Comparative Dialectics: Nishida Kitaro's Logic of Place and Western Dialectical Thought
By G. S. Axtell

Philosophy East and West
Vol. 41, No. 2 (April 1991)
pp. 163-184

Copyright 1991 by University of Hawaii Press
Hawaii, USA


 

 

p. 163

I. Introduction: Contrariety and Comparative Philosophy

    An emerging theme of Nishida Kitaro's later works was expressed in the complex phrase "zettai mujunteki jikodoitsu," variously translated by Schinzinger as "absolute contradictory self-identity," "the self-identity of absolute contradictories," or more simply as "oneness" or "unity" of opposites. The theory of contrariety or opposition that Nishida (1870-1945) worked out between 1927 and 1945 can be taken as a stimulus for East/West comparative thought. This is so because of the special significance of Nishida's thought, but also more generally because contrariety is itself a prime subject for comparative philosophy.

    The eminent philosophical anthropologist Mircea Eliade once said that "the union of opposites" is a basic category of archaic ontology and comparative world religions. Eliade's claim is contentious only in that the reference to "union" subtly provides a characterization and suggestion of a particular way of conceptualizing felt oppositions and polarities. The initial fact is that of felt opposition itself; the ensuing demand or problematic is that of a conceptual understanding of contrariety. The thesis of "union" that Eliade refers to is a conceptual response to this problematic. It is a theoretical means of understanding both opposition itself and the character of the real.

    It has been a common temptation in modern anthropology to judge as somewhat archaic and mystical the ancients' dependence on opposites as principles, and their cosmogenies and cosmologies, which reflect traditional myths of polarity. This judgment is not unfounded, for it has been a common tendency of humans to begin reflection with the simplest scheme of categories and distinctions. Schemes such as those found in ancient tables of opposites may indeed be judged to reflect a primitive state in the conceptual organization of experience. But the problem which such judgments address is only that of comparative levels of development or sophistication in how a thinker deals with the need for organizing experience; they do not and cannot resolve the questions of the very presence and role of opposites in human thought. The demand for conceptual response to these latter questions is one of the initial demands laid upon a thinker, and one which was of great concern to the learned from an early point in history. Answers to this demand are found in Taoist, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions; they are also deeply ingrained in the Greek roots of Western traditions, as is illustrated by the depth of Greek thought on contrariety found in Aristotle and his predecessors. [1]

    Misunderstandings of the relation of logic both to metaphysics on the one hand, and to epistemology on the other, have led many logicians to

 

 

p. 164

expect that the foundations of the laws of logic would be independent of an account of contrariety. My point here reiterates one that Bradley found important, that the principles of logic presuppose rather than explain the presence of opposites in human thought. They organize our understanding of affirmation and negation, identity and difference, hopefully keeping us from falling prey to conceptual fallacies, but are wrongly understood when taken to explain the origin and prevalence of opposites generally to the human mind. It is little wonder, then, that during the Modernist era in Western philosophy, the principles of identity, non-contradiction and excluded-middle were often characterized as actual 'laws of thought' which reflect natural limits of discursive thought.

    The "deep problem about opposites" which Plato recognized and addressed has not left us; but particularly in Western thought it has often been pushed to the side as a concern only for those studying "deviant" logic and "archaic" thought. A common reason given for pushing the issues of contrariety to the background as unhelpful in conceptualizing the relation between language and reality is the work of Aristotle on logic. Aristotle was first among the Greeks to call into question the license of his predecessors to "adopt opposites as principles."

For they all identify the elements, and what they call the principles, with the contraries, although they give no reasons for doing so, but are, as it were, compelled by the truth itself. [2]

    Here Aristotle both makes explicit a central role for his own metaphysical uses of opposition or contrariety (enantion), and grounds his predecessors' uses of such principles in a seemingly mystic insight into truth. For all his foundational work on the principles of identity, contradiction, and excluded middle, and for all his revision of earlier abuses of language and logic, Aristotle's theory of enantion remains in many ways at least as wrapped up in metaphysics as those of his predecessors. His own metaphysics is found in the suggestion that discursive thought is a reflection of reality, and that the dependence of intelligible discourse upon basic rules of consistency is a reflection of the essential and self-identical character of the real. In Aristotle's thought, contrariety was far more than the idea of the relation between logical posits; it was a cosmic force underlying real change, and informing both the basic human categories of thought and the conditions for intelligible discourse. [3]

    Current interest in naturalizing epistemology, however, indicates both a difference between (deductive) logical proof and epistemological justification, and the ultimate dependence of modes of justification upon the actual character and limitations of human thought processes. For those who take this turn, a rethinking of the supposed independence of the principles of logic from the problem of contrariety is one of the ensuing demands. The significance of the early emergence of tables of opposites

 

 

p. 165

and correlative reasoning in man's development cannot be missed on a philosophical anthropologist. Indeed in recent years, philosophical anthropologists have brought renewed interest to bear on the problem of a philosophically adequate account of contrariety. G. E. R. Lloyd's Polarity and Analogy: Two Types of Argumentation in Early Greek Thought, [4] studies the polar and the analogical as two types of reasoning that have typically emerged earliest in primitive and archaic cultures. Such crosscultural study of the phenomena of classificatory and explanatory principles underlines alternative ways of conceptualizing the world and, from a philosophical perspective, bears strongly on questions of the relation of language to reality. In Eliade and others interested in myth and metaphor, one finds sound reason for suspicion of the tendency, so prevalent in the archaic mind, to reify the products of mental abstraction into cosmic forces and philosophical first principles.

    This introduction to the problem of contrariety should serve as background for my development of Nishida's theme of zettai mujunteki jikodoitsu. O'Leary's commentary on Nishida's later work chastises him for obscuring his own themes in "complex dialectical language" and bids the comparative philosopher to approach Nishida through 'a more strictly phenomenological approach', -- this despite Nishida's own acknowledged protest against nondialectical 'interpretive phenomenology'. [5] While the influence on Nishida of existentialism and phenomenology is unmistakable, the present essay will depart from the now-standard comparative methodology that O'Leary recommends. Nishida was himself actively engaged in comparing Aristotelian, Hegelian, and Marxist logics, or ronri. Such comparisons served Nishida both in clarifying important differences and in clearing conceptual ground for the introduction of his original benshoho or dialectic. In this essay I will attempt to further these pursuits by moving the context of discussion beyond such historical figures of the Modernist era to the arena of contemporary currents in both nonmaterialist and materialist dialectics. I take Nishida's own studies of contracting logics as a prime example of the approach I am here calling "comparative dialectics." This is an approach which also has a number of notable forerunners in T. R. V. Murti's and E. H. Johnston's comparisons of Naagaarjuna with Western dialecticians, in A. Verdu's Dialectical Aspects In Buddhist Thought and, from the Chinese side, in Wee Chang-Tan's Dialectica Reconciliae and A. C. Graham's Yin-Yang and the Nature of Correlative Thinking.

    Of course, "dialectical" philosophy is far from a homogenous grouping. But it is both the similarities and the differences among those who explicitly claim to espouse a dialectical ontology or meta-methodology which will fuel the discussion. Indeed the first point of this essay is in the comparative methodology developed. While the basic conceptual antitheses that predominated in the East differ from those of the West, I

 

 

p. 166

hope to demonstrate in the sections below Nishida's awareness of certain meta-methodological issues germane to any dialectical philosophy, East or West. Identifying such a group of common issues, I believe, can help the inquirer understand Nishida's notion of concrete dialectical logic, and further one's ability to assess critically the philosophical adequacy of Nishida's benshoho or dialectical conception of the world as a synthesis of Eastern and Western philosophy.

 

II. Methodological and Ontological Materialism

    Nishida cites indebtedness to Hegel for the notion of a "concrete logic" which tries to grasp reality in its historical unfolding. For both men, in a sense, history is an ascending self-realization of the absolute. For both as well, the concept or idea is an act of dialectical formation by self-consciousness. In this movement, for Hegel, knowledge becomes the grasping of "der Konkrete Begriff" -- the Concrete Concept. Despite Hegel's emphasis on the historical context of self-conscious beings, Marx is commonly credited with 'turning Hegel's logic on its head' by (1) replacing its conceptually oriented basis with a praxis-oriented one, and (2) replacing its ontologically idealist basis with a materialist one. As I interpret Nishida, he follows Marx in the first of these shifts, but resists the polarity of ontological materialism and idealism.

    Nishida has drawn the fire of numerous dialectical materialists for statements such as this from "The World of Action" (1933-1934): "... to define dialectics materialistically, as do present-day Marxists, is ultimately to negate dialectics and to revert to physical science." [6] But Nishida's point can be illuminated if we consider a distinction Joachim Israel draws in The Language of Dialectics and the Dialectics of Language [7] : the distinction between "methodological" and "ontological" materialism. Israel's distinction and outlook is illuminating of Nishida's own view. A methodological materialism in Israel's sense begins not from transcendental reflection, but from thought in its action-orientation in the socialhistorical world. Though 'methodological materialist' may not capture Nishida's position, this notion does help explain the centrality of actionorientation in Nishida's account. For Nishida the starting place for reflection is social consciousness; the life-world is a historical world and provides the starting point for philosophical reflection. The unity of acting and sensuous intuition means for Nishida that the world of actuality in which we all live and die is a world of action. Koiteki chokkan or "action-intuition" is emphasized to indicate that there is no action without intuition and no intuition without action. "We act through seeing, and we see through acting." [8]

    To a great extent, then, as testified by his own discussions of Hegel and Marx, Nishida follows Marx to a dialectical logic which is also a dialectic of theory and praxis -- to a "concrete" dialectical logic which relates the

 

 

p. 167

"concept" to a metaphysics of the "Acting-Self" (Hataraku jiko). [9] Hegel of course already thought his logic to be "concrete" in contrast to that of the schoolmen of his age. Indeed Hegel objected also to Kant's understanding of the "antinomies of pure reason," on the grounds that it implied "that Thought or Reason, and not the World, is the seat of contradiction": "It is no escape to turn around and explain that Reason falls into contradictions only by applying the (Kantian) categories. For this application of the categories is maintained to be necessary." [10]

    But taking note of Hegel's idealist construal of the "World," we must see that this statement is a criticism of Kant's ahistorical or pure a priori reason, rather than an affirmation of materialist views of contradiction; it is a criticism of the "abstract understanding's" framework for understanding contrariety, and rightly places Kant within a broadly Aristotelian tradition. Yet Hegel's historicism was not enough for Marx, who saw Hegel's analysis as essentially still one of conceptual definition. In shifting this basis to the concept in its action-orientation, Marx more closely affirms Nishida's contention that "The unity of our consciousness is essentially grounded on action. Our action is not merely movement. Action must have the significance that we see something through it." [11] Israel's recent distinction thus helps make sense of Nishida's praxis orientation, as well as of his insistence that we disentangle what is true in Marxian dialectic from its materialist base. But Nishida would side with neither Hegel nor Marx on the metaphysical issue, and approaches a more adequately dialectical ontology to the extent that he is able consistently to extricate himself from the debate and demonstrate the shared assumptions at its base. [12]

 

III. The Teleological and the Mechanical

    The Kantian background of the antinomies and Fichte's 'Kantian' philosophy of antinomical materialist and idealist systems is deeply reflected in Nishida's later writings. Many of the theoretical oppositions Nishida develops, such as the "Teleological" and the "Mechanical, " and "Subjectivity" and "Objectivity," reflect a period of formulating his benshoho in the terms of the Fichtean opposition between the systems of the Ego and the Non-Ego, or "Idealism and Dogmatism."

    At the same time, however, Nishida is keenly aware of the ways in which Fichte's views militate against dialectical philosophy. Fichte had changed the epistemological focus from the opposition of consciousness and things to an opposition within the "I" itself. The unavoidable contradiction of materialist and immaterialist ways of conceptualizing the world meant for Fichte that a nonlogical choice had to be made between these two monistic systems, regarded as exclusive and exhaustive. As Ilyenkov commented in Dialectical Logic concerning Fichte's demand for a "personal" choice between the two systems,

 

 

p. 168

From two different, dualistically isolated halves, having no connection at all with each other, you could not create a single, integral system. What was needed was not dualism, but monism, not two initial principles but one only. [13]

    But for Nishida, Fichte's apparent antinomy arises from an acceptance of an abstract logic which makes the ego and the non-ego, and hence the contrary systems inspired by the privileging of each, appear unconnected and independent. Nishida reaffirms Fichte's central thesis that reflection upon self-consciousness can proceed in either of two radically different directions; it can proceed in the direction of the determination of the physical world by the self, or of the self by the physical world. The one direction is portrayed by Nishida as leading to a monistic and teleologically dependent world view, and the other as leading to an atomistic, mechanical world view. But Nishida views both systems as abstractions out of a single world of actuality; taken singly they each reflect only an "aspect" of the concrete life-world. [14]

    Hence Nishida answers 'Neither/Nor' to Fichte's demand for an Either/Or choice between the metaphors of the teleological and the mechanical. The move reveals a significant part of what Nishida has taken over from phenomenology and Lebensphilosophe. In Nishida's words,

Many people first presuppose opposing worlds of subjectivity and objectivity or immanent and transcendent worlds, and then consider the actual world as the mutual determination of such worlds. But it is not that such opposing worlds exist independently, for such worlds are always to be conceived from this actual world as two directions of this actual world. [15]

Or again,

... It is not that subjectivity and objectivity unite, and are then actual. Both can be conceived from a dialectical reality, i.e. from a dynamic reality which is self-determining. Self-determining reality, i.e. dynamic reality, must be self-contradictory. Subjectivity and objectivity may be regarded as different directions of that self-contradiction. [16]

    Like Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, Nishida is calling us out of the different directions in which self-reflection naturally leads, to the prereflective or concrete life-world from which these reflections originate. Meta-methodologically, Fichte's pseudoantinomy is avoidable because the plurality of available reflective approaches should lead us to acknowledge alternative meta-logics of inquiry, which, while individually limited, can yet be seen as developments of mutually complimentary systems of thought.

    A dialectical theory of knowledge is of an inherently normative character; but conflict within a normative system cannot without distortion be modeled like contradiction within a system of purely descriptive

 

 

p. 169

claims. Fichte's demand is premised on just such a confusion, and is another reflection of what Richard Bernstein calls the 'Cartesian Anxiety' in Modern thought. That "logic" abstractly construed cannot decide the issue only means that the prospects for reconciliation depend upon shifting the issue to a 'higher court' of values and meanings.

    Israel makes a point that is related to the attempt of dialectical thinkers to reconcile and move beyond the "isms" of Western philosophy. For he insists, as might Nishida himself, that though dialectical philosophy is neither of the reductionistic alternatives of materialism or idealism, it is also strictly speaking neither a form of dualism nor of "neutral monism." Israel argues that "neutral monism" is a mischaracterization in that it fails to exhibit the essential uniqueness of a dialectical understanding of interrelation within a system. For Nishida, too, it seems, the one who understands the self's "absolutely contradictory self-identity" understands also the dialectic of the One and the Many, and is posing a radical alternative to all monistic/dualistic metaphysical stances.

    In chapter 3 of "The Dialectical World," Nishida represents Western metaphysics as having taken the direction of "reality as form," in contrast to Eastern approaches, which have treated it as "formless." The Aristotelian identification of individual substance with "Being" -- with form and self-identical existence -- expresses the assumption of grounding metaphysics in the substantial union of matter and form. Hegel's metaphysics, too, reflect this affirmation of Being. Nishida sees Hegel as still following Aristotle in the notion of hypokeimenon, that is, a "substance that becomes subject," and which leads to a "logic of the subject." For Nishida the concrete universal is developed as the universal of "mu" or "nothingness." His logic is characterized as a "logic of the predicate" that must not become subject. [17] Yet to Nishida the "form" and "formless" characterizations of reality have an intriguing degree of parity. Each mode of conceptualization seeks transcendence of the historical life-world, but achieves it only through a kind of reduction, carried through on the shoulders of contrasting metaphors of the spatial and the temporal.

To conceive of the ground of the world in the direction of its spatial determination from the actual spatial-temporal world is the idea of being. To conceive of it in the direction of its temporal determination can be said to be the idea of nothingness. The former conceives of the world in an objective direction, the latter in a subjective one... the one sought the eternal and changeless by transcending the actual temporal-spatial world in the direction of objectivity, of spatial determination; the other sought it in the direction of subjective determination, of temporal determination. [18]

    Like Bergson, Nishida's own philosophy and logic are often laid out in terms derived from the metaphor of the temporal, and most of his

 

 

p. 170

criticisms are addressed to Western thought as dominated by the metaphors of the spatial and the mechanical. Yet on my reading there is a striking sense in which Nishida indicates the need for a deeper pluralistic or perspectivalist account of self-reflection as a basis for mutual East/West understanding. Each of the two directions of self-reflection taken separately may be inadequate to the whole. In the development of this notion, Nishida's benshoho begins to pull him beyond even his deep commitments to the Buddhist framework. For there is no explicit suggestion that either the idea of being or the idea of nothingness is cognitively privileged. Indeed, "...The dialectical world cannot be conceived only in the aspect of negation. For the world (also) determines itself in the form of self-identity." [19]

 

IV. Via Negativa and Religious Consciousness

    Nishida's pluralistic ontology, which admits of both a via negativa and a via affirmativa, is more fully developed by Nishida in the context of religious consciousness. The problem of finding common ground for understanding religious consciousness has been of major concern to the Kyoto School and a major subject of debate within that school. Nishida has been widely interpreted as synthesizing the Buddhist "`suunyataa" with the Christian kenotic tradition of self-emptying into agape. In "The Logic of the Place of Nothingness and the Religious Worldview" (1945), he developed an understanding of the religious consciousness based on a new conception of his logic of the place of nothingness, or "mu no basho ronri." The great importance Nishida laid on understanding his logic involves this claim that mu no basho ronri is a vehicle to the deepest levels of the existential self and conciliates the `suunyataa and kenotic traditions as variants.

    David Dilworth's recent translation and commentary on Nishida's Nothingness and the Religious Worldview [20] is an important effort in this direction. He emphasizes that Nishida's incentive to the negative theology as the character of this religious world view is to be found in the nature of relationality itself. [21] The self and the absolute stand in a paradoxically nondual relationship, from whence man derives his own essentially self-contradictory identity. But this means also that a transcendent and unchanging God cannot be the real absolute, since it would stand over against, rather than contain, the immanent. [22]

The true absolute does not merely transcend the relative. If it did, it could not avoid being a mere negation of it and, on the contrary, would become relative, too. Hence I have argued that the true absolute must face its own absolute negation within itself. [23]

    Seen from the side of the self rather than from the logic, Nishida says that the self, reaching out, confronts the absolute; but this is experienced

 

 

p. 171

only as a reaching into one's own inner depths. [24] By 'transcending immanently' (naizaiteki choetsu), the paradoxical nonduality of the immanent and the transcendent, or of self and absolute, may be experienced.

    The universal of mu is the universal of the true existential and religious self. Mu no basho Nishida sometimes depicts as the most enveloping of all universals, that which defines the intelligible world. "... It may be called the place of absolute nothingness." Here reality is grasped in the way of unity of opposites. The conception bears similarity with some Neo-Platonic notions of the absolute which were influential also for Hegel. [25] But here also one finds the creative act in the determination of the present moment. Nishida uses "action-intuition" in this context as well to remind us that "truth arises from that standpoint where the point of departure of cognition is not lost at any point; truth always returns to its point of departure in the immediately given." [26] The intelligible world is thus also representative of the fullness of the existential moment, for "... the world which moves itself through contradictions, as unity of the many and the one, always contradicts itself in the present; the present is the place of contradiction." [27]

    There is always a sublimation and a retention (Aufgehoben) of the past in the present. But although the present is an ever renewed synthesis, the conflict is never fully resolved. Nishida sometimes characterizes his dialectical logic as "negative" (and his account of religious consciousness as a "via negativa"), to emphasize that he is not attempting to construct a synthesis that resolves opposition. The favoring of what Dilworth calls the "agonistic," "paradoxical," or Kierkegaardian formulations of the religious self toward which Nishida leans is illustrative of much of the character of Nishida's benshoho in this particular sphere. [28] It is meant to illustrate to the reader that the contradictory identity of self and absolute refers us to a relation that is unmediated by concept.

In this paradox of God -- that is, our face-to-face relation with the absolute in a dialectic of presence and absence -- there is the Zen celebration of ordinary human experience. It is the dimension of absolute freedom, as the self-determination of the absolute present itself. [29]

 

V. Logical and Dialectical Contradiction

    The central term of negation in Zen accounts of contrariety, "mu," cuts radically across the divide between linguistic and real opposition. As was the case with Hegel, most of the examples of "contradiction" presented by Nishida are not primarily propositional but indicate something more general and experiential, like felt "tension, " "opposition," "contrast," or "polarity." One prime example is the conflict of life and death, which is made representative of the character of contradictions at the base of the self. The concrete character of the oppositions that Nishida says

 

 

p. 172

make up our contradictory self-identity are amply illustrated in his insistence that self-reflection begins when the self comes face-to-face with death and realizes its own finitude.

    This quite general use of "mu" makes it difficult, as was noted above, to be clear when Nishida intends to indicate linguistic utterances or the character of experience. These difficulties aside, the concrete character of "contradictions" in Nishida philosophy indicates the relationship that logic has to experience. Our understanding of his benshoho, and of the seriousness of his claim of the logic of place (bashoteki ronri) as a logic, may be aided immeasurably by close attention to a distinction Hegel understood as that between "dialectical" and "logical" contradiction.

    It is often thought that Hegel viewed the formal-logical laws of noncontradiction and excluded middle as eliminable because they held metaphysical views forbidding change and development, and thereby denatured the ontological principle of the universal contradictoriness of things and phenomena. But while Hegel did oppose such metaphysics, he did not ontologize the formal-logical principles in this way. Hegel's critique of the laws of thought, as found in his Science of Logic (1812), is not a criticism of the validity of rules per se, but of the status accorded to them by the "abstract understanding." [30] By critiquing the understanding of 'laws of thought' held by the "schoolmen" of his time, he rather considered himself to be avoiding a confusion of the discursive laws with the nature of the real. The distinction between logical and dialectical contradictions was one which Hegel developed in order to extricate himself from the schoolmen's confusions.

    Hegel describes himself as critiquing and "reinterpreting dialectically" the prevalent understanding of contradiction. Dialectical contradiction can be broadly construed as the experienced quality of opposition or conflict. Dialectical contradictions are different from both the abstract and the concrete understandings of logical contradiction. [31] As Lawler summarized, in "Hegel on Contradictions-Misinterpretations,"

Hegel distinguished between logical contradiction, including logical contradiction understood dialectically, and dialectical contradiction properly speaking. It is only by understanding the more fundamental concept of dialectical contradiction that it is possible to comprehend the "place" or relative importance of (formal) logical contradiction (or the law of noncontradiction) in scientific thought. [32]

    Nishida's development of a "concrete" logic depends, like Hegel's earlier effort, on a new conception of the relation between logical and dialectical contradiction. [33] Thus Nishida writes,

From the standpoint of abstract logic, it is impossible to say that things which contradict each other are connected; they contradict each other just because they cannot be connected. But there would be no contradiction if they

 

 

p. 173

did not touch each other somewhere. Facing each other is already a synthesis. Here is the dominion of dialectical logic. [34]

    In an illuminating volume of articles concerned with Hegelian and Marxist views of these issues, Dialectical Contradictions (1983), Mussachia denies that the principles of logic have any necessary ontological implications for the manner in which object-hood or self-identity must be understood. He argues instead that they have only a delimiting implication, a "minimal empirical or ontological 'import,' which can be summed up in the assertion that reality is whatever it is -- that it is 'consistent,' whether we regard it as essentially static or as changing or whatever." [35] Nor, he believes, should the ontological principle of the contradictory development of knowledge be taken to imply any 'failure' of the logical principles, rightly understood. As Narski, too, insists,

... the formal-logical law of contradiction forbids precisely formal-logical, but not dialectical, contradictions, and therefore should not and cannot conflict with the law of universal dialectical contradictoriness. [36]

    The ontological status of dialectical contradictions has recently resurfaced as a point of debate between Hegelians and dialectical materialists. H. Horz characterizes the materialist position thusly:

Dialectical contradictions are the objectively existing unity of interacting opposites. The recognition of the objective existence of opposites distinguishes materialist dialectics from all other forms of dialectics.... [37]

    The uniqueness of Nishida's account I see as centering on an understanding of the "objectivity" of experienced contradiction quite different from both Hegel and Marx. In the final two sections I will develop my reading of Nishida's account of contrariety, focusing firstly on the role of opposites in human thought processes, and secondly on aspects of their philosophical status.

 

VI. Apposite Opposites and Dimensions of Experience

    In the philosophical anthropology that G. E. R. Lloyd develops in Polarity and Analogy, three reasons are considered for the ancients' common uses of opposites as "causes at work" and as "principles of explanation." [38] One of these is the simplicity and conceptual clarity which opposites afford. A second reason is the apparent comprehensiveness of bipolar arguments and classificatory schemes. Of course, discerning philosophers such as Lloyd would not take either of these first two reasons as cogent or as an epistemically sound basis for selection of theoretical nomenclature. Indeed it is important to see that they are both philosophically suspicious reasons for adopting opposites as principles. "Simple" classifications may be ill-suited to the complexity of phenomena and lead to gross hypostatization. The "apparent comprehensiveness"

 

 

p. 174

of pairs of opposites for classificatory purposes is likely to mask the implicit adoption of a dualistic metaphysics by the classifier, and to invoke a confusion of linguistically conventional boundaries with the limits of thought and possibility.

    But the third reason Lloyd gives is quite philosophically intriguing: conceptualization in terms of pairs of opposites, he argues, helped the Greeks define "regions" or "dimensions" of experience. "Any pair of opposites...defines a dimension." This presents a more fruitful way also to approach Nishida's account of contrariety. A central theme of Nishida's benshoho is that "there is always identity at the root of mutual contradictories." [39] "Self-identity" is not static as in abstract logic, but is the identity-in-difference of the permanent flow -- or of the infinite whole of the process. Nishida uses "absolute" to mark the ontological implications of the aspects opposed or identified. Identity-in-difference is explored by Nishida through his contention that what he calls "absolute contradictories" have a relation like "species" within the same "genus." As he put this in The World of Action,

Mutual contradictories must be absolutely different, on the one hand, yet very similar, on the other. They must exist in the same genus. Colors and sounds are not contradictories. [40]

    The concept of dimensions of experience is important since it forces us to return our focus from reified "aspects" or determinations of a dimension of experience, to the primary phenomena of the dimension itself. For example, it may shift focus from judgments of objective "goodness" or "evilness" to the ethical dimension of experience or action itself. [41] Ogden makes a similar point in logic when he notes that mere difference does not create opposition; and according to U. C. Ewing, "There are no opposites that are completely isolated as separate and unrelated entities." Israel explains this by arguing that to state that two things are contradictory is arbitrary: one ought to say rather that two things are contradictory "within a specified totality." According to Nishida, too,

Things that resist or conflict with one another presuppose the same underlying generic concept. For they oppose one another in the determination of the same universal concept. [42]

    The meaning of Nishida is captured in part by a distinction Archie Bahm discusses between "inapposites" or merely different "posits,", and "apposite opposites," which are thematic pairs such as hot/cold, or wet/dry. Why exactly do we count certain terms as natural contraries? The "good reasons" we have for assimilating two terms as a natural pair of opposites is again that they are opposing determinations or aspects of a self-identical dimension of experience. According to Bahm this notion

 

 

p. 175

of natural "apposition" cannot be reduced to a contrast between conceptual definitions:

Appositeness pertains to a closeness of relationship between two opposites which, in spite of their negation of each other, share something in common which is essential to the nature of each as a posit.... It is this commonness which constitutes them a pair....This something, which apposite opposites share in common, is to be found wholly in neither of them.... [43]

    This problem is treated by both Bahm and Errol Harris as deeply involving the relation of particulars and universals. In Errol Harris' recent work Formal, Transcendental and Dialectical Reasoning (1987), [44] a systems-theoretical explication of dialectical reasoning is developed. On this account the ground of both identity and difference is understood as the structure of the relational system to which both belong. "As every phase in the scale is a provisional whole premonitory of the ultimate totality, it must be evident that both forms are really but two aspects of one relationship: that between the universal and its particulars."

    For Nishida, an Aristotelian "logic of the subject that cannot become predicate" would be a reflection of a world of essential kinds. But in a world characterized by engi, mutual interdependence and codependent arising, such Aristotelian logic is a vehicle to partial understanding at best. Nishida's predicate logic is based upon the transcendental predicate as a kind of universal that alone can give knowledge of things. In Nishida's thought the starting point for philosophical reflection and for logic is the "dialectical universal," "that which, contradicting itself, is yet identical with itself." [45] This special predicate is the presupposition of the intelligible world, and is considered necessary for grasping the individuality of things. As such it is identified with basho as the field of the mutual determination of the particular and the universal.

    This problem has had most discussion in Western circles where it involves debate between logics based on "extrinsic" and on "intrinsic" relations. In substance metaphysics, the starting point is the discretely existing particular or primary substance. If there is a comparison between relata to be made, both relata are viewed as independent, definable without reference to one another. The problem with the thesis of extrinsicality is that it conflates logical and ontological questions. This is seen in the understanding of "truth conditions" in Aristotelian logic. That "A is true just if not-A is false" and "A is false just if not-A is true," the Aristotelian asserts, is necessarily true. But because the notion of analyticity and an understanding of conventionality in definition are lacking, the necessity that Aristotle asserts for principles of identity and noncontradiction is considerably overstated. It is important to recognize that these "truth conditions" are conventions for definitions of A and not-A as linguistic subjects and predicates. Such truth conditions are a matter

 

 

p. 176

of analytic rather than synthetic a priori reasoning, and their tautologous character is recognizable only within a system of two-value logic. [46]

    Israel argues that all dialectical logic is a logic of intrinsic relations, and contrasts dialectical logic with the extrinsic relations characteristically recognized in Aristotelian substance metaphysics. In Israel's systems theory, intrinsicality of relations is a reflection of systematicity and of inter-relatedness of definition within a system. Relata are what they are only in relation to one another and in the context set by the system in which they arise. The starting point is the system itself -- the totality or dialectical whole which is the ground for both the identity and difference of its own aspects.

    I emphasize the comparison of systems theory with Buddhist logic, because this redresses a common misconception about Buddhist logic. The claim that Buddhist logic is not a logic at all is grounded on the contention that it rests upon claims of mystical insight into a Buddhist "higher truth" beyond discursive thought, or upon objectivistic (unmediated) grasping of the "absolute present" (zettai genzai). I do not of course deny that mysticism and direct perception of zettai genzai by the enlightened mind are cherished aspects of Kyoto school teaching. Many schools of Buddhism seem to me to conflate logic and ontology by bringing tenets of mysticism into the discussion of contradiction. My argument is rather that Nishida's critique of two-value logic and of contradiction 'abstractly' understood is logically independent of such claims. Indeed I think his critique fits quite well with the thesis of the pragmatic character of logical axioms as explicated by some mainstream American pragmatists. As C. I. Lewis once commented, the laws of thought can avoid a pragmatic status only if they are considered a priori synthetic judgments. Pragmatism makes a break with this tradition that runs past Kant and at least as far back as Aristotle. In developing the implications of his "pragmatic conception of the a priori," Lewis argued that the laws of thought "make explicit our general modes of classification. And they impose upon experience no real limitation." [47]

The laws of logic are purely formal; they forbid nothing but what concerns the use of terms and the corresponding modes of classification and analysis. The law of contradiction tells us that nothing can both be white and not-white, but it does not and can not tell us whether black is not-white, or soft or square is not-white. To discover what contradicts what we must always consult the character of experience. Similarly the law of the excluded middle formulates our decision that whatever is not designated by a certain term shall be designated by its negative. It declares our purpose to make, for every term, a complete dichotomy of experience, instead -- as we might choose -- of classifying on the basis of a tripartite division into opposites (as black and white) and the middle ground between the two. Our rejection of such tripartite division represents only our penchant for simplicity. [48]

 

 

p. 177

VII. Apposition, Negation, and Mediation

    Some of the questions I have raised touch upon the familiar debate between realism and nominalism on the relation of language to the real. Does language, including and especially those terms of opposition which so often find their way into the most basic levels of classification, 'cut reality at the joints', or do they cut it at best in conventional ways reflecting only the user's cognitive abilities and interests? Lloyd uses his studies of primitive and archaic classification to defend a nominalistic response. C. R. Hallpike similarly considers the cross-cultural prevalence of binary and dualistic classification at early stages of social development in Foundations of Primitive Thought, yet argues quite oppositely and quite brazenly for realism:

... the prevalence of dualistic classification is not principally a manifestation of a binary property of the human mind, imposing itself on a neutral range of phenomena, but rather an accommodation to a dualistic reality. [49]

    Nishida can be interpreted as intending to take the middle path between these alternatives, as he does with materialism and idealism. Both the "in the mind" and "in reality" options are extreme positions, to be avoided via Nishida's recourse to the primacy of experience. Such an interpretation might place him closer to the view Levi-Strauss advocated:

... Perhaps it must be acknowledged that duality, alternation, opposition and symmetry, whether presented in definite forms or in imprecise forms, are not so much matters to be explained, as basic and immediate data of mental and social reality which should be the starting point of any attempt at explanation. [50]

    We can take Nishida's account of the fundamental opposition between the One and the Many as representative of his notion of the self-identity of absolute contradictories. Here as before, neither the whole nor the parts can be said to be real except in relation to one another. All conceptualization in terms of opposites proceeds as abstraction of aspects out of dialectical wholes. "At the base of the world there are neither the many nor the one." What is real is rather a unity or dialectical whole which contains in itself the conditions for its own diffusion. In the dialectical whole, the particular and the universal are fully interfused. The contradictory self-identity of a dialectical whole represents a mode of being that is at once already a unity of the actual and the possible, the particular and the universal. The logic of soku hi or "is and is not" represents a balanced logic of symbolization reflecting sensitivity to the mutual determination of universality and particularity in nature, and a corresponding emphasis on nonattachment to linguistic predicates and subjects as representations of the real.

 

 

p. 178

At the base of the world, there are neither the many nor the one; it is a world of absolute unity of opposites, where the many and the one deny each other... in the depth of the world there are neither one nor many, and... through mutual negation of the one and the many the world is from the formed to the forming. [51]

    My central concern in this essay, contrariety as a problem shared across East/West boundaries, thus returns to the focus. Nishida's unique approach to contrariety involves a novel conception of the role that opposites play in human thought: they are forms of mediation between self and the environment. The generation, maintenance, and criticism of opposites in conceptual thought is necessary as a form of mediation with the world. "Productivity through action-intuition means: the individual confronts transcendence, confronts the absolute, has as mediation the unity of opposites." [52]

    Nishida says both that the individual confronts the absolute unity of opposites (that is, confronts the absolute) and that he has the unity of opposites as his form of mediation with the absolute. [53] But this ambiguity concerning the status of apposites must be seen within the context of logic concretely understood. It does not cast Nishida into the camp of either nominalism or realism. Rather, Nishida is insisting that the experienced world is not a world already fully formed for us. Identity cannot be understood apart from negation; negation is an initial creative act of self-reflection that makes possible both identity and difference. The self must become active and creative in the process of the formation of his world. "Seeing the world through action-intuition implies forming the world through action-intuition." Only in this creative act do we as forming factors become true individuals in and over against a world. Here again the cognitive method of active intuition is concrete logical, for "Concrete logic is just where we as historical-productive Self progressively grasp reality." [54]

 

VIII. Conclusion

    On the view I have developed, the concern to articulate and disambiguate the relationships between language and reality, or logic and experience, is strongly shared across the divisions between Eastern and Western traditions. What I have objected to in characteristically Western approaches to the subject after Aristotle is its detachment from the problem of contrariety. The disregard for the problem of contrariety is correctable by a closer examination of such sources as the dependence of Aristotelian logic on a metaphysics of contrariety, Nishida's syncretic philosophy, and the work of a wide range of contemporary thinkers in the West who hold affinity for dialectical ontology. This, I have argued, shows the need for a philosophical anthropology of contrariety and for what I have called "comparative dialectics" as a meta-methodology for comparative and syncretic philosophy.

 

 

p. 179

   In an afterword to Nishida's final work, "The Logic of the Place of Nothingness and the Religious Worldview," Nishida reflects upon his benshoho logic as a form of thinking intended to "clarify... the historically formative act from the standpoint of the historically active self itself." [55] He emphasizes the central importance of this logic to the understanding of his thought, and says that those academics who brush aside a logic of contradictory identity as 'not a logic at all', have only proliferated misunderstandings rather than clarified issues. In this I would agree with Nishida, for "logic" is a term that has too often connoted a strictly deductive way of thinking to the exclusion of ampliative or nondeductive thought processes. Discursive thought is far too complex and inventive to be contained within deductive models. Our epistemology therefore must attend to the actual form(s) of human thought, and "The standpoint of theory of knowledge, where subject and object confront each other, must be examined critically. Knowledge, too, is a happening in the historical-social world." [56]

    I end therefore in agreement with Nishida that logic(s) must be understood in the broadest sense as the discursive form(s) of our own uniquely human thought processes. "Logic is the discursive form of our thinking. And we will only be able to clarify what logic is by reflecting on the form of our own thinking." [57] Confusion rather than clarification, Nishida has shown, has been the result of attempts to settle this matter by allegiance to the abstract understanding and a priori synthetic conceptions of logical principles. A more pluralistic conception of logic would seem to be one outcome of the undercutting of these foundations in Classical and Modern epistemology. Our analysis of pragmatic and systems-theoretic conceptions of logical principles has underlined this implication. Yet Nishida's comparisons of different logics in the development of his benshoho serves also the more synoptic goals embraced in the search for a common basis for intercultural dialogue. A philosophically and crossculturally adequate understanding of contrariety is a precondition for working out such a common basis. Like Nishida I remain optimistic that logic and epistemology on a concrete footing may yet succeed where the abstract understanding has failed, and thereby achieve a goal which has long inspired dialectical thinkers both East and West.

 

NOTES

I would like to express my thanks to Val Viglielmo, Steve Odin, and David Dilworth for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this essay.

1 - Cf. J. P. Anton's Aristotle's Theory of Contrariety (New York: Humanities Press, 1957).

 

 

p. 180

2 - Aristotle, Metaphysica 1004b.

3 - Anton, Aristotle's Theory; see especially chap. 2, "The Ontological Foundations of Contrariety and Its Relation to Substance as Nature," and chap. 4, "Contrariety in the Locus of Process and in the Categories."

4 - G. E. R. Lloyd, Polarity and Analogy (London: Cambridge University Press, 1966).

5 - Nishida Kitaro, Intuition and Reflection in Self-Consciousness, trans. by V. H. Viglielmo with T. Toshinori and J. S. O'Leary (New York: State University of New York Press, 1987), Introduction, p. ix.

6 - Fundamental Problems of Philosophy, trans. by David A. Dilworth (Tokyo: Sophia University, 1970), p. 94.

7 - Joachim Israel, The Language of Dialectics and the Dialectics of Language (Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1979).

8 - Intelligibility and the Philosophy of Nothingness, trans. by Robert Schinzinger (Honolulu: East-West Center, 1958), p. 174. Actionintuition is the ground for the subject/object distinction, which Western epistemology so often takes as primary. "[S]uch dichotomies are always the negation of the unity of subject and object" (Fundamental Problems of Philosophy, pp. 138-139; cf. p. 32).

9 - Intelligibility and the Philosophy of Nothingness, p. 211.

10 - G. W. F. Hegel, Lesser Logic (1830), sec. 48 (London: Oxford University Press, 1975), pp. 76-77.

11 - Fundamental Problems of Philosophy, p. 181.

12 - I interpret such issues of orientation as meta-methodological ones and regard them as being informed by ontology. In my view, Nishida has an ontology, albeit a specifically dialectical one, that is committed to neither Materialism nor Idealism. But the shift to reinterpreting many ontological questions as meta-methodological ones is appealing to me, as it brings with it a normative conception of meta-level discourse.

13 - E. V. Ilyenkov, Dialectical Logic (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977), p.120.

14 - Only by seeing it thus, Nishida insists, will the development of the world have definite form or preserve the creative act "from the formed to the forming." By seeing the world only from the many, or only from the one, and by thinking the world only as mechanism, or only teleologically, there is no "from the formed towards the forming" (Last Writings: Nothingness and the Religious Worldview,

 

 

p. 181

trans. by David Dilworth (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1987), p. 62).

15 - "The Dialectical World, " in Fundamental Problems of Philosophy, p. 170.

16 - Fundamental Problems of Philosophy, p. 247.

17 - Nishida says that the ground of identity is found neither in the direction of the subject as subsumed under the predicate, nor of the predicate as unified by the subject. Nishida identifies these alternatives as realistic and idealistic, respectively, and argues instead for the basis of identity "in an underlying pre-cognitive ground" (Intuition and Reflection, p. 140; cf. Fundamental Problems of Philosophy, p. 22).

18 - Intuition and Reflection, p. 171.

19 - Ibid., p.211.

20 - Cf. Last Writings. For Nishida, "this logic of the contradictory identity of the absolute is a 'negative theology' in an entirely different framework." See, especially, pp. 69-70.

21 - Cf. Last Writings 110 and 118: "I think however that a God who does not empty himself, a God who does not express himself through his own self negation, is not the true absolute."

22 - Last Writings; cf. pp. 75, 87.

23 - Ibid., p. 87.

24 - Ibid.; cf. p. 110.

25 - "The thought of totality, the intelligible world, is the concrete Idea as we have seen it with the Neo-Platonists" (Lectures on the History of Philosophy (1895), p. 548). This point is made by Graham Priest, "Dialectic and Dialetheic," Science and Society 53, no. 4 (Winter 1989): 398.

26 - Last Writings, p. 115.

27 - Intelligibility and the Philosophy of Nothingness, p. 177.

28 - I have interpreted "benshoho" as "dialectic" broadly, in a sense encompassing both what Dilworth calls "dialectic" (sublational logic) and what he calls "agonistic" (paradoxical logical). Nishida's leaning toward the agonistic side of Dilworth's distinction is important in understanding his differences with Hegel or with more traditional forms of Buddhism. Yet I see little justification in defining dialectic in Dilworth's quite narrow fashion, or in the license he takes in the Last Writings to vary the translation given to "benshoho" and other of

 

 

p. 182

Nishida's terms in order to help carry the meta-philosophical categories he favors in his commentary.

29 - Last Writings, p. 111.

30 - See James Lawler's "Hegel on Contradictions-Misinterpretations, " in E. Marquit, P. Moran, and W. Truitt, eds., Dialectical Contradictions (Minneapolis: Marxist Educational Press, 1985), pp. 16-17:

... Hegel is concerned not with the elimination of the principles of formal-logical principles per se, but with an examination of their place in the overall movement of thought, and a rejection of a philosophy of logic that presents such principles as self-evident absolutes that are intuitively 'given.'

31 - Hegel, The Science of Logic (1812).

32 - Lawler, in Marquit et al., Dialectical Contradictions, p. 14. See also R. Norman and S. Sayers, Hegel, Marx and Dialectic: Debate (Hervester's Press, 1980); S. Sayers, Reality and Reason: Dialectic and the Theory of Knowledge (Blackwell, 1985).

33 - Lawler, in Marquit et al., Dialectical Contradictions, p. 14: "Hegel distinguished between the concept of logical contradiction (i.e., formal logical contradiction) understood within this framework (that of "abstract understanding") and logical contradiction understood within the framework of dialectical theory...."

34 - Intelligibility and the Philosophy of Nothingness, p. 177.

35 - Lawler, in Marquit et al., Dialectical Contradictions, p. 13.

36 - Narski, "Hegel's Interpretation of Contradiction," in Marquit et al., Dialectical Contradictions, pp. 46-47. This point is a basis for preference for certain self-contradictory uses of language by those using Marxist methods in science. Social and physical tensions are among the most empirical of posits, and hence methodological expression of hypotheses in terms of dynamic oppositions is taken to reflect both the nature of the real and the "contradictory development of thought."

37 - H. Horz, "Dialectical Contradictions in Physics, " in Marquit et al., Dialectical Contradictions p. 205.

38 - Lloyd examines especially the sophistication in the shift away from "tables" of opposites and from treatment of opposites as metaphysical "forces at work," to treatment of them as principles of classification, etc. Cf. Pythagoras' table of opposites in Lloyd's "Theories Based on Opposites in Early Greek Thought," chap. 7 of Polarity and Analogy.

 

 

p. 183

39 - Lloyd, Polarity and Analogy, p. 23.

40 - Fundamental Problems of Philosophy, p. 14.

41 - For a thoughtful development of a dialectical view of ethical reflection, see Michael Kelly's recent "The Dialectical/Dialogical Structure of Ethical Reflection," Philosophy and Rhetoric 22, no. 3 (1989): 174-193.

42 - Fundamental Problems of Philosophy, p. 3.

43 - Archie Bahm, Polarity, Dialectic and Organicity (Albuquerque: World Books, 1977), p. 8; see also p. 73.

44 - Errol Harris, Formal, Transcendental and Dialectical Thinking: logic and Reality (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987), p. 160.

45 - Intelligibility and the Philosophy of Nothingness, p. 55.

46 - Graham Priest, (1989). 388-415.

47 - C. I. Lewis, "A Pragmatic Conception of the A Priori," in A. Rorty, ed., Pragmatic Philosophy (New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1966), p. 353.

The traditional example of the a priori par excellence is the laws of logic. These can not be derived from experience since they must first be taken for granted in order to prove them. They make explicit our general modes of classification. And they impose upon experience no real limitation. Sometimes we are asked to tremble before the specter of the "alogical," in order that we may thereafter rejoice that we are saved from this by the dependence of reality upon mind. But the 'alogical' is pure bogey, a word without meaning. What kind of experience could defy the principle that everything must either be or not be, that nothing can both be and not be, or that if x is y and y is z, then x is z? If anything imaginable or unimaginable could violate such laws, then the everpresent fact of change would do it every day.

48 - Ibid.

49 - C. Hallpike, Foundations of Primitive Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), p. 224.

50 - In Hallpike, ibid.

51 - Intelligibility and the Philosophy of Nothingness, pp. 168-169.

52 - Ibid., p. 209.

53 - Ibid., p. 208. Cf. Fundamental Problems of Philosophy, p. 4: "The true individual can be regarded as the ultimate determination of the universal, but at the same time, it determines the universal. The true individual must be an acting individual."

54 - Intelligibility and the Philosophy of Nothingness, pp. 240 and 224; cf. 204 and 207.

 

 

p. 184

55 - Last Writings, p. 125.

56 - Intelligibility and the Philosophy of Nothingness, p. 171.

57 - Ibid., p. 126, see also Fundamental Problems of Philosophy, p. 113: "Logic does not mean the science of abstract thinking, as is usually thought. True logic must be a science of concrete thinking. True dialectic must be a path by which reality explains itself."