Nishida Kitaro

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Nishida Kitaro


Born Apr. 19, 1870, near Kanazawa; died July 7, 1945, in Kamakura. Japanese idealist philosopher. Founder of the Kyoto, or Nishida-Tanabe, school of philosophy. Professor at the University of Kyoto (1913–28).

Nishida developed his philosophical system in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. His most important works of this period include A Self-conscious System of the Universal (1929), Determination of Nonbeing in Self-consciousness (1931), and The Fundamental Question in Philosophy (1933). Nishida sought to demonstrate the principal difference between Eastern and Western philosophy. He saw the uniqueness of Eastern culture in its inherent idea of nonbeing. Proceeding from the standpoint of Zen Buddhism, he sought to interpret nonbeing as a concept of an all-encompassing universe that, “being everything, is itself nothing,” “acts without one who acts,” and “defines without one who defines.”

Despite Nishida’s attempt to treat his philosophy as “genuinely Eastern” and as an outgrowth of Buddhist teachings, his views are essentially quite similar to Western European idealist philosophy, particularly existentialism. According to Nishida’s fundamental philosophical concept, which he called anti-intellectual, true being is attained intuitively, as the result of a particular “way of viewing things,” or a “way of perceiving oneself,” that supposedly makes it possible to overcome the opposition of the objective and the subjective.

Nishida viewed social development as a result of the interaction of the universal—nonbeing—and the particular—human individuals—the genuine relationship of which is expressed in the communication between “I” and “Thou.”


Zenshu [Complete Works], vols. 1–18. Tokyo, 1947–53.


Kozlovskii, Iu. B. “Kontseptsiia vostochnoi kul’tury Nisida Kitaro.” Vestnik istorii mirovoi kul’tury, 1961, no. 2.
Kozlovskii, Iu. B. “Rasprostranenie ekzistentsializma v Iaponii.” In Sovremennyi ekzistentsializm. Moscow, 1966.
Tosaka, Jun. Senshu, Dairokukan [Selected Works], 6th ed. Tokyo, 1948.
Koyama, Iwao. Nishida Tetsugaku [Philosophy of Nishida]. Tokyo, 1955.
Nagao, Michitaka. Nishida Tetsugaku no Kaishaku [Commentaries on the Philosophy of Nishida]. Tokyo, 1960.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Doak, "Romanticism," 143, citing Robert William Adams, The Feasibility of the Philosophical in Early Taisho Japan: Nishida Kitaro and Tanabe Hajime (PhD diss., University of Chicago, 1991), 123-24.
Specific topics include the political thought of the Kyoto School: beyond questionable footnotes and Japanese-style fascism, in the wake of the 3/11 earthquake: philosophy of disaster and pilgrimage, bodily present activity in history: an artistic streak in Nishida Kitaro's thought, encounter in emptiness: the I-thou relation in Nishitani Keiji's philosophy of Zen, and Japanese and Western feminist philosophies: a dialogue.
(12) Kitaro Nishida, Nishida kitaro zenshu (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1988), 8:506.
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His influential writings fluidly moved from the ideas of thinkers such as Foucault--who was enormously popular in Japanese intellectual circles by 1970--to those of the Kyoto School philosopher Nishida Kitaro, whose reflections on the notions of self and place resonated profoundly for Lee, a Korean-born artist living in Japan, where frequent discrimination against Koreans served as a troubling reminder of an unresolved history of colonization.
In the next essay, Gereon Kopf proposes that the works of Nishida Kitaro, the founder of the Kyoto School of Buddhism, make a particularly excellent undergraduate introduction to Japanese thought and culture.
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