Review of Tanabe Hajime’s ‘Philosophy

Review of Tanabe Hajime’s ‘Philosophy as Metanoetics’ .



Paul Harrison (2018/19_)   ポール・ハリソン 。歩流・梁尊


Originally published in collected works in 1963-1964; this second edition is a moment of celebration for the transmission and understanding of the deep wealth of Japanese philosophy for an English speaking readership. This is because it represents the moment when a talented student took bold steps beyond his masters work. To do this philosopher Hajime Tanabe created his own word from the verbs for ‘confession’ and ‘repent’ and the suffix ‘way’ or ‘path’. The word Zangēdou ‘metanoetics’ (Μετάνόητική Metánóitikí) is comprised of a self awakening, a repentance and reflection (μετάνοια metánoia), and also a self conscious transcending of intuition and contemplation (μετάνόησις metánóisis). There are few books that can lay claim to embodying the ethos of the Kyoto school but this text is certainly one of them and one should keep in mind this translation is a small section of the original Japanese volumes. Even so the gateway it provides is invaluable.

原因の論文集(ろんぶんしゅう)1963ー1964年で、この二回一版は英語の読者のために厚い日本の哲学を祝う時です。だからこそ天才的(てんさいてき)学生は先生の仕事を思う切って優れました。哲学者、田辺・元さん奥伝(おくでん)のワードを作ったから、単語達で懺(ザン)と悔(ゲ)と接尾詞(せつびし)で道にくれました。懺悔道は「metanoetics メターノエチック」見性(けんしょう)と懺と反省(はんせい)しても、直感(ちょっかん)と感想を超越(ちょうえつ)します。少ないの本は京都大学のエートス(精神(せいしん))を具象(ぐしょう)出来るけど、このテクストが一つです。この翻訳は日本の原因(げんいん)のちさい部分です。しかし、門口(かどぐち)かゲートウェイが値千金(あたいせんきん)です。

Zangēdou is a mode of religious and philosophical thinking that aims to overcome the ambiguities and contingent truths of rational German Idealism, and Existentialism. Tanabe’s aim is to show how the limits innate to reason allow us to overcome the dilemma of Kantian ‘radical evil’: how humans are evil because of their free choice and this culminates in an understanding of pure faith ( gyō-shin-shō, ‘action-faith-witness’). Tanabe acknowledges Immanuel Kant’s autonomy of reason but with reason’s power being located in its presence in a world outside and other to us this reason is always negated (in itself and by other reasons). This negation is understood and inherited from Tanabe’s master Nishida Kitaro and it is called ‘absolute nothingness’. Tanabe took this understanding and enriches the process by which a person may appreciate their limitations, our rationality, and how through being conscious we arrive at a subject-less faith. Let us describe the process in the order it appears in the book. Tanabe’s intellectual achievement begins in earnest by referencing how the Buddhist ‘Pure Land’ Shin Sect (Jōdo Shin-shū) as it is taught in the writings of Buddhist thinker Shinran first enabled Tanabe to understand a path away from Jiriki (self-power, one’s rationality/irrationality) to Tariki (other-power). This should be understood in terms of an experience of conversion, transformation, and resurrection.


 Tanabe uses these Buddhist insights to make clear distinctions that support the movement and logic of this philosophy. In this Buddhist practice you have the direction of ‘going toward’ the pure land ōsō, and then returning back to this world gensō, and this is where the crux of Tanabe’s understanding of faith resides. Tanabe’s process is as follows: through what he calls ‘Absolute Critique’ where Kant and Hegel’s opposing thoughts on reason are read in terms of the finite self and the absolute knowledge (we are both able and unable to know that time/history continues towards and halts at an end). Absolute Critique is grounded in Zen insights that being exists now and the human self is nothing in relation to this, and so in Tanabe’s view Kant’s critique of reason shows the Self as rationally destructive, then in Hegel, through negation (Other-power) the Self re-constitutes itself. In Tanabe’s own words, ‘But absolute critique renders reason capable of being re-stored to “emptied being” (kū-u), insofar as  it is thereby transformed into a mediatory moment of transrational absolute nothingness and thus allowed to exist as transitory “being as upāya.” This process is referred to as ‘Absolute Mediation’ resulting in existing purely in this Zen mode of now; upāya can be translated as ‘skillful means’ and Tanabe is certainly using the term’s Buddhist meaning of gaining Enlightenment within the practitioners natural capacities.

たなべさんは仏教書と哲学の論理と動くが明確(めいかく)の区別(くべつ)を作っても支援(しえん)します。仏教書中には仏界に行くの方向(ほうこう)とこの界に帰って来るから、ここにたなべさんの信念(しんえん)を確信(かくしん)を突(つ)き止(と)めります。たなべさんの方法は「絶対的なクリティーク」でカントさんとヘゲルさんの反対論で有限自我(ゆうげんじか)と絶対知に読めます。私達は時間と歴史が出来ないか出来るので開始(かいし)と終わりも有ります。絶対なクリティークは禅の直感(ちょっかん)で基いて存在をいつもここで、そして比べて人間の自己が本当に無しです。たなべさんの見通し(みとおし)は純粋理性批判(じゅんすいりせいひはん)Kritik der reinen Vernunftが自己を理性的な(りせいてき)荒廃(こうはい)するです。ヘゲルさんの考える事が他力のネゲーションで自己を潤びられます。たなべさんの単語で「絶対評論(〜ひょうろん)は理性が存在の空に返(かえ)させます」。ウパヤ(御方便ごほうべん)の存在は絶対無の変形でミーディーアトーリーなとっさ(咄嗟)から、この方法は絶対中保(ちゅうほ)ですので禅の最頻値(さいひんち)の今しきでいます。御方便、ウパヤはうまいの仕方も翻訳事が出来ます。たなべさんは勿論仏教の意味を使います。

A Western criticism of this text may well attempt to undermine Tanabe’s text by suggesting that it is too close to Hegel’s thinking. However this fails to appreciate both the deep debt that Tanabe acknowledges to Existentialists like: Heidegger, Nietzsche, and Søren Kierkegaard. Next to these thinkers St.Augustine’s thought is shown as having metanoetics because it embraces a return to this world. This hegelian similarity is not an accurate criticism because Tanabe’s  logic makes use of an important duality which keeps negation within a fluctuation, within a choice. This is a Sino- Japanese copulative soku translated as “in” in English. Soku functions  as a pivot which two terms revolve and interchange with each other. So in Hegel you have the an sich (immediate), and the für sich (self-consciousness) through aufhebung (sublation) we arrive at absolute knowledge. But in contrast, Tanabe’s Buddhist soku supports this, ‘Transformation cannot come about apart from its own context. Absolute transformation, absolute nothingness can not exist apart from the transformation among relative beings’. Essentially this two fold mutuality in mediation we see in the leaving and returning to a land: ōsō-qua-gensō and gensō-qua-ōsō.  A criticism of the Buddhist component of Zangēdou is that it places great emphasis on Zen’s relationship to the use of a Koan as nembutsu (recitation to the original Buddha), but the location of this in the text I feel falls short of fully explaining how the Koan helps move from Jiriki/Sunyata (emptiness) to upāya (skillfully enlightened)? Yet, Tanabe sees in Kierkegaard’s either/or his mediation by way of other power Ta-ri-ki.       

ウイスタン(西)は論評(ろんぴょう)はたなべさんの本を掘(ほ)り崩(くず)すようにします。この提案(ていあん)はたなべさんの考え方がヘゲルさんの哲学の隣過ぎです。でも、実存主義の人:ハイデガーさんとニーチェさんとソレン・キーケガードさんから深い恩(おん)を信認(しんにん)しないです。この思想家たちの隣に聖者(せいじゃ)セーント・アーグスティーンも懺悔道が有るのでこの世界に帰って来る事です。このヘゲリアンな類似(るいじ)はたなべさんの論理が大切な二元でネゲーションを増減(ぞうげんする)の選択(せんたく(する))の這裏(しゃり)だけので攻撃(こうげき(する))も無理です。蓮結詞(れんゆっし)は「そく」と英語の翻訳で「in」です。「そく」は二つの初項(しょこう)を回と交換(こうかん)出来るから、「そく」がピボットと漢語(かんご)の単語です。ヘゲルさんのテキストで「an Sich」(直接、ちょくせつ)と「für Sich」(自意識、じいしき)ですので、そして「aufhebung」(止揚、しよう)へ絶対知を得(え)ます。比べてのでたなべさんの仏教の「そく」は変形(へんけい)がいつも(自己反応生物質、じこはんおうせいぶつしつ)言及(げんきゅう)を支持(しじ)します。

By fully repenting toward the power of otherness this naturally leads to a path where the limitations of  being in this world are overcome, and a reader may appreciate the extent to which the future of philosophy may be found in the union of Japanese Buddhism and German Idealism: a way now formalized under the name of Metanoetics. This edition features an afterword by Takeshi Morisato that really elaborates on who this Japanese philosopher was including: his thoughts on translation, and relationships with his master Nishida and wife Chiyo. These pages only add to the growing interest in Hajime and his very unique pursuit of truth.


Paul Harrison (b. 1989 United Kingdom) is a graduate of Sheffield Hallam University (2011), and the Institute of Philosophy, KU Leuven University (2018). Current research is focused on the political aesthetics of language and animation, and how these can be understood in different cultural and philosophical settings.


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