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The ontological co-emergence of 'self and other' in Japanese philosophy

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The coupling of 'self and other' as well as the issues regarding intersubjectivity have been central topics in modern Japanese philosophy. The dominant views are critical of the Cartesian formulation (pure, disembodied subjectivity), but the Japanese philosophers drew their conclusions also based on their own insights into Japanese culture and language. In this paper I would like to explore this theme in two of the leading modern Japanese philosophers - Kitaro Nishida (1870-1945) and Tetsuro Watsuji (1889-1960). I do not make a causal claim that Japanese culture or language was responsible for these thinkers' philosophy, although without a doubt they were strong influences. The point rather is to show an interesting convergence of concerns regarding the fundamental nature of the relation between the self and others across different cultures and intellectual traditions, and to clarify further the ontological structure of the self-other relation. After the examination, the thesis I would like to defend here is the following: Intersubjectivity is indeed a condition, rather than an accident, of the structure of lived experiences as such (not 'consciousness') but this relation also requires at the same time the recognition that the Other must remain a true negation-in-relation to the self. Let me first turn to Watsuji, although chronologically he was 20 years junior and was a student of Nishida, since Watsuji's phenomenology deals more directly with the topic of intersubjectivity. I will then turn to Nishida's broader ontological considerations.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Philosophy Department, University of San Francisco, 2130 Fulton St., San Francisco, CA 94117, USA.

Publication date: 2001-05-01

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