Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Miki Kiyoshi 1897-1945: A Philosophical Requiem

Miki Kiyoshi: A Philosophical Requiem
Dr. Michael Gillan Peckitt PhD 11/04/10

1 Miki Kiyoshi 1897-1945
In Shirasagi Mountain Park in Tatsuno City, on one particular hill there is a bronze bust, a bust built in honour of the philosopher Miki Kiyoshi.  At the base of the bust a small biography is provided and it ends:

‘In March 1945 he was again arrested and detained in the police department and the Toyotama Detention Center where he witnessed the end of the Pacific War.  Without being released from the Detention Center, he died from illness in prison on September 26.  It was a life spanning forty eight years and eight months.  Miki Kiyoshi’s death in prison apparently triggered the abolition of the law for maintenance of the public peace.  We erect this monument to expressly honor Miki Kiyoshi who devoted his life to the investigation of truth, and who left a deep influence on our philosophical circle’. (Nagatomo 1995: v-vi)

Born into a farming family on January 5th 1897 in Hirai-mura village, Iho county, Hyogo prefecture, Miki was introduced to philosophy relatively early, taking classes to read the Bible in English at the age of 16, and in 1914 books on Buddhism, especially Pureland Buddhism with which he was familiar from home; Pureland texts being ‘…recited daily by his parents and grandparents’. (Nagatomo 1995: ix)  This early exposure to Pureland Buddhism, especially Shinran’s Tannisho, would prove to have a great influence on Miki’s thinking.

On April 15th 1917, Miki Kiyoshi, aged 20 encountered one Nishida Kitarô for the first time.  Miki writes of this occasion:

‘I did not understand his talk very well, which, nonetheless, made a strong impression on me. The professor appeared on the stage in his kimono.  He fixed his gaze downward, walked all over the stage, and spoke a few words at a time.  It appeared as if he were speaking to himself to organize his thoughts rather than to the audience.  Occasionally, he would stop in front of the blackboard and draw a circle or a line, but even that act was not so much to explain his thoughts as to look for appropriate ways to express his ideas.  On that day I did not see an ordinary university professor.  I saw a “thinker”! ’ ( Miki in Yusa 2002: 161).

On June 26th of the same year, as Michiko Yusa states in her book Zen and Philosophy: An Intellectual Biography of Nishida Kitarô (2002), Miki visited Nishida at his home.  Having read Zen no kenkyu Miki was resolved to major in philosophy.   Nishida talked to Miki for some time about university and when Miki asked what books he should read Nishida responded by suggesting the Critique of Pure Reason (Yusa 2002: 163). Miki enrolled at Kyoto Imperial University in 1917 and graduated in 1920, his graduation thesis being “Critical Philosophy and the Philosophy of History”, a work in which he examines Kant’s philosophy in the light of the philosophy of history.  He then enrols in the graduate school to continue his studies on the philosophy of history, in the course of which he reads Wilhelm Windelband, Heinrich Rickert and Georg Simmel, amongst others.  He also teaches philosophy as a lecturer at both Otani and Ryukoku University in Kyoto.  In 1922, at the end of the second semester of his second year of graduate studies, a great opportunity arises for Miki, a chance to study abroad, in Germany.

Germany, during the 1920’s and 30’s was treated like the philosophical Mecca of Europe.  Home to scholars such as Windelband, Rickert, Husserl, Scheler and Heidegger, many Japanese academics went there to study under the philosophical Meisters they had read in Japan.  Miki’s scholarship was funded by recommendations from one of his Professors, a Hatano Seiichi and from Iwanami Shigeo, founder of Iwanami shoten.  Miki arrived in Heidelberg on June 24th 1922, the day Foreign Minister Rathenau was assassinated.  Ironically, such troubling times provide Miki with the possibility of affording relative luxury, as the inflation that hit Germany and later the whole of Europe, allowed him to afford books and good lodgings.  His main reason to be in Heidelberg was to study under Heinrich Rickert himself, reputed to be the finest Neo-Kantian scholar of his age.  Miki found that there was very little new philosophy that Rickert himself could teach him, having read so much of his works in Kyoto, but still was pleased to meet the great man himself:

‘Since I have already read all of his published works, I couldn’t get anything new from his lectures, but I was delighted to see this matured professor in person for I felt as though I was encountering the tradition of the philosophy’ (Nagatomo 1995: xiii)

In the autumn of 1923 Miki moves to Marburg with the intention of studying under Martin Heidegger, who at the time was the rising star of German philosophy.  He approaches Heidegger, curiously without a letter of recommendation.  Heidegger sees him anyway, and they discuss Miki’s interests.  Miki says he wants to study Aristotle and the philosophy of history, to which Heidegger responds that to study Aristotle is to study the philosophy of history.  Miki is given privates classes by Hans-Georg Gadamer on Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Nichomacean Ethics.  He also attends Heidegger’s lectures on Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes and Husserl.  It is almost certain that around this time, in 1924, Miki is instructed by one Kita Reikichi to offer Heidegger a post at Tokyo, at a new Research Center, which Heidegger turns down.[1]

Finally in Europe, in August 1924, Miki travels to Paris, and it is here that he encounters the work of Blaise Pascal, and writes on Pascal for a work that was to become Pasukaru ni okeru ningen no kenkyu.   He returns to Japan in 1925.

Miki returns to Japan and in 1926 to Kyoto Imperial University where he holds ‘reading circles’ on Aristotle Metaphysics, Nishitani Keiji and Tosaka Jun were amongst his students.  He also teaches as a lecturer at Ryukoku.  His book on Pascal, Pasukaru ni okeru ningen no kenkyu is published by Iwanami shoten.  On June 30th he receives news that his mother is gravely ill.  Sadly she died before Miki could see her.  It is also about this time that he begins his investigations into Marxism and publishes many articles.  He takes up a Professorship at Hosei University in 1927. 

Miki’s meteoric rise in academia ended abruptly when, in May1930 he is arrested on suspicion that he provided monetary assistance to the Japanese Communist party, and is held in Toyotama Detention Center from July to November of that year.  The incident means he is expelled from Hosei and academia completely.  Worst still for Miki personally, he is denounced by his Marxist allies whilst imprisoned.  The door to Hosei and academia firmly shut, Miki now turns to journalism writing for the Yomiuri.  He continues to write philosophical works and hold discussions, and then the war comes.

On Wednesday September 26th 1945, Miki Kiyoshi died in Toyotama prison, Nakano, Tokyo after contracting scabies (apparently covering his whole body) and developing nephritis[2]. Nephritis is an inflammation of the kidney, causing the kidney to slow down or stop filtering toxic waste from the body.  Symptoms can include swelling, nausea and excessive water retention. Blood clots follow and ultimately, if untreated, ‘kidney failure’ and death. Miki Kiyoshi had been detained on March 25th 1945 and on June 12th, accused of hiding one Takakura Teru who had violated the Public Peace Ordinance Act and had evaded parole.  What makes Miki’s death senseless for myself was that if he had been released on August 15th at the conclusion of World War II, at least in Japan, there is no reason to think he would not have survived. The law that imprisoned him, however, would not be abolished until October 15th.  Professor Michiko Yusa compares his death to the demise of Emil Lask in World War I, which Max Weber called a ‘senseless sacrifice of the intellect’ (Yusa 1998: 71). The bust in Shirasagi Park was unveiled for the public on Culture Day, November 4th 1964.[3]

2 Why “The Tragedy” of Miki Kiyoshi?
I call Miki Kiyoshi’s untimely death a tragedy, not just because he died in terrible circumstances and before his time, but also because he died leaving a great deal of philosophical work unfinished and a huge vacuum in the Japanese intellectual climate.  Whilst he had written many works, he was working on others, such as a book on Shinran (even whilst he was in prison). It was also hoped by some – Nishida Kitarô being amongst this number that Miki and his generation would contribute to the intellectual and cultural rebuilding of Japan after the War.  To make a comparison with a western philosopher, one might imagine that Jean-Paul Sartre died in prison in 1943 but prior to the publication of Being and Nothingness.  He would still be remembered as one of the finest, most promising minds of his generation, but that is all since the promise was never given a chance to be fulfilled.  To borrow a sentiment from Arthurian legends, Miki will forever be the once and future king of Japanese Philosophy.

The tragedy of Miki Kiyoshi is compounded by how little he is discussed, at least in Anglophone circles, (for which I must apologize for working in, my knowledge of Japanese philosophers always being through translations.)  However, even in groups looking at Japanese philosophers Miki is often noticeably absent.  Michiko Yusa has written a paper ‘Philosophy and Inflation. Miki Kiyoshi in Weimar Germany, 1922-1924’, referenced earlier in this paper.  He appears in Yuasa’s ‘The Encounter of Modern Japanese Philosophy with Heidegger’[4], and in John C Maraldo’s entry in an encyclopaedia on ‘The Philosophers’[5].  Only one book has been written in English on Miki’s thought, Shigenori Nagatomo’s The Philosophical Foundations of Miki Kiyoshi’s Concept of Humanism.   However, compared to the work written in English, or in any European language on Nishida, Tanabe or Nishitani, Miki is studied less.

In this paper I am attempting to make a minor contribution to this lack of Miki scholarship, by examining one strand of thought in his work that shows him anticipating the work of Watusji Tetsurô.  With his maiden work Pasukaru ni okeru ningen no kenkyu [Study of Man in Pascal], Miki can be shown to be anticipating the analysis of man or ningen sonzai that Watsuji was to offer in his Fudo and Rinrigaku.  Whilst one can overestimate the importance of maiden works, to an extent this is simply a report on Pascal, although as it is an interpretation it should be understood as Miki’s Pascal not as ‘purely’ Pascal, but as Pascal seen through a Heideggerian lens. It did, as Naoki Sakai[6] points out begin a whole debate on ningen sonzai long before thinkers such as Watsuji would employ the term in any philosophically significant sense.  I shall now attempt to demonstrate that there are some similarities between Miki and Watsuji by exploring Miki’s interpretation of Pascal and comparing it to Watsuji’s work.

3 Miki Kiyoshi and Watsuji Tetsurô
Watsuji grounds his work Rinrigaku, published in 1937 in an etymological analysis of the Japanese word for ‘human being’ - ningen sonzai.  He places great significance and philosophical weight on this term.  Nin is the everyday term for person or people, whilst gen, which can also be read as aida or aidagara, is much more resistant to translation. It could possibly mean a whole family of concepts - space would be one translation, and interval another.  I choose betweenness, as do the translators of the Rinrigaku, Robert E. Carter and Yamamoto Seisaku.

Watsuji is purposely playing with words here.  Nin has to presuppose gen since the existence of an individual presupposes the existence of a community.  Nin and gen therefore share a dialectical structure, each affirming and negating the other.  However, for Watsuji, unlike for Western metaphysics - most notably Hegel, the dialectic does not have to be violent.  Harmony should be sought between the individual and communal aspects of ningen sonzai, so a double negation occurs.  The community negates the individual and subsumes her, the individual then negates the community and is reconstituted as an individual, but one tied to a network of social relations.  Only when one realizes that ningen only realizes its authentic self within the context of relationships, its aidagara or betweenness, does one understand the nature of the individual, of one’s self. 

Ningen sonzai qua human existence is necessarily a social relationship to the world.  It is not enough to say just ‘this is used in order to hit nails’ or ‘this is the workshop’ but to be able to say ‘I am cold in the workshop’.  That I am in the workshop is an aspect of the world that only the individual is concerned with, but that it is cold is a social aspect, an aspect of the climate or fudo with which all individuals would be concerned.  It is the ‘we’ not ‘I’ that feels the cold.  Even that statement ‘I feel cold’ is never truly individual or asocial because in talking about coldness one has made a relationship with the climate, something which all humans share.  Thus human beings recognize themselves as selves in relation to the climate, and that climate is neither subject nor object, but is something which all ningen sonzai are related in virtue of being ningen sonzai.

Watsuji presents us with a picture of the world or seken where betweeness or relatedness is primary.  Seken or world is also by its nature ‘public’ for the original meaning of seken or yo no  naka (in the world) is ‘public’.  Hence Watsjui states:

 ‘The original meaning of the word ningen is seken or yo no naka, whose meaning is quite ordinarily understood to connote an extended real of life interaction’. (Watsuji 1937/1996: 145).

Everything has the characteristic of betweenness, of being related to something.  This is how Watsuji views an agent’s relationship to the world and all in it.  Watsuji liked to use the metaphor of transportation when explaining this.  Everyone is on a journey, not only where we are going is important, but how we get there.  I may be talking to some people about Watsuji, they (one hopes) are listening, even if the audience is not understanding, there is a relation.  And we are all at a seminar, this if nothing else, is what is ‘between’ us all here.  However, one should not make the mistake of viewing ‘we are all at a seminar’ as an objective fact.  It is rather an intersubjective relationship  (as Watsuji called it). This might be a very bad seminar to some, not to others, but we can all agree that we are at a seminar, that someone is giving a paper.

One does not have look too far in Miki’s work to find ideas that bear a great similarity to Watsuji’s, Watsuji’s work was published in 1927, 1934[7] and finally the Rinrigaku  in 1937, Miki’s work was completed earlier, in 1926, one year earlier than Watsuji’s

In chapter one - ‘An Analysis of Man’ in Miki’s Study of Pascal, we come across the idea that a human being’s existence is ‘existence in nature’ and our nature is our milieu, when Miki states;

‘Now, almost all our nature is “existence in nature.”  Our existence in nature is our milieu.  What does this term really mean?’ (Miki in Dilworth, Viglielmo & Zavala 1998: 299).

By calling our ‘existence in nature’ a milieu, Miki seems to be using the term ‘existence in nature’ to mean something reminiscent of Watsuji’s aidagara.  Miki now goes on to interpret Pascal’s idea of man as a mean.  Man, for Pascal always stands in relation to the Infinite and Nothing, hence human existence is a mean and this mean, reinterpreted by Miki is:

‘…the special existential characteristic given with the undeniable fact of existing in nature’.  (Miki in Dilworth, Viglielmo & Zavala 1998: 299).

Man’s nature, human existence is medial between the infinite universe of humans, the sensory universe and the heavens, the suprasensory universe which Miki characterises as nothingness.  The mean is also a ‘…fundamental expression of humanity’ (Miki in Dilworth, Viglielmo & Zavala 1998: 299) to depart from the mean, Miki reminding us of Pascal ‘…is to depart from humanity’. (Miki in Dilworth, Viglielmo & Zavala 1998: 301).

For Pascal the world fills us with both astonishment and admiration, as well as fear and trembling. We all fear the darkness of night, which draws us into anxiety.  Miki re-reads this religious concern existentially, that we exist or rather are a being-in-the-world, that we experience the world at all, means that we experience anxiety.  This is ‘the manner of our existence’, (Miki in Dilworth, Viglielmo & Zavala 1998: 300), or ‘the manner of encountering the world’ (Miki in Dilworth, Viglielmo & Zavala 1998: 300), what Pascal (as Miki reminds us) called the ‘the conditions of man’.  However, as Miki is quick to point out these conditions to not ‘objectify the world’, they do not place the human being’s relationship to the world as that of a subject to an object, rather human beings possess the world, the world is ‘there for us’ in the same way as the words you read now are ‘available’ to you.  For Miki, in ‘possessing’ the world we arrive at the ‘first form of actual human existence….’ (Miki in Dilworth, Viglielmo & Zavala 1998: 300).  It is our nature as human beings to exist in-the-world, but does this way of viewing human and the world eradicate any shadow of objectification, whereby we, as subjects could be viewing the world as an object?  Miki answers this by stating:

‘The relation of the existence of the world and the conditional nature of man is a direct one, such that we may say that we feel the self in unison with the world’ (Miki in Dilworth, Viglielmo & Zavala 1998: 300)

And goes on to say:

‘Man’s conditional nature toward the world necessarily produces a reaction whereby the first movement of human existence in relating to the self appears.  Because we truly “possess” the world according to our conditional nature in this manner, its existence is not something affirmed only by deduction but rather comes to have the quality of simply “being there together” with our human being’. (Miki in Dilworth, Viglielmo & Zavala 1998: 300).

The world, for Miki is not a substance, it is not an object; it is a way or ‘mode’ as he calls it of existence in relation to our human existence.  We relate to the world not as a subject does to an object, but we are involved with the world, we are part of it, it where we find our ‘self to be’, where we exist or live with other humans.  All of which bears more than a passing similarity to Watsuji when he claims that:

‘It is not true that the intentional relationship is set up only when an object presses from the outside’. (Watsuji 1927/61: 2).

For Watsuji, as for Miki the world is not something which ‘I’, the subject, objectifies i.e treats as an object, although we are subjects, the world is not an object in that way for us.   To use Watsuji’s example of ‘feeling the cold’, there:

‘… is not a ‘point’ which establishes a relationship directed at the cold, but is in itself a relationship in virtue of its “feeling” and it is in this relationship that we discover cold.  The intentionality of such a relational structure is thus a structure of the subject in relation with the cold.  The fact that “We feel the cold” is, first and foremost, an “intentional experience” of this kind’. (Watsuji 1927/1961: 2).

To put it in Pascalian terms, for both Miki and Watsuji we are as human beings involved or part of the world as a condition of our nature.  Whilst as human beings we are subjects, our relationship to the world is not of subject relating to an object through Intentionality.  Rather, it is because we are part of the world already that we can form relationships to intra-worldly objects and phenomena such as chairs, the cold and so on.

Before concluding the comparison with Watsuji, I would like to ask whether we can find an idea in Miki similar to that of Watsuji’s aidagara, the betweenness of human existence.  This is to claim that everyone or everything is in a relationship of interdependency with another, other people and other things, all having a shared experience.  Thus I am speaking to you, I am related both to my work and to you and of course the chair I’m sitting on, the ground I am standing, everything is inbetween.

At the beginning of the section Miki was quoted a saying:

‘Now, almost all our nature is “existence in nature.”  Our existence in nature is our milieu.  What does this term really mean?’ (Miki in Dilworth, Viglielmo & Zavala 1998: 299).

The idea of our existence in nature being our milieu i.e. our social environment, is certainly moving towards the idea of aidagara.  This might support the argument that Miki foresaw Watsuji’s idea of aidagara, but it may not be considered wholly convincing.  However, there is a passage from Pascal, from the Pensees, which one can presume with safety, Miki read, which may allow one to say that Miki was talking about aidagara.  It reads:

There is, for example, a relationship between man and all he knows.  He needs space to contain him, time to exist in, motion to be alive, elements to constitute him, warmth and food for nourishment, air to breathe.  He sees light, he feels bodies, everything in short is related to him. To understand man therefore one must know why he needs air to live, and to understand, air one must know how it comes to be thus related to the life of man, etc’. (Pascal 1966/1995: 64)

What Pascal is almost describing here is aidagara, the interdependent relationship that we share to all things and persons, our being-with and amongst others.  If we read ‘Man’ or ‘human existence’ as ‘man in general’  and therefore by nature endowed with the possibility of being related to other people and things we could read Miki as offering a concept similar to aidagara.

Miki, in his work on Pascal, presents us with an analysis of ‘human being and ‘world’ very similar to Watsuji’s. In both accounts ningen sonzai’s relationship to the world is not seen as one of a subject to an object, rather we are, as ningen sonzai, involved or intimately related to the world, or as Miki through Pascal puts it, the world is something we possess, it ‘there for us’.  Secondly, with the idea of our ‘existence in nature’ as being a milieu, Miki at the very least begins to form a concept similar to Watsuji’s aidagara, if not in essence, offer a different formulation of the same idea, the betweenness of all things. Of course, I would concede that Watsuji’s account, especially in the Rinrigaku is more sophisticated, more detailed in that he offers a far deeper analysis of ningen sonzai, especially regarding the relationship between nin and gen, individual and community.  However, I also maintain that the basic framework for an analysis of ningen sonzai is to be found first in Miki’s work, and Miki deserves that recognition. 

4 Conclusion
This article was written as I discover, with great enthusiasm, Miki Kiyoshi for myself.  It was intended to be part biography, part exegesis and part discussion of a particular theme related to Miki.  It is my greatest hope that others will enjoy resurrecting a great philosopher, if only for an Anglophone audience, whose fate, like that of Tosaka Jun was tragic and undeserved.[8]


Dilworth, D.A, Viglielmo, V.A & Zavala, A.J. (1998) Sourcebook for Modern Japanese Philosophy. Greenwood Press.
Miiki, Kiyoshi ‘Analysis of Man’ in Dilworth, D.A, Viglielmon, V.A & Zavala, A.J. (1998)
Nagatomo, S. (1995)  Philosophical Foundation of Miki Kiyoshi’s Concept of Humanism.  Edwin Mellen Press.
Pascal, B. (1966/95) Pensees. Penguin Classics.
Watsuji, T (1927/61) A Climate. A Philosophical Study Trans Bownas, G. Printing Bureau Japanese Govt.
Watsuji, T (1937/1996) Rinrigaku. Trans Yamamoto, S & Carter, R E.  SUNY.
Yusa, M (1998) ‘Philosophy and Inflation. Miki Kiyoshi in Weimar Germany, 1922- 1924’. Monumenta Nipponica Vol. 53, No. 1. (Spring, 1998), pp. 45-71. Sophia University.
Yusa, M. (2002) Zen & Philosophy: An Intellectual Biography of Nishida Kitarô. Hawaii.

[1] For evidence of this offer being made by Miki see Yusa (1998)  p.64
2 That Miki died of ‘sudden nephritis’ is mentioned  on page 292 of Dilworth, D.A, Viglielmon, V.A & Zavala, A.J. (1998). 
3 A good definition of nephritis can be found on the BBC Health Website
[3] To give this biography of Miki I have used three sources.  They are;
Nagatomo, S. (1995)  Philosophical Foundation of Miki Kiyoshi’s Concept of Humanism.  Edwin Mellen Press.
Yusa, M. (2002)  Zen & Philosophy: An Intellectual Biography of Nishida Kitarô. Hawaii.  For Miki’s time in Germany, and evidence of his offer to Heidegger I used Yusa, M (1998) ‘Philosophy and Inflation. Miki Kiyoshi in Weimar Germany, 1922- 1924’. Monumenta Nipponica Vol. 53, No. 1. (Spring, 1998), pp. 45-71. Sophia University.

[4] G.Parkes (1987/92) Heidegger and Asian Thought.Montilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited. Delhi.
[5] Arrington, R.L. (2001) A Companion to the Philosophers. (Ed) Malden, Mass. Blackwell.
[6] For Naoki Sakai’s views on the relevance of Miki’s book on Pascal see ‘Return to the West/Return to the East: Watsuji Tetsuro's Anthropology and Discussions of Authenticity’ boundary 2, Vol. 18, No. 3, Japan in the World (Autumn, 1991), pp. 157-190
[7] Dates of publication for Watsuji’s thought on  Nihon seisehin (The Japanese spirit).
[8] Tosaka Jun was a Kyoto School scholar who died of nephritis in Nagano Prison, August 9th 1945.  See Dilworth, D.A, Viglielmo, V.A & Zavala, A.J. (1998) p323

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