Watsuji on Nature: Japanese Philosophy in the Wake of Heidegger

(Northwestern University Press, 2019)

This monograph reconstructs Watsuji’s philosophy of nature by situating it in relation to his reception of the thought of Heidegger and to his renewal of core ontological positions in Confucian and Buddhist philosophy. I show that for Watsuji we have our being in the lived experience of nature, one in which nature and culture compose a tightly interwoven texture called fūdo (風土). By fully unfolding Watsuji’s novel and radical claim that this is a setting that is neither fully external to human subjectivity nor merely a product of it, this study also sets out what still remains unthought in this concept as well as in the relational structure that underwrites it. I argue that what remains unarticulated is nothing less than the recovery of a partially reenchanted conception of nature and an elucidation of the implications of a relational conception of the self for questions about the disclosive character of experience, the distinction between fact and value, and the possibility of a place-based ecological ethics.


Book Symposium

Synopsis and Replies to Stevens, Berque, Mine, and Liederbach: Watsuji on Nature: Japanese Philosophy in the Wake of Heidegger [open access]

European Journal of Japanese Philosophy 6 (2021): 134–215


Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles (selected)

Phenomenology and the Impersonal Subject: Between Self and No-Self

Philosophy East and West 73, no. 2 (2023): 286306

This paper attempts to reconcile two ideas that seem fundamentally opposed to one another: the reality of the self and the doctrine of no-self. Buddhism offers a form of spiritual equanimity that turns on the denial of a self. Nonetheless, there seem to be good reasons to hold onto the reality of the self. The existence of a self enables us to account for praise and blame, the hopes for oneself that motivate actions, and attachments to the selves of others in bonds of love and affection. I show how it may be possible to reconcile the reality of the self with a particular interpretation of the no-self doctrine by engaging with the work of thinkers from the phenomenological tradition such as Merleau-Ponty, Zahavi, Gallagher, and Petitmengin.


Word as Image: Gadamer on the Unity of Word and Thing

Continental Philosophy Review 55, no. 1 (2022): 101–118

Gadamer claims that an essential form of truth is disclosed in the search for, and discovery of, a shared language in and through which the matter at issue between the participants in a conversation can come to presentation. He maintains in this regard that the thing itself is given in language. This contention is grounded in his account of the “belonging together” of word and thing. To help us understand this idea I turn to his discussion of the image, since—in a comparison that Gadamer explicitly makes—here, too, the image “gives” the thing.


The Limits of Language: Philosophical Hermeneutics and the Task of Comparative Philosophy

Journal of Speculative Philosophy 34, no. 3 (2020): 378–389

Despite the importance of linguistic disclosure for philosophical hermeneutics, there has been a conspicuous lack of attention to the question of how linguistic disclosure actually works. I examine the mechanics of disclosure by drawing on Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics as well as Ricoeur’s concept of translation and his theory of metaphor. My claim is that the background horizon of the unsaid that differs between languages enables each to disclose different things. This situation underscores the importance of engaging in East-West comparative philosophy, of philosophizing across what Ricoeur calls the radical “fold” [pli] in what can be thought and experienced.


The Anonymous Subject of Life: Some Philosophical, Psychological, and Religious Considerations

Research in Phenomenology 49, no. 3 (2019): 385–402

This paper focuses on one of the mainstays of Japanese psychiatrist and philosopher Kimura Bin’s (1931–2021) philosophical approach. Kimura’s work is characterized by the intersection of therapeutic, philosophical, and intercultural dimensions in ways that enable his clinical practice and philosophical investigations to mutually inform one another. I examine how this dialectic comes together with his conversion of ordinary Japanese words into philosophical concepts. Explicating the concepts Kimura deploys in developing a phenomenology of the self allows us to make new sense of phenomena ranging from the process of individuation to the collective subjectivity of group life, from the breakdown of the self to its fuller realization.


Self in Nature, Nature in the Lifeworld: A Reinterpretation of Watsuji’s Concept of Fūdo

Philosophy East and West 68, no. 4 (2018): 1134–1154

Watsuji Tetsurō’s concept of fūdo (風土) is intended to capture the way in which nature and culture are interwoven in a setting that is partly constitutive of and partly constituted by a group of people inhabiting a particular place. This essay offers a careful examination of the sense in which the self both constitutes and is constituted by the fūdo, or geo-cultural climate, in which it is emplaced. It concludes with a brief survey of the prospects and problems posed by the interpretation of fūdo that has been presented.


Acting-Intuition and the Achievement of Perception: Merleau-Ponty with Nishida

Philosophy East and West 67, no. 3 (2017): 693–709

This essay draws on Nishida’s ontology to shed light on some problems with Merleau-Ponty’s view of truth, a view that has difficulty accounting for the expression in language of that which is distorted, mistaken, or untruthful. To get past these difficulties, it is suggested that we turn to the more dynamic and developmental vision of the continuity of being found in Nishida’s work.


Watsuji’s Topology of the Self

Asian Philosophy 26, no. 3 (2016): 216–240

This essay critically develops Watsuji’s nondual ontology of the self. Watsuji shows that the self is constituted by its relational contact with others and by its immersion in a wider geo-cultural environment. Yet Watsuji himself had difficulty in smoothly bringing together and integrating these notions. By showing how these domains work together to constitute the self, I bring into view the unity at the ground of Watsuji’s thought and the implications of this account for key ideas in Heidegger’s philosophy and for environmental ethics.


The Experience of Truth: Gadamer on the Belonging Together of Self, World, and Language

Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 36, no. 2 (2015): 373–396

This paper defends Gadamer’s conception of dialogical truth against the objection that it amounts to no more than the achievement of dialogical consensus. It shows that there is a more radical conception of truth at stake in Gadamer’s analysis of dialogical rationality, one which is grounded in the ontological continuity of subject and object. Such a conception of truth only becomes visible if we hew closely to Gadamer’s account of dialogue as a process in which the individual actions and intentions of the participants are taken up into a movement that has its own dynamic, such that the truth is something that acts on our understanding in an event that happens to us.


Perception, Expression, and the Continuity of Being: Some Intersections Between Nishida and Gadamer

Asian Philosophy 24, no. 1 (2014): 48–66

Gadamer’s notion of dialogical truth relies on the claim that self and world “belong together” as aspects of a single, unitary phenomenon, one which is made manifest in language. This view has difficulty, however, accounting for that which is untruthful. To get past this obstacle I suggest that we turn to Nishida’s work, which shows how we can bring self and world together into a kind of harmony such that the cultivation of perception makes possible truthful expression.

Merleau-Ponty and the Other World of Painting: A Response

Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 40, no. 1 (2009): 89–97

This paper is a response to a claim made by Tarjei Larsen that Merleau-Ponty’s own theory of painting undermines the important distinction made in his thought between primordial perception and cultural construction because it requires that perception take different cultural and historical forms in order to account for perspectival painting. I show that this distinction is not so easily collapsed by arguing that Larsen has misconstrued Merleau-Ponty’s account of painting as a phenomenological theory of painting and misinterpreted Merleau-Ponty’s concept of painterly style, and that therefore the conclusion that perception must be malleable is not warranted. What is at stake in this debate is whether Merleau-Ponty’s own account of painting threatens the basis for his phenomenological project as well as his attempt to accord substantial philosophical significance to painting.