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Ogyū Sorai (1666–1728)

OGYŪ SORAI
(16661728)

Ogyū Sorai, or Butsu, was a Japanese Confucianist of the kogakuha ("school of ancient learning"), and famous as a political thinker. Ogyū was born in Edo (Tokyo). He was a gifted pupil and soon mastered classical Chinese; the classical style is characteristic of his writings. Proud by nature, Ogyū distinguished himself in the defense of official Zhu Xi Neo-Confucianism in polemics against Itō Jinsai. In 1716, however, his views changed, and in Bendō (Defining the way) and Bemmei (Definitions of terms) he supports most of Itō's ideas. All of Ogyū's other works were inspired by the ancient sages in accord with the maxim "back to antiquity," a maxim applicable to many of his innovations. These innovations were expressed in Taiheisaku (A policy for great peace) and Seidan (Discourses on government). Ogyū's cosmological views differ little from Itō's; Ogyū, too, rejects the dichotomy of ri, the principle, and ki, the material energy.

Ogyū holds a positivist and historicist conception of the Way (dō ); it became for him the factual order of society, with its positive laws and institutions. He rightly points out how Confucius stressed the societal implications of the Way. Ogyū goes much further, excluding personal ethics until only "rites," that is, propriety and social behavior, combined with obedience to the government, remain. In this sense he comes very close to the Chinese Legalists in utilitarian ethics. Although he was apparently inspired by Xunzi c. 295c. 238 BCE), he does not mention the name. For Ogyū, human nature cannot be much corrected; in this only social institutions are of any use. The sole meaning of "humaneness" is the giving of peace and prosperity to the people, and "virtue" is the virtue of the ruler in discerning able men. His political and economic ideas have little in common with Confucian moralizing. Government is a practical technique (jutsu ), and the economy is not based on thrift but on sound social policies. He was against the idea of fanatic loyalty to the lord and advocated some social mobility, believing that the lower samurai but not the common people should be allowed to improve their status.

Ogyū's views of history are distinguished by the same practical approach. The founder of a dynasty plays a great role because of the public institutions he has to establish, yet rulers often fall because of the difficulty of preventing economic decline. Living under the Tokugawa shogunate, Ogyū rejected even the nominal sovereignty of the emperor (an opinion his best pupil, Dazai Shundai [16801747], concurred in). Shintoism for Ogyū was an invention of Yoshida Kanetomo (14351511). Ogyū's stand in favor of the Tokugawa government and his rejection of Shintoism explain why he was not repressed for his daring ideas and anti-Zhu Xi doctrine.

See also Chinese Philosophy; Itō Jinsai; Japanese Philosophy; Xunzi; Zhu Xi (Chu Hsi).

Bibliography

The principal works of Ogyū Sorai can be found in several collections. See Nihon rinri ihen (Library on Japanese ethics), edited by Inoue Tetsujirō (Tokyo: Ikuseikai, 1902), Vol. VI, pp. 11203; Nihon keizai taiten (Classics on Japanese economics), edited by Takimoto Seiichi (Tokyo: Shishi Shuppansha, 1928), Vol. IX, pp. 3375; Ogyū Soraishū (Collected works of Ogyū Sorai; Tokyo, 1937).

Two secondary sources in English are J. R. McEvan, The Political Writings of Ogyū Sorai (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1962) and W. T. de Bary, Ryusaku Tsunoda, and Donald Keene, eds., Sources of Japanese Tradition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), pp. 342343, 422433.

Gino K. Piovesana, S.J. (1967)

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Ogyū Sorai

Ogyū Sorai (1666–1728). Japanese Confucian scholar who laid, indirectly, the foundations for the School of National Learning (Kokugaku). When 25, he started to give free lectures in Edo, in front of the temple of Zōjō-jī. Itō Jinsai (1627–1705) had already argued for a return to the classic Confucian sources, in a school known as Kogidō, ‘School for the Study of Ancient Meaning’. Ogyū followed him at first, but concluded that Itō had not gone far enough in making his study of the past serve the needs of society: he was right in criticizing the neo-Confucians, but he had remained, like them, too concerned with individual ethics and self-improvement. In his view, Hsun Tzu was a better guide. Ogyū had a profound effect, because it was realized by his pupils that the antiquity of Japan could equally be studied and established as a court of appeal against the domination of Chinese thought.

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