The Kyoto School’s Takeover of Hegel

Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 38/1 (2011)

Reviews, pp. 223-226

kyoto hegel

Peter Suares, The Kyoto School’s Takeover of Hegel: Nishida,

Nishitani, and Tanabe Remake the Philosophy of Spirit

Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2010. 238 pp. Cloth, $65.00.

ISBN 0-7391-4688-2/978-0-7391-4688-0.


Suares’s first book-length publication on philosophy fills a conspicuous lacuna of

scholarship on the complex relationship between Hegel and the philosophers of the

Kyoto School. The uptake of Hegel’s thought in Japan has been addressed by scholars

in articles, book chapters, or in passing within the context of other subjects;

but given the pervasive influence of Hegelian philosophy on Nishida and Tanabe in

particular, Suares’s in-depth treatment of the Kyoto School’s “takeover” of Hegel is a

needed addition to the existing comparative studies on this topic.


Suares makes a compelling and well-documented argument demonstrating that

Nishida, Nishitani, and Tanabe all rely heavily on Hegel’s ideas and methodology in

fashioning their own positions, despite their harsh criticisms of certain views they

attribute to him. Suares does a convincing job of showing that though the Kyoto

scholars unanimously reject what they take to be the central tenets of Hegel’s philosophy,

namely his “dogmatic Christian theism, the promotion of being to the central

category of reality, and rigid rationalism,” these “ostensibly Hegelian features

are in fact nowhere to be found in his philosophy”(190). Not only do the Kyoto

scholars misinterpret Hegel in their critiques of him, Suares argues, they actually

incorporate Hegel’s thought in significant ways such that their own philosophies

must be considered Hegelian in many respects. This idea itself is not new, however,

and Suares acknowledges that others have made similar observations. The contribution

made by this book is its thorough demonstration of this fact, with trenchant

reasoning and clear explanations of the many confounding formulations employed

by these thinkers.


The book consists of a short introduction and five chapters. Besides a brief chapter

on “The Danish Parallel” which addresses Kierkegaard’s critique of Hegel and his

stance on faith in relation to reason, the author primarily examines and critiques the

thought of Nishida, Nishitani, and Tanabe. While dimensions of Hegel’s philosophy

are discussed at length throughout the volume, the book focuses on the work of

the Kyoto School philosophers and the presence of Hegel’s ideas therein. This being

the case, the reading of Hegel adopted by Suares is not worked out in conversation

with current developments in Hegel scholarship. This may be a disappointment to

those who come to the subject well versed in those debates since the reader must

simply accept the author’s interpretation of Hegel in order to follow him through

his comparative enterprise. This disappointment is far outweighed, however, by

the original insights offered. Suares’s analysis of the uptake of Hegel in Japan illuminates

issues germane to Hegel studies and the history of philosophy broadly. In

fact, this volume’s account of how the Kyoto scholars “remake” Hegel’s philosophy

of spirit addresses important issues in Hegel scholarship that have not been probed

this deeply until now. For example, the in-depth analysis of Hegelian contradiction

given within this context provides a lucid explanation of perhaps the most notorious

dimensions of his philosophy—the inner workings of his dialectical method.

With the Kyoto scholars as Hegel’s conversation partners, the nature of dialectic

and the movement of spirit in self-consciousness becomes clearer than it could have

been had it been treated exclusively within the European and American context.


The first chapter, which comprises roughly half of the book, is devoted to

Nishida and surveys the development of his thought throughout his life. The chapter

is divided into two main sections. The first describes the “anatomy of subjectivity”

and the “world within,” situating Nishida’s conception of self-consciousness

within the context of Western philosophy. Here Nishida’s notion of pure experience

and his logic of place are examined alongside Hegel’s developmental model of

selfconsciousness, in addition to the models put forth by other notable figures such as

Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hölderlin, and Josiah Royce. The second section confronts

“the objective dimension” which delves into the finer workings of “the dialectical

formula” operative in both Hegel and Nishida and addresses Nishida’s attempts at

sociopolitical thought in relation to history. Nishida’s notion of jikaku 自覚,

or selfawareness, establishes the continuity of the chapter in that it encompasses both the

subjective and objective components of reality in one two-fold activity. The most

notable strength of this discussion lies in its analysis and explication of the form of

Nishida’s logic in relation to Hegel’s. The analysis Suares gives is highly technical,

providing an account of paradox, contradiction, and negation in the work of both

authors. Suares tackles their perplexing dialectical maneuvers with uncommon

precision and clarity, relating them at times to their possible counterparts within

certain Buddhist strands such as Mādhyamika and Pure Land.


In addition to the analysis of the logical forms employed by Hegel and Nishida,

one of the most provocative elements of Suares’s discussion—and one which warrants

further debate—is his investigation into the limits of rationality for these

thinkers, a theme that continues throughout the remaining chapters of the book.

Despite the close analysis of the logical structures shaping the thought of each, the

question remains as to whether a fully rational account of reality and experience is

possible. Suares writes of Nishida, “The reconciliation of the rationality of everyday

life with the transrational level of consciousness at the base of reality is the central

problem with which he will struggle until the end of his career” (12). This struggle

is evident in Nishida’s simultaneous commitment to rational, philosophical discourse

and his use of utterly paradoxical language to formulate his position. This

tension points to a deeper issue not specifically taken up in the book, which is the

possibility that contradiction and paradox are themselves forms of rationality, both

operating within and pointing beyond the laws that define them. For both Nishida

and Hegel, self-consciousness and the reality it grounds exist through dialectical

conflict. For Hegel, as Suares points out, “Contradiction is the motor of life” (57).

And for Nishida, remaining true to the convolutions of the self in its ordinary and

ultimate character requires articulations that conjoin antithetical terms. Nishida’s

notions of the eternal now (eien no ima 永遠の今), the continuity of discontinuity

(hirenzoku no renzoku 非連続の連続), and the self-identity of absolute contradictories

(zettai mujunteki jikodōitsu 絶対矛盾的自己同一) are examples. Prompted by

the author’s comparison of the ways these thinkers conceive of contradiction, the

reader is led to question the nature of logic itself and to confront how dialectical

reason challenges common notions of rationality.


The limits of reason discussed within the context of Nishida’s philosophy are

taken up in different ways, both directly and indirectly, in the following chapters

on Nishitani, Tanabe, and Kierkegaard. In the chapter on Nishitani, his “postulate

of emptiness as enhancement of being” as a means to counter the problem of nihilism

is examined through his accounts of “original nature” and emptiness as “double

exposure.” Nishitani’s notion of double exposure in particular proves to be a useful

tool for explaining how seemingly incompatible views can be held at the same time.

This also provides a useful point of comparison with Hegel’s logic, elucidating similar

conundrums therein, shedding light on the issues related to rationality just noted.


Suares’s general approach in each chapter is to lay out his chosen thinkers’ critiques

of Hegel and proceed to show whether or not they successfully avoid the

pitfalls into which they perceive Hegel to have fallen. In each case he concludes that

they are either unsuccessful in clearing themselves of the same charges that they

level against him, or that their criticisms reject claims that Hegel cannot be proven

to have actually made. In Tanabe’s case, these failures are particularly pointed,

Suares argues, since his adoption of numerous Hegelian features in his own work

clashes harshly with his stringent critique of those same features in Hegel’s philosophy.

In addition, Tanabe rejects certain ideas that he incorrectly attributes to Hegel.

For Tanabe, Hegel is both a well of inspiration and a foil he continually pits himself

against, and, as Suares aptly shows, that ambivalence has problematic consequences

that come to bear in the anti-philosophical position Tanabe eventually adopts.


Overall, Suares’s study is well-documented with an extensive bibliography

divided into sections according to subjects for convenient reference. Textual references

to Hegel and the Kyoto scholars make use of both translations and the sources

in their original languages, providing guidance for readers at various levels of expertise.

There is one reference, however, that must be flagged. On page 69, Suares cites

a passage from David Dilworth’s translation of Nishida’s final essay, “The Logic of

Nothingness [Place] and the Religious Worldview,” in which the philosopher says of

his logic that it “is illustrated by Nāgārjuna’s logic of the eightfold negation” and “is

decidedly not a dialectic of substance in the Hegelian sense.” Michiko Yusa (1988),

in her review of this translation, makes the important observation that in the original

text Nishida makes no direct mention of either Nāgārjuna or Hegel here, and

charges Dilworth with having been excessively interpretive at this point in his translation.

This pivotal passage bears upon a number of themes dealt with in Suares’s

book, so readers should consult the original text, mindful of its disputed translation.


The book’s thesis, succinctly put forth in the conclusion, emphasizes the closeness

of the principal views held by Hegel and the philosophers of the Kyoto School.

Suares, in fact, finds no significant difference between the notion of absolute spirit

delineated by Hegel and the Japanese philosophers’ notion of absolute nothingness.

Though he voices good reasons to support this view, not enough analysis of

Hegel’s notion of spirit is given to prove this particular point. But whether or not

this point is proved, the final assessment of the relationship between Hegel and the

Kyoto scholars given in the conclusion presents a new reading of Hegel informed

by the ways his thought has been adapted by Nishida, Nishitani, and Tanabe. The

convergence of their various dialectics opens new ways of understanding Hegel, in

addition to bringing together and clarifying the ideas that have shaped philosophical

thought in Japan. In this respect The Kyoto School’s Takeover of Hegel is a model

work of comparative scholarship and makes a highly valuable contribution to the

field. All in all, this work boldly charts exciting frontiers in world philosophy, demonstrating

the potential fruit that may come from thorough and intelligent crosscultural

comparative studies.



Yusa, Michiko

1988 Review of “Last writings: The logic of nothingness and the religious worldview.”

Journal of the American Academy of Religion 56: 802–804.


Lucy Schultz

University of Oregon

Source: Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture