Author: Nicole Bea (Independent researcher)
Nishida is the founder of the Kyoto School of Philosophy. The school includes three generations of thinkers who all put nothingness, or emptiness, at the core of their philosophy. Though not well known in the West, Nishida is regarded as Japan’s first and greatest modern philosopher. His philosophy is not simply non-Western in the sense that Confucius’ or Dogen’s philosophies could be said to be. Rather, he is a modern thinker who has reformulated Japanese Zen philosophy using the language of Western philosophy.
Born in 1870, as Japan was opening up to Western culture in the Meiji Era, Nishida Kitaro received an education blending East and West, combining early tutoring in the Chinese classics and a serious Zen practice with an interest in mathematics and logic and a passion for Western philosophy. He was convinced that it was possible to articulate the East Asian notion of nothingness as the ground of reality in the language of Western philosophy, even though that language had been developed to elucidate an understanding of ultimate reality as being. As a starting point for his first book, An Inquiry into the Good, Nishida borrowed William James’s concept of “pure experience” to access reality behind the layer of concepts carved out by the mind to give it meaning, and he seems to have regarded pure experience as equivalent to the Zen state of no-mind.
Nishida Kitaro, Last Writings – Nothingness and the Religious Worldview. Translated by David A. Dilworth. University of Hawaii Press, 1987. This is Nishida’s last book where he gives an overview of his life’s work and sums up his thought. Includes an introduction and a postscript by the translator. Pages 48-54 and 64-69 could be used as texts to introduce self-contradictory identity.
Secondary Sources – Online
“Nishida Kitaro,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Secondary Sources – Books and Articles
Michiko Yusa, Zen & Philosophy, An Intellectual Biography of Nishida Kitaro. University of Hawaii Press, 2002. Outstanding biography blending life events and evolution of Nishida’s thought based on Nishida’s diaries. Includes short texts by Nishida.
Robert E. Carter, The Nothingness Beyond God. Paragon House Publishers, 2nd Revised edition, 1998. Insightful study of Nishida’s thought.
James W. Heisig, Philosophers of Nothingness – An Essay on the Kyoto School University of Hawai’i Press, 1996. Includes studies of Nishida Kitaro, Tanabe Hajime and Nishitani Keiji, the best known members of the Kyoto School, by the long-time director of the Nanzan Library of Asian Religion and Culture.
Gereon Kopf, Beyond Personal Identity: Dōgen, Nishida, and a Phenomenology of No-Self. Richmond: Curzon, 2001.
Robert Wilkinson, Nishida and Western Philosophy. Farnham, England: Ashgate, 2009.
Tanabe Hajime, Nishitani Keiji, and the later Martin Heidegger. Tanabe and Nishitani are Nishida’s best known successors in the Kyoto School.
With regard to Heidegger, though neither was influenced by the other, both might be seen as seeking a standpoint, or form of thinking, that goes beyond the subject-object distinction to grasp a more basic and encompassing level of reality.