Nishida, Kitarō [西田 幾多郎] (1870–1945) By Van Overmeire, Ben
Arguably the most important Japanese philosopher of the 20th century, Nishida Kitarō was one of the first thinkers to engage deeply with the sudden massive influx of foreign ideas that characterized the Meiji era, while still maintaining a distinctive place for Asian ideas. Beginning with An Inquiry into the Good (1911), Nishida’s lifelong philosophical goal was to identify the foundation of consciousness and existence, something he later called the “place” [basho]. Successive works identified this foundation as “pure experience,” “absolute will,” and, finally, “absolute nothingness.” All these “places” have in common the fact that they lack any distinctive features: being fields (another term Nishida employs) that contain oppositions (such as subject-object, me-you, knowledge-feeling), they cannot of themselves have distinguishable qualities.
Although Nishida’s actions during the Pacific War have been the subject of significant debate, his influence is uncontested: the so-called Kyoto School of Japanese philosophy comprises those building on or reacting to his ideas. Because he valued both Christian and Buddhist traditions, Nishida has also been a pivotal figure in East-West religious dialog.