Volume 1, Issue 1, 2013
John C. Maraldo
Japanese Philosophy as a Lens on Greco-European Thought
To answer the question of whether there is such a thing as Japanese philosophy, and what its characteristics might be, scholars have typically used Western philosophy as a measure to examine Japanese texts. This article turns the tables and asks what Western thought looks like from the perspective of Japanese philosophy. It uses Japanese philosophical sources as a lens to bring into sharper focus the qualities and biases of Greek-derived Western philosophy. It first examines questions related to the reputed sole origin and the nature of philosophy in ancient Greece. Using the analyses of Robert Bernasconi, it concludes that this reputation is a bias instilled by philosophers such as Hegel in the modern era. It then uses the scholarship of Pierre Hadot to show that Greek philosophy was not argumentative discourse for its own sake, but a way of life where reason was in the service of spiritual progress. This suggests a definition broad enough to accommodate Asian and other non-Western philosophies. Under the lens of Japanese philosophy, however, Greek-based Western philosophy often displays a double detachment, from everyday life and from embodied existence. In contrast, Japanese Buddhist and Confucian philosophies evince an appreciation of embodied existence in the ordinary world. The article raises several questions for further investigation in the prospect that the lens of Japanese philosophy can refocus the task of philosophizing today.