Nishida Kitarō and Evolution: The Experiential Ecology of Emergent Form

Izor, Matthew Allan
Ishida, Masato
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This work is a case-study in comparative philosophy of biology targeting the theory of life, experience, and evolution presented in the work of the modern Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitarō, whose writing offers a fascinating juncture between the epistemological views of the Anglo-European traditions and the epistemology that derives from Asian philosophical sources. In providing a naturalized and biologically aligned interpretation of Nishida’s thought, we begin to see an expression of an evolutionary framework that includes experience and agency as causally influential components. Nishida’s theory as I describe it provides logical parameters of an ecology of experience that includes and in fact prioritizes the concrete existence and influence of non-human experience and agency. This work makes a couple of key moves: I address the conceptual issues with a lop-sided focus on the notion of unity and the default human description of experience as being fundamental to Nishida’s early texts. In his earliest text An Inquiry into the Good, Nishida provides a balanced depiction of the notion of unity, along with the process of differentiation. I argue that, in fact, the tendency to focus one’s attention on the forces of contact and continuity in Nishida’s thought, actually has the potential to overshadow or even obscure the possibility of seeing the larger theory of life Nishida offers, and life through evolution is a primary expression of this differentiation for Nishida. I describe an oscillation of the polarities of unification through differentiation, and vice versa. By doing so, we can frame Nishida’s use of terms like “conscious activity” and “pure experience” in ways that are not exclusively human in Nishida’s description. Experience, as I argue in Nishida’s technical sense, describes determinative interaction in the most basic sense as a processual interlinking of interaction that occurs in very rudimentary living interactions, such as that of cells and plants. What Nishida refers to as “pure experience” is operative behind the epistemological gap, not in terms of pre-existing knowledge within a human organism, but in terms of ontologically preceding the epistemological gap and making it possible, replacing the fundamental assumption that experience occurs within a brain and instead placing experience into a complex historical ecology that includes organisms but is not exclusively internal to them. Through the language of experienced-based approaches to organismic activity such as Situated Darwinism and the concept of affordances, I help bring Nishida’s technical sense of experience into contact with contemporary biological thinking by uniquely characterizing Nishida’s theory of life as a place-based-event dynamic that torques the rudimentary experiential gradients into these emergent meaning-making affordance landscapes. Meaning-making processes occur in the living moments of distinguishing that occur in living organisms at all levels. This “double-rupture” theory of experiential evolution has implications for the evolutionary development of formal cause, something that is at the root if cognition and goal-oriented behavior. Nishida’s theory of formal causality is described as being the experiential place, basho, that is torqued open by the double rupture of living determinative interaction. I argue that this place is the medium where in experiential distinctions become influential as formative acts. And in this way reimagines the causal types that Aristotle lays out, but which have become dominated through certain metaphysical assumptions of a mechanistic view of naturalized causal types.
Philosophy, Philosophy of science, Asian studies, Comparative Philosophy, ecology, evolution, experience, Non-Western Philosophy, Philosophy of Biology
165 pages
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