Volume 1, Issue 1, 2013
Bret W. Davis
Opening Up the West
Toward Dialogue with Japanese Philosophy
This essay aims to help prepare the way for those trained in Western philosophy to enter into dialogue with non-Western traditions of philosophy such as that of Japan. This will be done mainly by means of critical examination of some key instances of the ambivalence—the tension between the openings and closures—toward dialogue with non-Western traditions found throughout the history of Western philosophy. After tracing this ambivalence back to the Greeks, and to the figure of Socrates in particular, the essay focuses in particular on a selection of modern continental philosophers: Hegel, Gadamer, Heidegger, and Derrida. While ambivalences can be found in all four, the order in which they are presented corresponds roughly to the degrees to which they contribute to opening up the West to cross-cultural philosophical dialogue. The positive lesson we glean from an examination of their thought is that hermeneutical and deconstructive reflection on one’s own tradition should accompany any venture into discourse with other ways of thinking and being. The critical point to be made, however, is that the latter venture into dialogue with others should at the same time accompany the former self-reflection. Even Heidegger and Derrida, after all, declined to fully engage in the kind of radical cross-cultural dialogue toward which they occasionally gestured. To begin with, in the opening section of this essay, a contrast will be drawn between the lingering Ameri-Eurocentrism of Western philosophy and the inherently cross-cultural nature of Japanese philosophy. The philosophers associated with the Kyoto School in particular have endeavored to open up philosophical discourse between Eastern and Western traditions. In the second section of this essay, a critical reflection on Karl Löwith’s critique of modern Japanese intellectuals will serve as a pivot, turning our attention back on the ambivalence toward cross-cultural dialogue found in the history of Western philosophy. As will be discussed in the third section, this ambivalence can also be discerned in the recent “hermeneutical turn.” Together with the examinations of Hegel, Gadamer, Heidegger, and Derrida undertaken in the remaining sections of the essay, the purpose of these reflections is to assist in ushering those trained in Western philosophy toward an engagement in cross-cultural philosophical dialogue with traditions such as that of Japan.