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A Schilling Memorial Lecture - Natural Freedom: Human/Nature Nondualism in Japanese Thought

Westernized policies and practices in Japan have contributed more to the exacerbation than to the amelioration of environmental destruction, the nondualistic conception of the relation between humans and nature that can be found in much of traditional Japanese thought and in some modern Japanese philosophies may well help us rethink the dualistic presuppositions and false dichotomies that lie at the ideological roots of our ecological problems. We need to learn to think of and experience the world, not in terms of humans versus nature, nor even just in terms of humans in cooperation with nature, but rather in terms of humans in nature, humans as part of nature, humans as participating in nature. And this entails, I mean to show in this exploration of Japanese thought, a rethinking of nature, of naturalness, of humanity, and of freedom.
When Apr 01, 2016
from 3:30 PM to 5:30 PM
Where Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library, University Park, PA 16802
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Despite the existence of marginal philosophical movements such as Deep Ecology, environmentalists today often continue to speak in the philosophical idiom of their opponents when they debate the impact of human activity on the natural world.  This way of speaking, whether inadvertent or intentional, perpetuates a human/nature dualism with deep roots in the philosophical and theological traditions of the West.  On the other hand, to those who do not think of human minds or souls as supernatural entities, it may seem that the only alternative left is that provided by a deterministic materialism that strips us of core elements of our humanity, including our freedom. 

The problem is that many of us today can neither swallow the metaphysical dogma that would separate our souls from the natural world nor bite the deterministic bullet and renounce our longing for—and inner sense of—freedom.  The question then is: Can we find a path that leads beyond these apparent conflicts between freedom and nature?  One thing seems clear: if there is such a path of reconciliation, it would entail along the way a radical rethinking of the very concepts of “nature” and “freedom.” What I intend to demonstrate in this talk is that Japanese thought has much to contribute to precisely such a rethinking of nature and freedom, a rethinking which sees them as nondually interrelated in their origins and as ultimately reconcilable through holistic practices.  By drawing on a number of traditional and modern Japanese thinkers, I shall explore the philosophical sources in Japan for recognizing and realizing the possibility of a natural freedom

Although it is true that modern, Westernized policies and practices in Japan have contributed more to the exacerbation than to the amelioration of environmental destruction, the nondualistic conception of the relation between humans and nature that can be found in much of traditional Japanese thought and in some modern Japanese philosophies may well help us rethink the dualistic presuppositions and false dichotomies that lie at the ideological roots of our ecological problems.  We need to learn to think of and experience the world, not in terms of humans versus nature, nor even just in terms of humans in cooperation with nature, but rather in terms of humans in nature, humans as part of nature, humans as participating in nature.  And this entails, I mean to show in this exploration of Japanese thought, a rethinking of nature, of naturalness, of humanity, and of freedom.

This is part of the Harold K. Schilling Memorial Lecture Series.

This event is approved for SARI@PSU participation credit.

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About the Speaker

Brett Davis HeadshotBret W. Davis is Professor of Philosophy at Loyola University Maryland, where he teaches courses in Western, Eastern, and comparative philosophy. His research focuses on Continental philosophy (esp. Heidegger, phenomenology, and hermeneutics), on East Asian philosophies (esp. Zen Buddhism and the Kyoto School), and on cross-cultural philosophy (including hermeneutical and ethical/political issues). He received a Ph.D. in philosophy from Vanderbilt University, and has spent 13 years in Japan, during which time he studied Buddhist thought at Otani University, completed the Ph.D. program (with thesis in progress) in Japanese philosophy at Kyoto University, taught philosophy and related courses in Japanese at various universities, and formally practiced Zen Buddhism at Shōkokuji, one of the main Rinzai Zen training monasteries in Kyoto.  He has been a Japanese Ministry of Education scholarship recipient, a JSPS Postdoctoral Research Fellow and later Visiting Scholar at Kyoto University, as well as a Visiting Scholar at the University of Freiburg on a DAAD fellowship. He has lectured in more than a dozen countries, in Japanese and German as well as in English, and his work has been translated into six languages.  In addition to authoring more than 50 articles written in English and in Japanese on Continental, Japanese, East Asian Buddhist, and Comparative Philosophy, he is author of Heidegger and the Will: On the Way to Gelassenheit (Northwestern University Press, 2007); translator of Martin Heidegger’s Country Path Conversations (Indiana University Press, 2010); editor of Martin Heidegger: Key Concepts (Acumen, 2010, Routledge, 2014) and The Oxford Handbook of Japanese Philosophy (Oxford University Press, in preparation); coeditor with Fujita Masakatsu of Sekai no naka no Nihon no tetsugaku [Japanese Philosophy in the World] (Shōwadō, 2005); and coeditor with Brian Schroeder and Jason Wirth of Japanese and Continental Philosophy: Conversations with the Kyoto School (Indiana University Press, 2011) and of Engaging Dōgen’s Zen: The Philosophy of Practice as Awakening (Wisdom Publishing, forthcoming).  He serves on the editorial board of several journals and is coeditor of Indiana University Press’s book series in World Philosophies.