Wednesday’s Discussions

Wednesday Notes



–       there isn’t really a sense of “ego” as a monadic entity in historical Japanese culture; more a sense of how one is located in different contexts – a contextual notion of self

–       there is a notion of a distinctness of being (i.e. identity), but this is not the same as ego in the strong Western sense

–       8th – 10th c. stress on emptiness or not-self in Japan after Buddhism arrives

–       *goal is to reach an “unself” – can’t be taught, quest for a “great nothingness”

–       selfhood is primarily a matter of being part of a shifting set of larger entities

–       Japan is historically a hybrid culture, and for selfhood it mixes the Indian (source of Buddhism; atman – which Buddhism opposed as anatman ); Chinese notion of self

–       self is finally imbricated with nature and an untranslatable “beyond” – its in-betweenness

–       Watsuji in 1930s – very fertile ideas on self got trapped in militarist/nationalist ideology – as opposed to imbrication with nature and society

–       other cultures (Russian, Welsh) have similarly attenuated notions of selfhood and possession

–       a new logology is possible when we de-hierarchize languages and abandon the historical authority of ur-languages and the Indo-European

–       raises possibility of crowdsourced translation in the complex transmission of religious terms from Sanskrit to Chinese to Japanese – it was a group activity, whereas now it is seen as a solitary one

–       how far can we push the connection between linguistic structures that seem to hedge strong subjectivity assertions and the culture itself? What (if anything) do they mean as structures (regardless of content)?




–       Russian distinction of istina vs. pravda

–       pravda is now used a lot for “truth” in the Bible, whereas istina would have been used in the past

–       pravda is “truth” in the synoptic gospels; istina in John

–       *other Western languages usually only have one term for truth

–       aletheia in Greek – an accurate view of reality, what one does not forget (lethein)

–       istina has roots in true in a spiritual, divinely-authorized ontological sense (philosophical category) – cannot be negated; pravda is truth in the sense of reflective of reality (with an association with justice)

–       Buddhist distinction between ultimate truth and conventional truth

–       typical modern Japanese word for truth was created in Meiji period to reflect arrival of Western systems of thought

–       it is a curious choice to use examples from Russian philosophers in the pravda entry, because it is very belated and not as central as other cultural discourses in Russian

–       in German, there is the Wahrheit and Recht




–       the entry on “res” stresses the primary distinction between things as they exist and things as they are known to human beings – the same word is used for both in Greek and Latin

–       *this introduces a distinction that doesn’t seem as salient in other languages

–       footnote on Arabic suggests that mathematical truth is an Arabic concept that was translated into Western thought rather than being indigenous to it => but this translation has been effaced and mathematical truth is being ascribed to the Greeks in a foundational way




–       article blames the confusion between the events of the past and the narratives that represent them (which are kept separate in some languages) to the Germans (Geschichte)

–       article seems very conventional in its terms – summary of a discipline as it has evolved, but no new intellectual ground is being broken

–       in Japanese, there are lots of different ways to express oral tradition, narrative, and past events – no clear distinction between “history” and “story”




–       an argument has been made that there were forms of secularism in Japanese culture prior to the arrival of Western thought

–       East Asian religion has a much deeper foundation of secularism, prior to the religious vs. secular distinction that is associated with the West

–       article is very conventional

–       root is Latin seculum (“world”; “worldly life”)

–       *it comes to imply modernization => but is there a causal relationship? Do we need modernity to have secularization or vice versa? Or are they reciprocally related?

–       we need to resist the idea that religion (at its purest) is private

–       in Middle Ages, it is more the distinction between being cloistered and in the world, NOT religious vs. worldly; regular clergy would be secular because they are not cloistered

–       James argues for a radically secular form of Buddhism in late 19th c. modernizing Buddhist thinkers in Japan

–       distinction of secular vs. religious in its modern sense doesn’t really fit

–       Japanese thinkers borrowed Western concepts but in a context where transcendental thinking isn’t as salient as it was in the West

–       in Russian, “secularism” is rendered as “atheism” . . .


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