ASCJ 2009
Session 12: Room 11-311

Conceptual Change and State Formation from in Early Modern and Modern Japan

Organizer: Doyoung Park, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

This panel presents four papers each focusing on different aspects of conceptual change and state formation from the Tokugawa to the Meiji period. Exploring the history of conceptual change in the context of political thinking in early modern and modern Japan is a necessary undertaking. Except for a few studies in Japanese as well as in western research, the study of concepts and conceptual change in relation to the process of state formation still leaves much to be done. This panel aims at initializing a discussion in this field in order to obtain a more detailed picture of the processes involved and to criticize such general concepts of former but still dominant interpretations of early modern intellectual history as “modernization.”

The first presentation will discuss the relationship between the cause of the emergence of self-proclaimed Neo-Confucianists and the conceptual change of intellectual market during the early Tokugawa period. The second presentation will focus on the moral, political and epistemological implications of the concept of “the common-sphere of the realm” introduced by the Confucian scholar and military studies expert Yamaga Sokō. The third presentation will take a closer look at the development of the writing of advice on government in the eighteenth century by reviewing the line of argument from Ogyū Sorai to Kaiho Seiryō. The last presentation, finally, will discuss Nishi Amane’s coinage of the term shinri and its early Meiji uses, to argue that it reflected a drastic change in conceptions of the state.

1) Doyoung Park, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The Rise of Intellectual Professionalism in Early Tokugawa Society

Prior to the seventeenth century, Neo-Confucianism had no independent existence, because Zen monks offered their knowledge of Neo-Confucianism and the classical Chinese corpus in service to the Japanese state as experts in diplomatic and legislative matters. With the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate, however, Neo-Confucianism and its practitioners acquired an independent identity in the Japanese intellectual and political landscape.

Previous scholars have approached this issue through the lens of a philosophical shift, arguing that the philosophical preference of Tokugawa society shifted from Zen Buddhism to Neo-Confucianism and induced the emergence of a large number of self-proclaimed Neo-Confucianists. However, this is a hasty conclusion, which ignores socio-intellectual factors surrounding the early Tokugawa Neo-Confucianists’ life and situation. My preliminary research reveals that the rise of Neo-Confucian scholars during the early Tokugawa period were not the result of philosophical change; rather, they were propelled by practical and utilitarian motivations. Self-proclaimed Neo-Confucianists chose the identity of Neo-Confucianist to locate themselves as ‘professional’ Neo-Confucians, and this strategy successfully served their purposes. I believe that this trend was related with the change of a concept and a role of intellectuals.

2) Andr� Linnepe, Humboldt University of Berlin, Berlin Humboldt University

The Common-Sphere of the Realm in Early Tokugawa JapanIts Conceptualization in the Neo-Classical Confucian Teaching of Yamaga Sokō (1622–1685)

In his Neo-Classical Confucian doctrine of the “Learning of the Sages” 聖学 (Seigaku) the Confucian scholar and expert of military science Yamaga Sokō (1622–1685) defined the “common-sphere of the realm” 天下公共 (tenka kōkyō) as the central and objective norm for all moral and political activities in society. Further, Sokō determined a new type of “warrior- gentleman” (shi) who, instead of serving only a single lord, acts on behalf of the common-sphere of the realm and by disciplining the people to conform to its norms.

Sokō is said to have reconceptualized the warrior-ethos of bushidō in terms of Confucianism. Moreover, he is one of the first Confucian scholars in Japan who criticized the Song-teachings as impractical and instead formulated a practical teaching on the basis of a Neo-Classical approach to the Confucian classics. As an eminent teacher to high-ranking Bakufu-officials and daimyō, Sokō had to address many of the problems that the central government in Edo as well as the domain administrations were facing in the middle of the seventeenth century, e.g. the difficult role of the bushi in a pacified society or the persecution of the Christians. Despite its central importance to Sokō’s Seigaku, a systematic exemplification of his concept of the common-sphere of the realm remains to be done. Therefore, this paper explores the moral, political and epistemological implications of Sokō’s concept of the common-sphere of the realm and discusses it in the context of processes of state formation in early Tokugawa Japan.

3) David Mervart, University of Tokyo

Unenforceable Laws and the Notion of Limits to Political Power in 18th-century Writings of Advice on Government

In Europe, a relatively new type of concern entered the field of vision of political theory from the end of 17th century on. When John Locke or Dudley North argued in England’s parliament that no deployment of legislative and executive power could or should try to bring down the natural rate of interest on loans, they preceded more systematic formulations of this observation in the works of Montesquieu or James Steuart. The economic system had now reached such a level of complexity, they were able to claim, that it de facto precluded excesses of arbitrary tampering by however capricious a ruler, by imposing natural constraints on what was possible to achieve politically in face of the interconnected markets.

In Japan, within the established genre of writings of advice on government of which Sorai’s Seidan was an early representative example, a very similar argument came to be made. Although the default framework was a moral critique of commerce and the luxurious dissipation it brought, part of the analysis of the state of the polity indeed was a practical observation, formulated into a theoretical proposition, that the complex and interconnected workings of the commercial economy rendered some ordinances unenforceable and some types of action from the position of political power self-defeating. Even though the power of the rulers ostensibly remained unchallenged, it was being redescribed as limited by the exigencies of the commercial complex which could not be ignored. I explore this line of argument from Ogyū Sorai to Kaiho Seiryō.

4) Michael Burtscher, University of Tokyo

Conceptual Change in the Early Meiji Period: The Genesis of Shinri

The appearance of the butsuri-shinri opposition (“the principle of things” as opposed to “the principle of the mind/heart”) in the early Meiji period has been judged an epochal event in the history of modern Japanese thought. Yet, explanations of it have remained lacking in several regards.

Before all, it remains unclear what the term shinri in Nishi Amane’s pointed opposition was actually supposed to mean. Today, this term is usually considered a conceptual equivalent of “psyche.” But Nishi used seirigaku to translate “psychology” instead.

What function then did the coinage shinri have, and why did its meaning shift, while the term seiri (“the principle of nature”), that had occupied a pivotal position in Neo-Confucian thought, disappeared?

This paper will argue that the appearance of the terms shinri and risei – Nishi’s translation for “reason” in which the sequence of the characters for seiri is reversed – marked indeed an epochal change. Shin, ri and sei, were the most basic concepts of Neo-Confucian thought, but they had never been joined together in these ways before. (The phrase kokoro-no-ri found in Neo-Confucianism could not be shortened to shinri in the same way as mono-no-ri had been to butsuri before already.) But the coinage of shinri cannot be explained as a “translation” of a Western term either.

Reference to a Western concept could re-determine the meaning of a Japanese term, as in the case of butsuri and “physics.” The coinage of shinri, against this, was owed to an attempt to re-determine the meaning of a Western term: “the mind” as “subject.”

Discussant: Yuri Kono, Tokyo Metropolitan University