Engaging Japanese Philosophy: A Short History

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Paperback: $36.00
ISBN-13: 9780824874070
Published: February 2018
Hardback: $76.00
ISBN-13: 9780824869793
Published: December 2017

Additional Information

784 pages | 30 b&w illustrations
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  • About the Book
  • Philosophy challenges our assumptions—especially when it comes to us from another culture. In exploring Japanese philosophy, a dependable guide is essential. The present volume, written by a renowned authority on the subject, offers readers a historical survey of Japanese thought that is both comprehensive and comprehensible.

    Adhering to the Japanese philosophical tradition of highlighting engagement over detachment, Thomas Kasulis invites us to think with, as well as about, the Japanese masters by offering ample examples, innovative analogies, thought experiments, and jargon-free explanations. He assumes little previous knowledge and addresses themes—aesthetics, ethics, the samurai code, politics, among others—not in a vacuum but within the conditions of Japan’s cultural and intellectual history. For readers new to Japanese studies, he provides a simplified guide to pronouncing Japanese and a separate discussion of the language and how its syntax, orthography, and linguistic layers can serve the philosophical purposes of a skilled writer and subtle thinker. For those familiar with the Japanese cultural tradition but less so with philosophy, Kasulis clarifies philosophical expressions and problems, Western as well as Japanese, as they arise.

    Half of the book’s chapters are devoted to seven major thinkers who collectively represent the full range of Japan’s historical epochs and philosophical traditions: Kūkai, Shinran, Dōgen, Ogyū Sorai, Motoori Norinaga, Nishida Kitarō, and Watsuji Tetsurō. Nuanced details and analyses enable an engaged understanding of Japanese Buddhism, Confucianism, Shintō, and modern academic philosophy. Other chapters supply social and cultural background, including brief discussions of nearly a hundred other philosophical writers. (For additional information, cross references to material in the companion volume Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook are included.) In his closing chapter Kasulis reflects on lessons from Japanese philosophy that enhance our understanding of philosophy itself. He reminds us that philosophy in its original sense means loving wisdom, not studying ideas. In that regard, a renewed appreciation of engaged knowing can play a critical role in the revitalization of philosophy in the West as well as the East.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Thomas P. Kasulis, Author

      Thomas P. Kasulis is University Distinguished Scholar and Professor Emeritus in Comparative Studies at the Ohio State University, where he has taught in the departments of comparative studies, philosophy, and East Asian studies.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • This monumental volume is the crowning achievement of a pioneer western scholar of traditional and modern Japanese philosophy. . . . Carrying the reader across vast distances in time and space, while paying careful attention to differences in historical and cultural context, Kasulis consistently treats his seven focal figures as philosophers, that is to say, as rigorous thinkers attempting to fathom and articulate universal truths, as thinkers who are just as worthy of both empathetic and critical engagement as are major philosophers from the western traditions such as Plato, Aquinas, Heidegger, and Quine. . . . In the end, he enables the reader not only to understand the formulation of their thoughts in their historical and cultural context, but also to reiterate and respond to them in our own.
      —Bret W. Davis, Loyola University Maryland, Journal of World Philosophies 5 (Summer 2020)
    • Kasulis is not only a deeply knowledgeable and insightful philosopher, but a wonderful writer, easy on the ear, with a conversational style and a gift for clarity regardless of the abstruseness of the ideas presented. . . . [T]he book is not simply an account of existing philosophy but a work of original philosophy and an expansion of Japanese philosophy. . . . Although we can hope Kasulis will continue his work, it is amply apparent that this is the culmination of four decades of deep thinking—a magisterial work that will inform Japanese philosophy for decades to come. . . . Regardless of degree of knowledge and sophistication, this book will prove invaluable to all readers.


      —Mara Miller, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Journal of Japanese Philosophy, Vol. 7 (2021)
    • For one, this book speaks to professional philosophers who may have little or no background in Japanese thought—it would serve as an excellent introduction for academic philosophers interested in taking their first steps toward the study of non-Western material. Moreover, Kasulis’s writing is so accessible, and the examples he uses to explain key ideas are often so down to earth, that the book will appeal to an educated audience more generally. Finally, for obvious reasons, his book alone or paired with the Sourcebook could be the foundation for an excellent undergraduate or graduate course in Japanese philosophy.
      —Leah Kalmanson, Drake University, Philosophy East and West, 69:1 (January 2019)
    • A philosopher, Kasulis gives a truly thorough and captivating account of Japanese philosophy that is clearly a compilation of the author’s life work. . . . The book makes a valuable contribution to the field and will serve as a useful English resource for scholars interested in Japan and, in particular, Japanese thought. It makes a highly engaging read and should be highly recommended to scholars working in Japanese Studies.
      —Simon Paxton, Rikkyo University, Japanese Studies, 40:1 (2020)
    • Thomas Kasulis has authored another magnificent text on Japanese philosophy for Anglophone scholars and students, one which is surely to become a classic “must-read” in the field. . . . His writing provides ample concrete examples, as well as personal and real-life anecdotes, which many will be able to relate to, thereby making philosophical concepts come alive. He also provides diagrams to explain otherwise difficult-to-understand ideas. The book is quite broad in content, covering both premodern thought and modern and contemporary academic philosophy and related fields, and is suitable for both the beginner and advanced scholar. . . . The book is well worth the purchase and the time to read.


      —John W. M. Krummel, The Eastern Buddhist, 49: 1 & 2
    • Page after page he makes an important contribution to Japanese philosophy itself, slowly and often imperceptibly making a case for its place outside of Japan. Students of Japanese philosophy around the world are in his debt. For my part, I am proud to have taken part in the long voyage behind this book, even if only to scrub the decks and trim the sails.
      —James Heisig
    • Engaging Japanese Philosophy: A Short History is “hardly short,” as suggested by the author, but it provides a detailed analysis of seven prominent Japanese philosophers. It also has cross-references to Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook. These are must read books for all students of Japanese philosophy.
      —Cheung Ching-yuen
    • Covering the wide range of philosophical issues—from aesthetic, ethical, linguistic, metaphysical, social-historical, political, to religious . . . this volume is expected to satisfy even the most critically minded. Kasulis's knowledge of how to convey a point to students, as well as his penetrating insight into the Japanese culture and thoughts are masterfully combined in this volume, making it an indispensable guide and a companion for anyone interested in any aspect of Japanese culture, history, thought, literary expressions, intercultural philosophy, or engaging oneself in the sheer delight of philosophizing.
      —Michiko Yusa
    • Engaging Japanese Philosophy: A Short History is a marvelously skilled blend of intellectual history, the history of ideas and the history of philosophy. . . . Engaging Japanese Philosophy is ultimately as much a meditation on philosophy’s global future as is a reflection on philosophy’s Japanese past.
      —Peter D. Hershock
    • Between the two covers of this handsome volume, Engaging Japanese Philosophy: A Short History, lies the lifetime of one of the world’s finest scholars of Japanese philosophy, Thomas P. Kasulis. With this publication, the University of Hawai’i Press has provided its community of readers with a narrative companion to its award-winning Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook.
      —Roger T. Ames
    • This superb book opens the field of Japanese philosophy in three vivid dimensions: its crisp, lively style immediately engages readers ranging from beginning students to professional philosophers and scholars, and its innovative presentations of Japanese thinkers engage their thought in a way that makes it crystal clear and relevant to us today.
      —John C. Maraldo
    • The title itself is a great little joke: by engaging the reader through conveying his own engagement with Japanese philosophy, Kasulis makes his topic eminently engaging—and calls the result a “short” history, at over 1500 pages long. And what a great story it is: deftly weaving together strands of historical material, biographical themes, and threads of philosophical thinking (including comparable Western ideas where appropriate), Kasulis presents the key thinkers in the Japanese tradition as protagonists in a fascinating and thought-provoking narrative. All in all, an achievement that’s unlikely to be surpassed any time soon—because it’s, quite simply, so great.
      —Graham Parkes
    • This volume is the most significant to date on Japanese Philosophy. Kasulis, a leading scholar in the west, has made a lasting contribution to the field. We are all in his debt.
      —Mary Evelyn Tucker
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