Miura Baien (1723–1789)

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Miura Baien, a Japanese Confucianist who in the era of Tokugawa rule most closely approached Western philosophy, was born in Ōita prefecture on the island of Kyūshū. After the usual training in Chinese classics, Miura went to Nagasaki and learned astronomy, physics, medicine, and economics and developed a great admiration for Western experimental methods. This explains in part his rationalism in opposition to the general reliance on the authority of the classics. He devoted his life to scholarship, refusing several offers to serve feudal lords. To help the poor he organized a relief society based on communal principles. Miura's encyclopedic knowledge also included economics. In Kagen (The origin of price) he discussed currency like his contemporary Adam Smith. Miura wrote "if bad money finds wide circulation, good money will go into hiding," a statement similar, in words at least, to Gresham's law.

Miura's main philosophical works are three: Gengo (Abstruse words), an exposition of logic; Zeigo (Superfluous words), an exposition of the philosophy of nature; and Kango (Presumptuous words), an exposition of ethics. Gengo is highly esteemed as original because in it he expounds his ideas of jori, or the logic of "things" (an abstract concept covering everything). This logic is based not on ancient authority but on rational or experimental grounds. Miura built his logic according to the laws of nature and things. In these he saw a unity and order of antithetic natural elements. He called his dialectic hankan gōitchi, or "synthesis of the contraries." This dialectic is both a logical device and the inner reality of things. Things, which are always in the process of becoming, pass from unity to multiplicity and back again, through antithesis and synthesis. His merits as the forerunner of modern trends in science and philosophy notwithstanding, Miura had rather staid political and theological ideas. His criticism of Christianity, in Samidare-shō, focuses on the idea that a foreign religion that puts God before devotion to one's lord and one's father cannot be tolerated.

See also Chinese Philosophy; Japanese Philosophy; Nature, Philosophical Ideas of; Philosophy of Economics; Smith, Adam.


Miura's works are available in Japanese in Baien zenshū (The collected works of Miura Baien), 2 vols. (Tokyo, 1912). See also G. K. Piovesana, "Miura Baien, and His Dialectical and Political Ideas," in Monumenta Nipponica 20 (1965): 389443, which contains a translation of Miura's letter "Answer to Taga Bokkyō." See also W. T. de Bary, Ryusaku Tsunoda, and Donald Keene, eds., Sources of Japanese Tradition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), pp. 489497; N. S. Smith, "An Introduction to Some Japanese Economic Writings of the 18th Century," in Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, 2nd series, 11 (1934): 8088; and L. Hurvitz, "The Samidareshō, " in Monumenta Nipponica 8 (1953): 289326; 9 (1953): 330356.

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