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In Session: The Kyoto School and Ethics of the Contemporary World: Science, World History, and Religion
3: Nishitani's Skillful Means for a Mythical Image in the Right to Die Movement
Friday, March 26, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
McGill University, Canada
The Kyoto School is criticized for contributions to Japanese Imperialism (Osaki, Sueki, Harootunian) and these are sometimes blamed more generally—and even by one of KS’s strongest supporters (Heisig)—on a perceived failure of Zen to provide clear ethical guidelines (see also Ives, Inagaki). I suggest an alternative approach to Nishitani’s engagement with Japanese imperialism by accepting his wartime culpability and examining how he turned that culpability into skillful means. In this light, Nishitani’s post-war critique of the instrumentalization of mythical images as a fascistic strategy provides a strong connection between the failure of his political interventions and his mature philosophy of religion. This paper first summarizes Nishitani’s analysis of how political movements can use mythical images to i) reify the past, as argued in his 1949 essay “批判の任務とファシズムの問題 (The Duty of Critique and the Problem of Fascism)” and ii) harden affects, as argued in his 1982 essay ”空と即 (Emptiness and Sameness).” I then apply this analysis to the use of a mythical image in Archbishop Desmond Tutu's public support for the Right to Die movement—specifically, to how the image of ‘Mother Earth’ is used to intensify ableist notions of autonomy. Finally, I conclude that Nishitani’s approach to religion in terms of an emptiness in affect offers a non-polarizing way of responding to such instrumentalization, since we can use the very same mythical image as a skillful means to foster mutual compassion.