Nishida Kitaro


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20th-century Japanese zen philosopher and founder of the Kyoto school. During his early life he immersed himself in German language studies and, through that, the study of European philosophy. In particular, he studied the phenomenology of Brentano and Husserl, but had a broad familiarity with the entire tradition of German philosophy from Kant to Heidegger. In addition, he spent time studying European mystical writings from Pseudo-Dionysius to Eckhart and Nicholas of Cusa. Kitarō first made a name for himself while teaching at Imperial University, when he published his path-breaking book, An Inquiry Into the Good (1911). In this work, he drew together ideas from both Zen and German phenomenology. Beginning from ‘pure experience’, contingent, finite human beings discover within themselves a bottomless reality that connects to the absolute and infinite, which is both God and emptiness (śūnyatā), both speaking and silent. This connection of the human with the divine, the finite with the infinite, does not eventuate in one subsuming the other or in the indiscriminate mixture of the two or in the relativization of the one to the other; rather both aspects of human life stand in both differentiated contradiction and undifferentiated unity. This ‘identity of contradictories’ is both inconceivable and the basis for all human aspiration. All contradictories meet in the point of absolute ‘nothingness’ (a concept related to the Buddhist idea of emptiness), which is nothing in itself but is the font from which all things arise in their multiplicity and contrariety. Nishida extended these ideas and linked them more explicitly to religious themes in later works such as Intuition and Reflection in Self-Consciousness (1917), Art and Morality (1923), and Fundamental Problems of Philosophy (1933).

Subjects: Buddhism.

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