Nishi Amane (1829–1897)

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Nishi Amane, the pioneer in bringing Western philosophy to Japan, was born in Tsuwano, Shimane prefecture. After the usual Confucian training he went to Edo (Tokyo) for further studies and was attached to Bansho Torishirabe-sho (Center for the Investigation of Western Books). In 1862 he was sent with other promising Japanese to Holland to study Western law and military science. In Holland his interest in philosophy was reawakened, and with his friend Tsuda Masamichi he became acquainted with the positivism of Auguste Comte, the utilitarianism of J. S. Mill, and Immanuel Kant's On Eternal Peace. He returned to Japan in 1865 and was appointed to the Kaisei School in Edo, where the government of the shogun requested him to translate books on law. After the Meiji restoration, Nishi was put in charge of educational matters for the Ministry of Military Affairs. At this time he also wrote most of his philosophical books. He became a member of the Meirokusha, the group of leading intellectuals of the time, who advocated Western culture and mores. Nishi was several times president of the Tokyo Academy. He was made a baron and was appointed to the upper chamber of the legislature, the House of Peers, in 1890.

Nishi's importance as the "father" of Western philosophy in Japan lies in the new terminology he createdfrom his Japanese term for philosophy, tetsugaku, to his various translationsand in the original works that established a new tradition of speculative thinking. His positivist bent is revealed in Reikon ichigenron (Monism of the soul), one of his earlier works. More famous are his panoramic treatments of Western learning and philosophy in Hyakugaku renkon (Encyclopedia; written in 1874), a kind of philosophical or cultural dictionary, and Haykuichi shinron (A new theory on the many doctrines; written in 1874). In these Nishi prefers Mill's inductive method to Comte's positivism. In 1874 Nishi also wrote Chichi keimō (Logic, an introduction), the first of its genre in Japan. His utilitarian ethics is clearly manifested in "Jinsei sampō-setsu" (The three treasures theory of man's life), which appeared in the Meiroku Journal in 1875. He replaced Confucian ethics with a quest for the three treasures: health, wealth, and knowledge.

As a translator Nishi has to his credit Mill's Utilitarianism and a work titled Mental Philosophy by Joseph Haven, an American philosopher influenced by Scottish realism.

In later life Nishi became more conservative in his view of Western ideas, an attitude consonant with the country's post-1886 reaction against ultra-Westernization. As a director of a teacher's college, Shihan Gakkō, he proposed a combination of East and West in ethics; but in the last analysis he remains an expositor of Western philosophy who never really tried to combine East and West in his thought and writing.

See also Comte, Auguste; Japanese Philosophy; Kant, Immanuel; Mill, John Stuart; Mill's Methods of Induction; Positivism; Utilitarianism.


Nishi's collected works are available in two editions. One is Nishi Amane zenshū (The complete works of Nishi Amane), 3 vols., edited by Okube Toshiaki (Tokyo, 1960). Vol. I contains Nishi's philosophical works. The other edition is Nishi tetsugaku chosakushū (Collected philosophical works of Nishi Amane), edited by Asō Yoshiteru (Tokyo, 1933).

Studies of Nishi can be found in Japanese Thought in the Meiji Era, edited by M. Kōsaka, translated into English by D. Abosch (Tokyo: Pan-Pacific Press, 1958), pp. 99113; Gino K. Piovesana, Recent Japanese Philosophical Thought, 18621962 (Tokyo: Enderle Bookstore, 1963), pp. 518; and R. F. Hackett, "Nishi Amane, A Tokugawa-Meiji Bureaucrat," in Journal of Asian Studies 18 (2) (1959): 213225.

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