J.W.. Kyoto School, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-G105-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2023 Routledge.

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