Contingency and the "time of the dream": Kuki Shuzo and French prewar Philosophy

By Thorsten Botz-Bornstein
University of Tampere, Finland

Philosophy East and West
Vol. 50, No. 4 (October 2000)
pp. 481-506

Copyright 2000 by University of Hawaii Press


Bell & Howell Information Learnng: Foreign Text Omitted(...)


Kuki between Germany and France

There are several reasons to examine aspects of work that was developed by the Japanese philosopher Kuki Shuzo "in the shade of German philosophy"-an aspect that represents what one could call Kuki's "French side." Kuki stayed in Europe from 1921 to 1929. He spent the first three years in Heidelberg, went to Paris in the autumn of 1924, then returned to Germany (Freiburg and Marburg) in the spring of 1927. Finally he came back to Paris in June 1928. Kuki thus found himself in the unique situation of being a Japanese philosopher divided "between" a German and a French intellectual environment. The impact that Heidegger had on Kuki has been examined extensively by philosophers in both the East and the West. On the other hand, the implications of the French influence on Kuki have not been so extensively analyzed.

This is curious because it is possible to argue that the philosophical enterprise that Kuki encountered in France, although clearly inscribed in a rationalist Western tradition, involved a special, although certainly largely unconscious, relationship with Eastern thought. This fact alone justifies a change in focus by shifting the emphasis in comparative studies from Germany to France. Kuki received direct influence from the philosophers Bergson, Boutroux, Guyau, and Brunschvicg as well as from the writer Alain. It was the twenty-three-year-old Jean-Paul Sartre who introduced him, in the context of what both called "French conversation lessons," to the world of these philosophers, whose ideas were then dominating France.' Apart from classical French figures such as Descartes, Pascal, Comte, and Maine de Biran, a particularly French influence was present in the form of a certain atmosphere that had spread via French "dandyism" (in literature through Baudelaire and Barbey d! 'Aurevilly) and which must certainly have been decisive for the development of Kuki's famous work on the concept of iki.

In regard to parallels between Kuki and Heidegger, one may be inclined to invoke political motives that were not purely "spiritual" but were, to some extent, due to more "vitalistic" forces. The question imposes itself as to this "Heideggerian side" of Kuki, an aspect that seems, moreover, to fit rather well into the context provided by the political tendencies of the Kyoto School (with which Kuki is sometimes even identified) and to complement Kuki's fascination with French rationalism as well as with a certain French "esprit de finesse" that Kuki admitted to finding so attractive in French culture.2

In general, Kuki's "French side" has aroused relatively little interest. This is odd because one of the few works by Kuki that have been translated into European languages is his doctoral thesis on the subject of contingency, the Guzensei no mondai, which Kuki finished in 1932. This thesis was published in Japanese in 1935 and in French translation as Le Probleme de la contingence in 1953.3 As the title suggests, Guzensei no mondai is directly influenced by two eminent books by French contemporaries with whom Kuki had become particularly well acquainted: Emile Boutroux's De la contingence des lois de la nature (1908)4 and Emile Borel's Le Hasard (1920).5

First, it seems that the French treatment of the phenomenon of contingency as well as of the questions of liberty and time had been absorbed by Kuki and elaborated in the context of Asian thought. In Guzensei no mondai Kuki turns out to be a great specialist of French thought who is able to assimilate certain motives of French "spiritualism" with concepts of contingency as they appear in the Buddhist tradition. Kuki advances a rationalist philosophy for which contingency appears as a "reality of the real as real" (...) or as "simple reality" (...) (p. 213).

One of Kuki's main points is that this reality can be grasped only by means of philosophy and not by means of science: only the philosopher would be able to develop an analytical approach that is not based on the research of a "necessity of laws" or on a "norm of thought" but on a quantity that can never be reduced to a simple formal law. This quantity is called probability (...).

Kuki links contingency to the phenomenon of existence. A philosophy that forces itself to see contingency behind necessity also discovers nothingness behind reality. A philosophy of contingency does not simply see "what there is" but forces itself to be surprised at what it can trace back to nothing other than contingency.

Kuki is looking, then, for a new concept of time that should be linked to contingency. He believes that reality does not appear to us within a "now of the present" but that it should be conceived as a dynamic development. Reality is no static phenomenon that appears inside a present "actuality": it is dynamized through the negation of time as a necessary consecution of past, present, and future elements.

This concept of time, of course, is also founded on ideas that are particularly Buddhist. The Buddhist concept of karma, as Masao Abe has explained, is different from the Hindu concept because it refuses the determinism that is characteristic of the Hindu religion.6 Maurice Guyau, one of the French philosophers on whom Kuki concentrated, characterizes Indian (Hindu) religion as a spiritual movement that wants to overcome contingency. This religion would be suitable for those who "strive for something better, purer and truer than what they find in the rites, the offices and the sermons where coincidence has thrown them."7

Buddhism, on the other hand, does not presuppose the existence of a God who controls the destiny of human beings; as a consequence, moments of possibility as well as of contingency can enter into this religious philosophy. We have the possibility, for example, of being liberated from karma through an act of personal choice. However, this idea of "liberation" is strictly linked to the realization of time and history (thus the karma itself) as a dynamic quantity that is composed of past, present, and future.

We thus have the possibility of being liberated from karma only if, paradoxically, we recognize the interpenetration of past, present, and future as a phenomenon of absolute necessity. Abe writes: "At the very moment we realize the beginninglessness and endlessness of history, we transcend its boundlessness and find the whole process of history from beginningless beginning to endless end intensively concentrated within the here and now" (Zen and Western Thought, p. 214).

This concept of time becomes especially important in Zen Buddhism, and it has repercussions on the formulation of the idea of contingency. Dagen explains that time is not a static phenomenon but should be conceived as a "lived time" or as a "being time." For Dogen, being and time form "only one word."8 As Steven Heine has said, Dogen accentuates "the dynamic nature of movement and continuity, which is no longer statically conceived as time-points 'piled up' on one another."9 In this way Dogen investigates the meaning and structure of "contingent lived-time" (Heine, Existential and Ontological Dimensions, p. 4). Time as "lived-time" is based on a structure of contingency instead of a structure of succession. Consequently, in "lived-time" we cannot make the distinction between past, present, and future.

While Western thought tends to inscribe even the very dynamics that animates the relationship between past and present into static dialectical concepts (for example, the dialectics of Hegel), Dogen rejects all speculative approaches and accepts presence as the only "time" in which the Buddha-nature manifests itself. We see that contingency here does not represent a temporary moment of separation from a world of necessity-that is, from a world that is still controlled by a necessary logic-but that the world itself is declared to be contingent: "Life is a stage of time and death is a stage of time, like, for example, winter and spring. We do not suppose that winter becomes spring, or say that spring becomes summer," says Dogen in the Shobogenzo. 10

For Dogen, as a representative of Zen Buddhism, any concept of time should try, in a direct way, to grasp the existential condition of the world and of human beings and not attempt to "put it in order" according to abstract criteria. The "fullness of time" (Abe, Zen and Western Thought, p. 64) is manifest at any moment of history and necessitates the concept of a "discontinuity of time" that, in an essential way, is different from continuous time as it is normally conceived. In this way "radical contingency" (Heine) becomes a concrete phenomenon because it asks questions of existential value.

We have now established Kuki's treatment of contingency at least to some extent within an East Asian religious and intellectual environment. Against this background it might appear amazing that Kuki presents his own notion of time by alluding so extensively to Western authors. However, the French authors to whom Kuki refers occupy a special position within Western thought. The French philosophy of the period that Kuki examined in particular was influenced by thinking on contingency in two ways. First, there was the development of a French criticism that defined itself against a determinism that had so far formulated its ideas in rather abstract terms. One decided to examine the notion of contingency hoping that a philosophy of the hasard would relativize scientific determinism in an efficient way. In this way one established a "science of the hasard" that would be in the service not of determinism or even of science in the first place, but in the service of life; that is,! it would be subordinated to human needs. One of the prominent representatives of this philosophy of the hasard, Emile Borel, wrote: "The science of the coincidence (hasard) could indeed, not more than any other science, pretend to administer our actions; it could only, according to the role of science, make it easier for human beings to reflect on their actions before carrying them out" (Le hasard, p. ii).

While determinism can be realized on an abstract level, a contingency that is supposed to reside in the real world reminds us of the limits of science. The development of a special concept of time, which has been sketched above, a time that is not at all "determined" by abstract presuppositions, necessarily goes together with these ideas.

Second, for Kuki there was certainly the experience of a cultural notion of contingency that was present in French literature at that time. "Contingency in culture" may remind us of contingency as it appears in certain Japanese cultural phenomena such as fuga. It is the "wind" that is contingent that "determines" the essence of art and of humanity, but it still has an absolute power as well. The notion of play here is essential to art as well as to the perception of time.

Kuki found something of this in French literature. Quite significantly, in order to illustrate a timely concept of contingency Kuki produces a passage from Proust. Proust developed a concept of time that is founded on repetition, and he expresses it in the Recherche du temps perdu (II): "A la fois dans le present et dans le passe, reels sans etre actuels, ideaux sans etre abstraits.... Une minute affranchie de l'ordre du temps a recree en nous, pour la sentir, I'homme affranchi de l'ordre du temps" (from Kuki, Guzensei no mondai, p. 131).

Kuki wants to extend the philosophical strategy of an ontology until it includes the idea of probability in its definition of Being, in order to bring forth a new concept of aesthetics-and this attempt is certainly spectacular. We could say that there are elements of such a strategy in Aristotle, but they are not as central for the latter as they are for Kuki, for whom they lead directly to a definition of being. Aristotle sees necessity and probability as components of an aesthetics that is essential, for example, to tragedy as a phenomenon in which the rules of the narrative and purely scientific obligations are fused. Within certain aesthetic experiences (and especially those that are determined by the tragic), like Aristotle we become aware of contingency. This contingency should not be reduced-by science-to a negligible quantity, but should be experienced as a moment of truth about life. There is an analysis by Victor Goldschmidt of this aspect of Aristotle's concept! of the tragic:

There is thus coincidence in our life, there is this obscure cause which the first book of the Physics explains as much as science is able to explain it, all by forcing itself to conclude that coincidence is caused only "accidentally." Tragedy, however, can make this cause intelligible, it can submit it to criteria that define science and are also pertinent for the development of fables: the necessary or the likely, this is what Aristotle calls the wonderful.11

The idea of contingency in aesthetics as a quantity that is opposed to the formal method of science, although it is rather old-as we have seen-can be traced out very well within the territory of a certain modern French tradition.


The French Philosophy of Contingency

The concept of time that is founded on the idea of contingency can, as we have seen, be likened to Buddhism; still, the parallels that Kuki found so striking when doing his research in France are obvious, especially within an intellectual current that was trying to overcome scientific determinism and that was more or less loosely linked to the person of Henri Bergson.

Maurice Guyau, in his book La Genese de l'idee du temps (1902), develops time as a phenomenon that has a certain "aesthetic potential," and he formulates an "active" concept of time in this way:

Memory, all by itself, alters objects, transforms them, and this transformation normally gets accomplished in an aesthetic sense. Time is acting on things most often in the manner of an artist who makes everything more beautiful, all by appearing, through a kind of special magic, to be faithful.12

Guyau's idea of time might look Proustian, but it is also inscribed in the French philosophical tradition that we have introduced. In a similar way Emile Boutroux, in De La Contingence des lois de la nature, attacks a fundamental principle of science that up to that time had been defended in France by determinist philosophers like Hippolyte-Adolphe Taine: "Man wanted to be able to arrange phenomena not according to the order in which they appear to him but in the order in which they depend on each other" (p. 2). Boutroux thought that science has the right to establish links between the phenomena that it observes; however, this does not give us the right to think that these phenomena must be subordinated to an order that is based only on abstractions.

In other words, science should stop treating phenomena as "things as such" (choses en soi [p. 32]). One way to prevent science from proceeding in an abstract manner is to help it to "discover the contingency that exists in the world" (p. 36). Relations between things can be established in terms not of static but only of dynamic laws. In this way the "real" for Boutroux becomes something other than a general form that would be "filled" with concrete elements that are derived from reality: what we should look for is the "real itself"; this means the real in all its originality, and it should be seized upon as a "characteristic reality."

Boutroux initiated a philosophical program that Bergson would extend later in an unexpected way. Also, for Bergson the idea of a free, individual, contingent dynamism that is opposed to the categories of a mathematical philosophy for which everything is determined by absolute necessity occupies a central position, and this dynamism also manifests several points of correspondence with Kuki's philosophy.

Boutroux surmounts an idealistic and schematic conception that had been imposed on science and philosophy in France, especially by Antoine Auguste Cournot. As an alternative he sketches the scheme for what he calls a "positive science." We know that Kuki, in order to explore the problem of contingency, read Cournot as well as Boutroux (and dealt equally with Taine's determinism). The primordial status that positive science claims in Kuki's writings is manifest also in his Iki no kozo (Structure of iki).13 At the same time, the idea of "dynamism" remains another powerful driving force in the development of Kuki's thought, an idea that is nourished mainly by Boutroux and Bergson.

In an essay titled "Bergson in Japan," Kuki reports to a French audience that Bergson would be "highly esteemed in Japan."14 Bergson would have appeared there in 1910, at a time when Western philosophical influence was restricted almost to criticism and logic. For this reason the Bergsonian "metaphysical intuition" would have been received by the Japanese as "celestial nourishment": it provided a new means for the development of a criticism of the Kantian separation of matter and form, a criticism that, for Kuki, comes together in some points with Heidegger's reflections on "being-in-the-world." Finally, it would have been just that "intuitive tendency of Zen" (which would be opposed to a more "Kantian" Bushido) that would have helped Japanese to find their way to Bergson. Even Nishida Kitaro's philosophy itself, like Kuki's, could be understood as a "synthesis of transcendental philosophy and Bergsonism." In a synthetic way, Kuki concludes that the "silence of Bergson's ! duree" could very well be likened to the silence of Zen.

F.S.C. Northrop, in his article "The Relation Between Eastern and Western Philosophy,"15 distinguishes two kinds of intuition that he attributes to Eastern and Western philosophy, respectively. The aesthetic or existential intuition (whose instances would be identical with Aristotle's prime matter) would be "Oriental," whereas an abstract, logical, and formal intuition would be representative of the Western, Platonic philosophy. Both intuitions would excel in "immediacy" and tend toward mysticism.

It seems that in regard to the Japanese fascination with Bergson-but also, in the opposite case, in regard to the Western fascination with Zen-people are often attracted by slightly vague ideas, which suggests that the deficiencies of one kind of intuition could be compensated by the contrary movement. Often people might not be aware of the rather symmetrical opposition of these elements and that an adoption of the contrary position can all too easily effect a simple "turnover." Also, Kuki's idea of a "synthesis of transcendental philosophy and Bergsonism" aims at the reunification of two types of intuition, the empirical and the abstract. Japanese are somehow supposed to feel an "intellectual sympathy" for French rationalism simply through the fact of being Japanese.

It is certainly not wrong to draw parallels between Bergson's idea of duree and Buddhism's "ceaseless flight of things" (Kuki) or even "a watery flux"-because, indeed, Bergson also uses the image of flowing water. Still, we might feel that Kuki's ambitions as a pioneer in this area of comparative philosophy go a little "over the top." In spite of formal resemblances that certain streams of Eastern and Western thought do display, we cannot help but feel that the gap of cultural differences by which Bergson and Buddhism are separated is too important.

It might also be a major mistake to see Bergson, as some Japanese seem to have done, as a revolutionary reformer of Western philosophical culture, a culture that up to that time, as Kuki says in his essay on Bergson, had been represented in Japan by Anglo-Saxon utilitarianism, Kant, and Neo-Kantianism. For Westerners, on the contrary, Bergson remains (of course) inscribed in the movement of scientific Western rationalism, although-and from this might come the Japanese fascination with him -he also reformed something. In fact, the matter is complicated and even paradoxical. Without annulling Northrop's thoughts on the difference between Eastern and Western intuition, one should also consider another kind of Western intuition that existed in the Christian religion and that permits the role that Bergson has had in Western culture to appear in a different light.

When Bergson proposed what Kuki calls "metaphysical intuition," this abstract or empty form of intuition replaced the Christian mystical and religious form of intuition, which is outspokenly nonabstract and imaginative and which might probably have appeared as strange and only vaguely understandable to the Japanese. Recall Heinrich Dumoulin, who criticized Buddhism just because of the one-sidedness of its intellectual intuitionism, because it lacked an "Augustinian heart, the seat and symbol of loving knowledge and knowing love."16

Now Bergson declares that his aim is to annul the distinction between idealism and realism, a distinction to which Western civilization had thus far been clinging for scientific as well as religious reasons. As a consequence Bergson establishes reality as an "eternal flux." It seems that Dumoulin could have criticized Bergson by using the selfsame words that he had directed against Zen Buddhism.

Habit. In comparative philosophy it often appears more promising to examine parallels between philosophical notions that are abstract and rather removed from a concrete cultural background. Contingency is certainly one of these notions. Unfortunately, Kuki, in his paper on Bergson, mentions the phenomenon of contingency only once: here he refers to Bergson's teachers or predecessors Boutroux and Ravaisson and also to Maine de Biran. There is one notion that is just as interesting and that cannot be omitted whenever one examines the phenomenon of contingency: the notion of habit. The subject of habit as opposed to contingency had occupied French thought for well over a generation. While a proper "philosophy of contingency" cannot be found in Bergson, the notion of "habit" is essential for all of his philosophy.

Kuki's "reading list," which we can derive from Steven Light's Shuzo Kuki and Jean-Paul Sartre (see note 1), mentions authors who form an extremely coherent network. We see that Kuki was interested in a certain kind of French philosophy and that he was looking for ideas that corresponded to his personal philosophical research. Within the context of the French thought that has been so far invoked, there is a certain line whose beginning can be situated with the philosophy of Pierre Maine de Biran or perhaps his contemporary, Julien Offray La Mettrie, who announced in the first half of the eighteenth century (already in a way that is reminiscent of Bergson) that a unity of judgment, reasoning, or memory could be contained within a single concept of imagination.17

Pierre Maine de Biran's vast examination of the nature of our consciousness proceeds in a similar way. Maine de Biran's primary subject of interest is the influence that desires can have on our intellectual capacity. Believing that "la mort de nos desirs serait la mort de nos facultes,"18 he would not side with (although he would remain attracted to) the Stoics. Maine de Biran is convinced that a certain amount of "feeling" cannot be eliminated from thinking; as a consequence he establishes the notion of habit as a "center of activity" that can be crystallized within the ever-changing states of the world. In his book Influence de l'habitude sur la faculte de penser (Oeuvres, vol. 2), Maine de Biran advances habit as the primary aim of education and defines habit in this way not only as a necessary component of seeing, thinking, and imagining, but also as an important cultural phenomenon that is present in physical, intellectual, and moral life. "Good habits," Maine de Bir! an believes, can be obtained through a sort of "instinct" for an "heureuse habitude" (cf. the preface by the author). He criticizes the metaphysicians because they would have their abstract principles exist outside the concrete context of habits. However, we should not believe that we could find an alternative to metaphysics simply by remaining within the social sphere of habits all by hoping that such an insistence would lead us directly to truth. On the contrary, habits do represent a limitation-- but a limitation that must be overcome and not simply avoided. The great man of knowledge would be capable of being astonished at the very moment he sees the "veils of his habits" disappearing. He is able to recognize nature from a point of view that is detached from his own ego.19

These thoughts are, indeed, reminiscent of Bergson on the one hand, but, given the parallels that Kuki is drawing so enthusiastically between Bergson and Zen Buddhism, one could also find some Zen in them that might explain why Kuki read the works of Maine de Biran so extensively.

The philosophical line of French thought continues through a tradition that Emile Brehier has called "spiritualist positivism" and which is represented by Ravaisson, Lachelier, and Boutroux. Their contemporary Maurice Guyau shows a considerable resemblance to them although he seems to be better known in France for his Nietzschean immoralism and for his studies on the unconscious.

Spiritualist positivism aims to deconstruct the Cartesian notion of spirit by introducing "life" and by deconstructing the Cartesian ideas of mechanism and dualism (see Brehier, Histoire de la philosophie20). Boutroux, especially, equates positivity with spirituality, a spirituality that is scientific without being abstract. Also, the notion of habit is called for here in order to designate a certain notion "human activity" as a movement that is not mechanical but that appears to be free and unfree at the same time (cf. Brehier, Histoire de la philosophie, p. 871). One could say that the definition of "habit" draws a line of separation between "spiritualist positivism" and the ordinary positivism from which these French philosophers were striving to distinguish themselves. "Habit," says Boutroux, "is no fact but the ability to produce certain facts, and, in this sense, it cannot be formulated through a positive law" (De la contingence des lois de la nature, p. 95). Action! is thus always a becoming, and in this sense it is also always contingent. Maurice Blondel, equally well read by Kuki, calls a positive experience "neither absolute rest nor absolute acting: it is what is given as a law of becoming of every contingent being, of every positive experience."21

Finally, even Friedrich Schelling's idea of contingency (an idea that Schelling put in opposition to Hegelian realism) is introduced in order to describe the notion of habit. The philosopher Felix Ravaisson had a considerable influence on Bergson and also attracted the interest of Heidegger and Proust.22 Ravaisson's specializations were philosophy of nature and philosophy of life, and he wrote a small book for which he is still known today in French academic circles: De l'Habitude. In this book Ravaisson attempts to establish habit as a "general way of being" and examines in what way it would be produced within the givens of time and space. Habit, although due to life with all its changes and inconsistencies, can, once it has been acquired, represent a generality or a necessity that subsists beyond the changing world of contingency. In other words, for Ravaisson human existence is determined by permanence and impermanence at the same time, and habit is able to contain bot! h components as if they were united.

It is possible that Kuki was unable to read this book without being struck by the resemblance that these ideas bore to his own philosophical ambitions of formulating a mode of existence that unites transcendent-intellectualist and immanent-voluntary components. Kuki's project of unifying Bushido and Buddhism was meant to produce a way of life that was cultural and negated nature but that was at the same time immanent and voluntary in the sense that it engaged in a most "natural" activity: in an eternal repetition of the same. Also, Kuki's definition of iki, which evolves out of a certain "system of taste" in order to appear as a habit in the way that has been described above, is due to a similar philosophical strategy.

In Ravaisson's philosophy, habit is established as a cultural phenomenon that begins with "there where begins nature itself" (De l'Habitude, p. 39). The insistence on the interchangeability of nature and culture in regard to a certain existential phenomenon called habit is reflected in an idea of balance that can be established between action and passion and which, for Ravaisson, is "tact." It is thus an aesthetic component that corresponds to what Kuki announces in Guzensei no mondai as the "beauty" of movement of the repetition, which is decisive also for Ravaisson. In the end, not only aesthetic qualities but also things like "personality" or "identification" are created within this "balance," and they all point to the existential scope of habit: "In pure passion the feeling subject is all in itself through the fact that he does not distinguish himself, that he does not know himself yet. In pure action he is beyond himself and has ceased to know himself" (pp. 61-62).

A kind of Bergsonian intuition, with which Kuki was so fascinated, is expressed here by Bergson's teacher Ravaisson. When the real and the ideal, being and thinking, are confused we call this intuition relle. Because the ideas that are assimilated by this intuition reelle are interiorized in the form of habits, being is represented as a mani&re d'etre (pp. 79ff.) for which nature and culture, necessity and contingency, are one and the same: "Habit approaches perhaps more and more (without reaching it) the necessity, the perfect spontaneity of the instinct" (p. 82).

Leon Brunschvicg was considered by his contemporaries to be the most important French philosopher after Bergson. Brunschvicg is also against the equation of spirit and intellect and develops a more concrete notion of spirit that would involve all human actions, especially those of Homo faber, the fabricating man. The input that can be traced back to him in Kuki's philosophy will be described below.

There is another French intellectual who seems to have had a principal impact on Kuki. Although marginal for French philosophical discussions, the French writer Emile Chartier Alain has entered Kuki's intellectual world in a rather consistent way, a fact that shows that Kuki was not choosing his authors at random-that is, because they were "popular" or only because they were presented to him by Sartre. Kuki must have suspected a certain affinity among these philosophers. Light has mentioned that Kuki's Propos sur le temps was influenced by the form of Alain's Propos.23 Apart from this, in Alain the subjects of imagination, the dream, and contingency, appear again and again, and this makes Alain a kind of literary prolongation of the "French line" that we have followed thus far. Sympathizing with Stoicism, Alain brings forward the idea of an all-embracing concept of the present within which past and future would be reunited (Propos, 1 : 74). Further, by declaring that he p! refers betting at horse races to more abstract forms of gambling, he suggests a concept of contingency that is linked to human activity, life, and labor and removed from the abstract, mathematical forms of the jeu d'hasard (Propos, 1:81).

Finally, Bergson's own philosophy is also very much centered on ideas like the "memoire-habitude"-a kind of "bodily memory," a memory that appears as a "closed system" and that attributes an automatic character to all human movements24 and manifests itself in this way, touching points with Kuki's thoughts on contingency as well as on iki. The body preserves habits, and the past is not just remembered (through images) but is played. In other words, matiere and memoire get "confused" through the inscription of images in the body, and this inscription happens through the "playing" of habits. In the end, matter itself is indistinguishable from images-or, as Bergson declares in La Pensee et le mouvant, even nature (in this context) can no longer be distinguished from culture: "Because habit as a driving force is, once it has been adopted, a mechanism or a series of movements which are interdetermined, habit is that part of us which is inserted into nature and which overlaps wi! th it; it is nature itself."25

Most of the philosophers who have been presented here (with the exception of Bergson and, to some extent, Ravaisson) are rather forgotten in France today. Still it is possible to indicate a possible continuation of the tradition they have formed. First, one should mention surrealism, which has obviously inherited some of the potential that this "philosophy of contingency" has released over almost two centuries in France. Andre Breton's confession that for him the strongest of all images would be the one that "presente le degre arbitraire le plus eleve" (Manifeste surrealiste) testifies to the existence of a certain "field of ideas" that might be called "typically French" and that Kuki might have appreciated as a counterpoint to the "heavier" Heideggerianism. Second, scientists like Georges Canguilhem and Jean Piaget are worth mentioning here because in their work as well some of the "spirit of contingency" has survived. Canguilhem's reflections about the normal and the pa! thological that encircle the difficulty of establishing the physiological or non-physiological character of medical phenomena (because the "etat habituel" of these phenomena would be so "strong" that we are inclined to characterize them as "almost physiological") echo certain motives that have been described above. The "normal," as Canguilhem recognizes, is always the "habitual" and at the same time the "ideal."26 Conceptions like Brunschvicg's "creative consciousness," which is supposed to be at work in all moral and aesthetic values,27 seem to lurk at the bottom of this epistemology and its approaches to medical therapy.

Also, some of the work that Piaget has undertaken in the domain of experimental child psychology is founded on a philosophy of contingency. For example, Piaget uses mathematical probability theory for the examination of psychological problems and states that in a culture "every action seems, indeed, to require the notion of coincidence."28 Piaget feels that coincidence, since it exists neither for the primitive human nor for the child, can be seen as an indicator of a "culturalizing process." This can give the appearance of being influenced by the idea that contingency is the producer of a cultural form of being, an idea that was accepted by philosophers like Boutroux, who wrote: "In inferior worlds the law occupies such an important place that it almost substitutes [for] being; in higher worlds, however, being makes us almost forget the law" (De la contingence des lois de la nature, p. 139). Nature is thus "like habit": it knows no contingency, and the human being who wa! nts to "overcome" nature in order to be "civilized" needs to recognize being as a phenomenon that is not only natural but contains contingency. In this sense, the highest state of civilization will be attained when the "nature-like" characteristics of civilization (which appear in the form of habit) are recognized as such. Civilized are those who are able to "perforate the thick layer of habit in order to awaken to and deploy their free will," according to Brunschvicg (Le Progres de la conscience, p. 161), virtually repeating earlier claims by Maine de Biran. Only by having a "second nature" can a human being pretend to be no longer a "slave of its own nature" (ibid.).


Contingency and the Aristotelian Existentia

It is necessary to develop here the ethical implications of habit or style, as opposed to physiological norms, to which the norm of "race" would also belong-a point for which Kuki (as well as the Kyoto School) has often been criticized. Bernhard Stevens has suggested, rather originally, that the principal mistake of the Kyoto School (and also of Heidegger) is that they treated practical questions in a speculative manner by using conceptualizing approaches that would be more suitable for theoretical questions.29 For this reason, I think, we should examine Kuki's conception of existence in greater detail.

Ryosuke Ohashi has explained how and for what reasons Kuki attempted, in Iki no kozo, to apply the Aristotelian-Platonic couple existentia-essentia to the Japanese cultural phenomenon called iki.30 In particular, Kuki develops an analytical method that he calls the "hermeneutics of popular being" (Iki no kozo, pp. 50, 92). It is possible to interpret Kuki's preference for the "popular being" as a refusal, or even as an inversion, of "essentialist" Platonism. It can be understood as an anti-Platonism that aims to grant a more privileged position to the Aristotelian existentia, that is, to more "experiential" qualities.

However, if we decide to understand "existentialism" as the result of a shift from Platonic universalism to a more Aristotelian appreciation of the concrete, we are, obviously, confronted with a "philosophy of contingency" in the way that it has been introduced above. In Aristotle the discourse about being becomes problematic to the extent that being itself can also be an expression of the "contingency of being." For Aristotle, being is never completely "what it is" (essence, quiddity), and the verb "being" signifies more than a synthesis of essences or concepts. Being is not defined simply as an essence in terms of an identity; it stands also for the "existence" (that is, the diversity) of things, and it is in this sense that Aristotle's ontology becomes also an ontology of contingency.

Moreover, Kuki suggests, in Iki no kozo, that it is necessary to question "the 'quis' before the 'quid' in the face of objective expressions" (p. 49). Here, it is useful to examine Kuki's concept of contingency as it has been developed in the Guzensei no mondai, against the background established by Aristotle. Certainly, in some way, the fact that Kuki referred, in Iki no kozo, to "hermeneutics" makes us inclined to push his reflections in the direction of Platonism: in the very end, Meno's paradox, which suggests the existence of the hermeneutic circle, is accepted by Plato but rejected by Aristotle. Aristotle thinks that it is not extra-normal that we know already in advance what we want to know: we only know it in different ways before and after the demonstration. Before the demonstration we have an idea of the "signification of the problem," and after it we are in possession of a necessary truth. In the Posterior Analytics, Aristotle writes: "Before the induction, or ! before getting a deduction, you should perhaps be said to understand in a way-but in another way not. For if you did not know if it is simpliciter, how did you know that the triangle has two right angles simpliciter? But it is clear that you understand it in this sense-that you understand it universally-but you do not understand it simpliciter. Otherwise the puzzle in the Meno will result; for you will learn either nothing or what you know" (Posterior Analytics 1.1.71 a25-30).31

We could say that Kuki's "hermeneutics of popular being" is settled somehow between Aristotelianism and Platonism. Although in the largest part of his study on contingency Kuki interprets contingency as the contrary of necessity, he points also, in the last third of his book, to the importance of examining the relationship between contingency and possibility. Aristotle's classical postulation that the "necessary, in its first and fundamental sense, is the simple, since the simple cannot be in different modes" is used for an analysis of this very problem (Metaphysics D.5.12; cf. Kuki, Iki no kozo, p. 114).

In the largest sense, Kuki's analysis of Aristotle's being shows a parallel with Heidegger's treatment of the subject in the latter's lecture on Aristotle's Metaphysics (which Heidegger gave in 1931, two years after Kuki's departure from Europe). Being, Heidegger says, can be understood "als Wahrsein oder als Moglichsein, oder als Vorhandensein oder Zufalligsein" (Gesamtausgabe, Abt II, Bd. 33). Attempting to crystallize the particular role that contingency plays within the phenomenon of being, Kuki decided to treat not only the real but also the unreal by attributing two qualities first to the real (existent) and then to the unreal (nonexistent): the real can be either necessary or contingent while the unreal can be either possible or impossible.

We note that this procedure is rather different from the classical Western (Aristotelian) approach to contingency, which opposes not only the necessary to the contingent but also-and in parallel-the ideal to the real, the rule to the fact, and art to nature. It is obvious that in Kuki a certain sophistication flows out of the fact that any ontology of contingency must, strictly speaking, negate itself as an ontology as soon as it accepts the contingent character of being. The French specialist on Aristotle, Pierre Aubenque, has said about this point in Aristotle: "If a theory of signification leads to an ontology of essence, a theory-or better a praxis-of equivocity leads to what first appears as an ontology of accident, but which will soon denounce itself as the negation of any ontology."32

Properly speaking, the phenomenon of contingency simply does not make sense in regard to what is nonexistent, and Aristotle has always treated the subject accordingly. Jaakko Hintikka has written about the relationship that Aristotle admits between the possible and the contingent:

Hence 'possible' means that which does not involve any impossibility. In other words, impossibility and possibility are negations of each other. The primary meaning of `necessary' is for Aristotle that which cannot possibly be otherwise (Meta V5 1015a33-6). The negation of a necessary proposition therefore expresses the possibility of its contradictory: something is not necessary if and only if it is possible for it to be: Since 'contingent' meant that which is possible but not necessary, something is contingent if and only if it is both possible for it to be and possible for it not to be.33

Moreover, Kuki affirms that "possibility" (...) is "the contingency not to be" (...) (Guzensei, p. 155). However, further on, his elaborations point toward ways to encounter contingency not as a scientific but as a metaphysical problem: the being of contingency is constituted not only by existence but also by nonexistence or, to use another word, "nothingness."

Even more, Kuki classifies contingency with the help of a special epistemological scheme: contingency can be hypothetical (experiential), categorical (logical), or disjunctive (metaphysical), and he declares that his interest in the nonexistent (which is linked to existence) would be restricted to disjunctive contingency. Kuki, then, very importantly, draws a strict limit between contingency (...) and simple coincidence (guzen (...), hasard, zufall) by saying that mathematics could very well deal with the hasard without ever being able to seize the being of contingent phenomena (p. 10); these phenomena would be metaphysical.

The particularity of Kuki's idea of contingency-and here we are able to define a parallel between Kuki's approaches to iki as an "experiential" and contingency as a metaphysical phenomenon-is thus that it does not remain within the limited field of the experiential but, under Kuki's determined examination, evolves in the direction of the metaphysical. Moreover, iki (or sui) is, as George Sansom said, an "expert knowledge of how to behave in all contingencies."34 For this reason it is difficult to believe that Kuki, although in his study of contingency he drew greatly on Aristotle, really does follow Aristotle to the end. Boutroux provides a useful contrast when he shows that a certain interest in contingency is incompatible with certain Aristotelian "existentialist" tendencies: "Everywhere Aristotle is looking for the idea in the fact, the necessary and the perfect in the contingent and the imperfect; everywhere he is working on the substitution of floating elements that ! are provided by observation by fixed conceptions and definitions."35

Whoever knows Kuki's preference for "shades," "fragrances," and "after-images which accompany brilliant experience"-preferences that he has displayed so much in Iki no kozo--will doubt that Kuki could really be Aristotelian in the sense described by Boutroux. It would be more true to say, once again, that Kuki is looking for a dynamis within which moments will not appear as "lined up" (...) (as for Aristotle) in the form of purely "present moments," but in which the past, present, and future interpenetrate. Here reality does not have, as Kuki says, the "stability of an assertion" but a "thickness" (...) that makes reality "problematical" (...) more than "assertive" (...) (p. 165). The parallel that exists between this dynamic concept of time and typically Asian models of temporality also gives, in the Gcjzensei no mondai, a general value to this statement.

Contingency and Phronesis

For all these reasons one might have the right to claim that Kuki, in order to give a "thickness" to a dynamic reality, is looking for contingency (as well as for iki) within a rather dreamlike domain like that of the phronesis or the chora-that is, within a domain that by definition "exists" only between being and nonbeing. Hans-Georg Gadamer has written: "For whatever we call 'not yet' or 'possible' Aristotle has the common notion dynamei."36 Dynamei is the "indetermined-general" that always refers to a later determination.

A philosophy of contingency can be examined against the background that is constituted by such a dynamis by concentrating on the notions of chora and phronesis. The idea of phronesis becomes important at the moment we refuse to subsume the particular under the universal: we are confronted, within a paradoxical "in between," with what Kuki would have called disjunctive contingency. Within such a hermeneutic "in between" we need the "right judgment" or (what amounts to the same thing) prudence in order to find our way in a world in which nothing appears to be predetermined in a necessary way.

Interestingly, we can observe that here, in Aristotle, "right action" is represented as a philosophical and especially moral problem just because there is something like contingency in life. If all human action would take place in a world in which everything is absolutely necessary, then it would of course become absurd to talk about moral questions at all: "Nature does nothing by coincidence" says Aristotle

(Of Heaven 2.11 .291b13). But, as we all know, in practice life cannot be constituted only by nature.

Aesthetics and ethics

We should keep in mind that Kuki's insistence on the fact that "we do not doubt that taste has significance in the domain of morality" (Iki no kozo, p. 48)-should it be influenced at least somehow by an Aristotelian "existential ism"-seems to be based especially on this part of Aristotelian philosophy. And it is also in this sense that iki as well as Kuki's thoughts on contingency are supposed to teach us one thing above all: that aesthetics is ethical and ethics is aesthetics.

Kuki's philosophy of contingency is complex to the extent that the main objective of his book is to reunite Buddhist and Bushido morality. As a matter of fact, Aristotle might appear here as a rather inconvenient "partner." While Buddhist ethics is, with all its transcendental atemporality, rather on the side of Stoicism, Aristotelian ethics seems to be located more on the side of Bushido. Pierre Aubenque has written:

While stoic morality invites us to escape passing time, place of idle regrets and idle expectations, and to look for the equivalent of eternity in the rectitude of a virtuous instant, Aristotelian morality ... invites us to develop our excellence within this world.37

Against this background it is also possible to make statements in regard to Kuki's much discussed ambition to base iki on a ground that is also supposed to be ethnic. It has become clear so far that this ambition needs to be interpreted within the context of a certain fractured relationship with Aristotelian philosophy. In Iki no kc)zd Kuki declares that "iki was, after all, an ethnically determined taste" (p. 48). The embarrassing political consequences of statements like this have been made clear by some commentators. However, we should bear in mind that, in the end, Kuki's fascination with the phenomenon of contingency does give to the notion of ethnos a very special connotation.

It is Aristotle who shows us that any practical philosophy that tries to crystallize moral knowledge is always bound to consider two kinds of knowledge at the same time. First there is the purely practical knowledge of those things that have to be done, a knowledge that depends on dianoia, on thinking. Then there is the ethos as a kind of "gewordenes and schon vorgeformtes Sein," as Gadamer has said (1991, p. 376),38 and this kind of morality cannot be taught but is rather the privilege of only a few who, in some sense, have always had it.

Aristotle seems seriously to have believed, as D. J. Furley has put it, "in the incorrigibility of wickedness of those who had grown up, through bad habits, into bad dispositions."39 There is a strain in Aristotle that holds that "moral character is determined by birth" and that "behaviour is the outcome of character-i.e., of man's fixed dispositions-and that the character is 'out of our power"' (Furley, "Aristotle on the Voluntary," p. 52). On the other hand, the two kinds of virtues, the dianoia and the ethos, cannot be separated but form an entity, and this makes the whole matter so complex.

As a matter of fact, already in Plato, phronesis is transmitted from father to son, but it would be too simple to say that a certain idea of "race" has been formulated here as an explanation for the entire phenomenon of phronesis. Rather differently here, phronesis is always "in between"; it exists, as Aubenque has said, beyond all mediations that are "less transparent than those of the educative discourse but still less obscure than those of heredity" (La Prudence chez Aristote, p. 60).

The question of whether phronesis is produced by (or produces) identity or diversity can thus not be decided (to the extent that it cannot be decided at all in regard to iki). Since, as is generally believed, Aristotle abandoned Plato's theory of forms (and thus overturned Platonism in a way that Kuki supports in Iki no kozo), Aristotle was left without any point of orientation within a world of pure hasard. What was needed was phronesis and not a flight into authoritative traditions or racial excellence (cf. Aubenque, La Prudence chez Aristote, p. 49). "To be intelligent means 'to find one's way' (se debrouiller), to try, to grope, to be mistaken," said Alain, and Kuki shares this spirit rather than that of a Cartesian mechanism.

Another-rather efficient-way of saying the same thing is to state that Kuki's idea of contingency is playful. This means that contingency does not exist, abstractly, as the contrary of necessity but that, in order to exist, it needs to be reflected against a world in which necessity and contingency have been relativized beforehand. Using this sense, Kuki writes:

Real contingency, which lets the heart of the player vibrate, consists more of the fact that this force, which comes, to a certain extent, from an initial drive, in reality does not have the character of an absolute necessity, but that there is also another force to consider. Contingency consists of that [in which] there is no contradiction in admitting the existence of that other force. (Guzensei, p. 199)

In fact, it is not only contingency but also necessity that needs to be seen as a metaphysical phenomenon because whenever we come across it we might ask ourselves: "Why is there (necessarily) something instead of nothing?" In this way the "problem of contingency" is also the "problem of necessity" because, as Kuki insists, contingency is conditioned by necessity, and necessity is conditioned by contingency.

Finally we should note (although there is not enough space here for a more detailed elaboration) that Kuki, with his concept of an existence-contingency, is not all that far removed from the intellectual environment of the philosophy of the Kyoto School in Japan. Nishida's famous basho-the "place"-which comes close to the Greek chora,40 is, as Ryosuke Ohashi has remarked, diametrically opposed to the Aristotelian substance (ousia).41 For this reason the "place" could so often be seen, as Ohashi has explained, as a kind of "intuitionism" that lacks a real logical foundation. We can also note here that Bergson's "metaphysical intuition" (as Western as it is) seems to be an attractive model for a Japanese philosopher.


It seems that in the latest, "postmodern" developments in Western culture, a willingness to experiment with contingency has gained some importance. However, even if in "postmodernity" the hasard or contingency has "plunged us into an abnormal incertitude," as J. Baudrillard has said, we tend to respond to this incertitude, in a "Western" way, with an "excess of causality and finality."42 This forms the boundary with the "problem of contingency" as we have discussed it so far. For Kuki and this particular French philosophical branch, contingency is designed as an "integrable" component that is as interesting for science as it is for philosophy. In modern science, or in the modern world in general, on the other hand, the hasard is conceived rather as an indecent and obscene pariah, according to Baudrillard, who writes:

The hasard corresponded thus not to science's provisional state of incapacity to explain everything-in that case it would still have a graspable, conceptual existence-but to a passage from a state of causal determinism to another order that is also different from non-hasard. The hasard has thus no existence at all. (Les Strategies fatales, p. 209)

The difference between the typically modern reception of contingency and the way Kuki understands it becomes manifest through the treatment mainly of three problems: (1) the problem of time as it presented itself to French philosophers at the beginning of the twentieth century and its reception by Kuki as a Buddhist philosopher; (2) the problem of liberty and of existence for the French philosophers in question and for Buddhism; and (3) the dream as a psychic and aesthetic phenomenon for Kuki and the French philosophers.


We will come back to what we said at the beginning about a special conception of time. Guyau noticed well before Bergson that, contrary to what the Kantians thought, we do not have a representation of a time that exists as an a priori, abstract form, and through which reality can be perceived. For Guyau the discrimination is "the primordial element of intelligence," and it "does not need the idea of time in order to function: on the contrary, time presupposes this discrimination" (La Gen&se, p. 22).

Guyau seems to prepare the way for Bergson's famous claim concerning the relativity of time by insisting that "in order to state a change, one always needs a fixed point" (p. 20), and that the time that we encounter in reality does not provide such a point: "The distinction between past and present is so relative that any faraway image provided by our memory comes closer as soon as we give it our attention. It will appear as recent and settle in the present."43

We have seen that there exists a parallel between this conception and Kuki's and Buddhism's conception of time. Kuki sees "contingency in reality," which refers him to possible realities that are not present although they still do form reality. Time and contingency are thus linked: "The present-value of temporality of contingency is based by the fact itself on the reality of the contingent as simple reality" (Guzensei, p. 213). Kuki's project to reunite two Asian concepts of time-the Buddhist (Indian) one and that of Japanese Bushido (the moral code of values of the samurai)-creates the following constellation: while Buddhism strives toward a transcendent or intellectualist liberation from time that is supposed to lead to the atemporal eternity of Nirvana, Bushido wants to transgress time by means of the will. Bushido is ready to participate in the eternal recurrence of the same (an approach that also has great aesthetic potential). By interiorizing contingency as a pheno! menon that "contains its own negation," Kuki hopes to found an idea of time that unites Bushido and Buddhist philosophy.


Kuki acknowledges that "Boutroux suggested the concept of contingency as a foundation of a philosophy of liberty that had been promoted by Maine de Biran and Ravaisson" (Guzensei, p. 105). Inside a contingent reality, human beings meet their "I" or existence. What Kuki calls "interiorization of contingency in the domain of the practical" is constituted by "correlations between an endless number of parts which form a concrete totality" (p. 258).

It should be clear that these points can be located rather well in the ideas of the French philosophers who have been mentioned. Brunschvicg's opinion that liberty that is not to be thought of as a "thing that is given but as a work that is to do" (Le Progres de la conscience, p. 742) and Bergson's conviction that "the I, absolutely certain within its immediate observations, feels free and declares itself"44 are statements that point in the same direction.

Kuki remains convinced of the parallels between Eastern and Western thought, and apparently in the domain of ethics more than anywhere else. Some thoughts expressed by Henri-Frederic Amiel, whom Kuki read, may perhaps illustrate the proximity of the two spheres. Amiel affirms the argument that is central to Boutroux, Bergson, and Guyau: philosophy should be a way of "grasping things, of perceiving reality."45 In regard to the question of liberty he offers an interesting point: "One is free to the extent that one is not mistaken in regard to oneself, about one's pretexts, one's instincts and one's nature. One is only free through critique and energy; this means through detachment and the control of one's 'I"' (Fragments d'un journal intime, 3:288). It is not without reason that Brunschvicg attributes these thoughts to an Asian influence that Amiel might have received from Schopenhauer. Amiel himself admits that "my Western consciousness, which is penetrated by Christian mo! ralism, has always been persecuted by my Oriental quietism and my Buddhist tendency" (Fragments, 2:268).


As mentioned, Kuki elaborates most importantly the aesthetic component of contingency. This component is represented especially by the phenomenon of the dream. One should remember that the dream is a metaphor often used in Asian philosophy in order to express the appearance of a reality founded on a concept of time that is linked to contingency.

From the Buddhist point of view, a first, "banal" contingency that we encounter in dreams-or better, in half-conscious reveries-must be overcome in order to reach the level of what Buddhism calls the "primordial dream" or the "Great Dream." Dogen, for example, conceives the dream by establishing a hierarchy of dreams through which, in the words of Heine, he "contrasts the ontological status of the primordial nature of 'dream within a dream' and the contingency of conventional dreaming and dreams."46 This means that, in order to obtain knowledge, it is not enough simply to "dream" but to surmount a state of banal daydream, which holds that everything, even reality itself, is a dream dominated by contingency. Once this banal daydream state is transgressed, we recognize that "roots and stems, branches and leaves, flowers and fruit, lights and colours are all a great dream" (Heine, Dream within a Dream, p. 39). In this way we go from a daydream, which only plays in a superfic! ial way with the motive of contingency (and which sees it even where it is not), to the primordial dream. To have seen the world through this primordial dream makes us understand contingency in a more profound way as an existential condition of the world.

In Asian thought a certain philosophical model of the dream thus occupies a privileged position. The dream represents a phenomenon that is linked to knowledge, a knowledge that is thought within a certain "hierarchy of dreams." Heine quotes G. Obeyesekere, who has resumed the signification of the dream in Asian thought as follows:

Hinduism seeks transcendence in terms of the "final dreamer," brahman, whereas Buddhism recognizes only the metaphysical void, sunyata .... For Chuang Tzu, however, the issue seems [to be] to seek not a final dreamer but relativity as an end in itself .... Kuang-- ming Wu says: "Buddhists awaken out of dreaming, Chuang Tzu wakes up to dreaming." (Heine, Dream within a Dream, p. 36)

We see here that (similar to the French philosophers in question) the contingency of the dream is put into relationship with a special concept of time. The primordial dream, which is a negation of the daydream or a sort of "banal" form of dreaming, gives a privileged position to contingency; being linked to a certain idea of time, this negation is carried out by affirming that the dream contains a certain "time of the dream."

This complex, Asian idea can be rather well explained by referring to the French thinkers. Guyau believed that, once the Kantian project of establishing time as an abstract category was overcome, duration would no longer exist in the form of a feeling. The representation of time as a "feeling" is due to commonsense conceptions: time can be "felt" without this feeling leading us to a philosophical knowledge of those things that exist "in" time. In the same way Bergson insists that "it is without doubt that time fuses for us with the continuity of our inner life ."47 The person of knowledge should pass from this primary state of the perception of time to a higher or more philosophical vision of time. In this way that person can achieve a perspective that presents the world "as it is."

Duration is a matter of consciousness, but the duration that we are conscious of does not necessarily correspond to the consciousness of the "duration itself." Bergson says about the role that the consciousness has in the perception of time: "Duration implies ... consciousness: and we put consciousness at the bottom of all things through the very fact that we attribute to things a time that has duration" (Bergson, Duree et simultaneity, p. 62). One understands why the dream is, as an aesthetic phenomenon and as an element of a philosophy of knowledge, of so much interest for this philosophy: the dream suggests, just because it transgresses the human consciousness of duration, a new concept of time. The dream is interesting as an aesthetic phenomenon as well as a human experience. Guyau defines the dream as a phenomenon that is concerned with all the qualities that we have analyzed in regard to the transformation of the concept of time:

Every image disappears entirely: the comparison between the present state and the past state becomes impossible; every newly arriving element occupies the scene alone and makes us completely forget all the other actors. They escape consciousness and are not organized within time. (La Genese, pp. 18-19)

It is, in fact, contingency that installs itself in the dream, and Kuki brings this out within a similar context, all by pointing to the parallel between his thoughts and those of Bergson. Kuki writes:

As Bergson says, in our dreams we frequently encounter coincidences. Memory gathers diverse bits of remembrance from all sides and presents them in an incoherent fashion to the consciousness of the sleeper. Confronted with such a senseless accumulation, one looks for a thread that could establish some meaning. (Guzensei, p. 50)

According to Kuki it is possible to establish a "structure of the dream" (similar to Freud's idea of "Kittgedanken"48) retrospectively; this means establishing a plan through which single events will be linked to each other by following a logical order prescribed by an idea of time that is divided into past, present, and future. However, and this is important, such a "reproduction" of the dream will never grasp the dream itself. The reason for this is that the dream does not know such a logic. Kuki describes the dream and its interpretation:

Once one thinks there were men behind the horse who were dressed in black, and then, suddenly, the yellow horse is transforming itself into men who are dressed in black; [and then one] ruminates in one's dream: "Since there was nobody with me, I felt in danger"; because of the danger "I wanted to fly." ... One tries logically to link things in order to eliminate the absurdity, but this is useless because now things are getting still more absurd. There is almost no explanation for the contingent fantasies that deploy themselves in the dream. (Guzensei, p. 51)

The link between the dream and contingency that Kuki brings out here, a link that could possibly be founded on some principal ideas by Bergson and Guyau, also expresses a very "Asian" character. Heine has explained that it "is the very contingency and ephemerality of the dream illustrating the world of appearance that also makes it a key metaphor in the Prajnaparamita sutras for the insubstantial and ultimately void or empty nature of reality: 'This perfection is like a dream ... because one cannot apprehend the one who sees the dream."49 This means that the dream, for which everything that happens "inside" itself represents an "absolute truth," is seen as a knowledge of the world. However, this inside cannot be perceived as an inside; the reason for this is that the person who dreams does not see him/herself as being "outside." In other words, everything there is represents an "inside as a dream," which means a world of dream. The dream is not a "non-dreamt world" that i! s seen as a dream; on the contrary, the world itself is a dream and must be perceived directly as such.

It seems that Bergson insists on a similar constellation of elements, and he does so at the very moment he establishes the relativity of time as a philosophical phenomenon:

One has thus to distinguish two kinds of simultaneity, two kinds of succession. The first one is inside the events; it is part of their materiality, it comes from them. The other one is simply put on them by an observer who is outside the system. The first one expresses something about the system itself; it is absolute. The second one is changing, relative, fictitious. (Duree et simultaneite, p. 125)

One can say that in Kuki different branches of philosophy come together at the very moment that he attempts to interpret the aesthetics of the dream in an ethical way. This approach is as obvious in Kuki as it is in Guyau. In the dream, Guyau discovers images that reside "in the vague[ness] of an indifferent thought whose epoque can in no way be determined" (La Gen&se de l'idee de temps, p. 45). As for Bergson, he describes the dream as "the position in which you find yourself naturally as soon as you abandon yourself, as soon as you stop willing."50 The problem of the liberty of the I that we have described is linked to the concept of time, which by itself is based on an aesthetics of the dream. This is true for Guyau and others as well as for Kuki. Guyau writes: "The I escapes our grasp like an illusion, like a dream; it gets dispersed, dissolved into a multitude of floating sensations, and we feel, through a kind of vertigo, how it disappears into the moving abyss ! of time" (La Genese de l'idee de temps, pp. 83-84). In the same way Kuki writes that "the ideal of judgment is to identify concretely the exterior you within the identity of an interior me" (Guzensei, p. 256). However, this identification should not consist of a generalization of the I and the you, which would insert the existence of both into a necessary structure. What is important is the necessary-contingent character of the meeting between I and you; both of them will subsist only as long as we insist on the contingent-necessary character of the very meeting.

All this represents a radical rationalism that can be derived from Bergson and Guyau. The "identification" of elements of reality can only be made in regard to a fixed point of view. As soon as we negate such a point, as soon as we deny even that the concept of time is founded on an abstract and necessary structure, at this moment the you and the I start to coexist as if in a dream. It is this transposition of an ethical problem to the domain of aesthetics that can be seen as the principal subject of Kuki's philosophy of contingency.


In conclusion, Kuki's examination of contingency is Asian in the sense that the term is developed in parallel as a metaphysical-religious and as an aesthetic notion. Kuki's earlier attempts to resume within a Bergsonian "intuition" a certain spiritual quality that is proper to Zen, but also his elaboration of iki as a manifestation of Japanese spirit, need to be interpreted within this context.

It is well known that notions like the Taoist hsin cannot be translated as "spirit" without-because of the all-too-intellectualist connotations that this term has in Western philosophy-encountering major problems. In Zen this problem becomes quite obvious. While Zen is a matter of intuitive spirit, the manifestations of this spirit are aesthetic in that they manifest themselves as art and poetry. It is for this reason that, in my opinion, Kuki's ideas about contingency should also, in spite of their apparently Western, rationalist basis, be seen as clearly removed from Western rationalist, empirical statements about the same subject. Conrad Hyers has said that in Zen the Western distinctions between subjective and objective, dramatic and comic, or work and play get dissolved.51 This means that everything that is treated by Zen will turn into play, and it is possible that this strategy is, in spite of its Western disguise, also at work at the foundation of Kuki's philosoph! y of contingency.

The preceding analysis should have made clear not only the way in which the notion of the dream is supposed to produce such a relativization of the objective and the subjective, but also how much this relativization is dependent on the idea of play. In Guzensei no mondai, Kuki writes, concerning a "dream play" like Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, that here the absurdity of contingency would, on the one hand, become manifest in the domain of the abstract, but that, on the other hand, the play would also represent the most realistic description of the truth of human existence (p. 53). We can mention here Guyau's sociological study on religion, which brings forward similar positions: on the Brahma he writes that "everything annuls itself like a dream; it is the 'great anger like a drawn sword'; but it is also the supreme joy for the one who has managed to penetrate it: it is appeasement of desire and of intelligence" (L'Irreligion de l'avenir, p. 10). In this sense Gu! yau's (Western) aesthetics of contingency manifests almost Asian priorities when he writes, in a book titled L'Esthetique contemporaine: "Supreme art takes place when play attains its maximum, where we start playing, so to speak, with the bottom of our being."52 In the end, not only art but also life, even the most "natural" one, has become play because even for animals "the fight for life is only simulated" (p. 8).

Kuki's intellectual "adventures" in France and Germany should be seen as complementary, especially in regard to the points that have just been mentioned. French culture likes to express itself in the form of rules whereas German culture often prefers the notion of race (in the largest sense). By using a "particularly Western" philosophical discourse, it has been possible for Kuki to define iki, habit, and style as qualities that exist between both. And this has been all the more efficient since it has been done with the help of an examination of the phenomenon of contingency.


1 - Cf. Steven Light, Shuzo Kuki and jean-Paul Sartre: Influence and Counter-- Influence in the Early History of Existential Phenomenology (Carbondale: Published for The Journal of the History of Philosophy by Southern Illinois University Press, 1987).

2 - See Kuki Shuzo, "Bergson au Japon," in Zenshu (Collected works) (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1981), vol. 2; also in Les Nouvelles Litteraires, 15 dec. 1928; English trans. in Light, Shuzo Kuki and Jean-Paul Sartre.
3 - Guzensei no mondai, in Zenshu, vol. 2; trans. into French by Hisayuki Omodaka as La structure de la contingence (Tokyo: Tokyo University Press, 1953).

4 - Emile Boutroux, De la contingence des lois de la nature (Paris: Alcan, 1908).

5 - Emile Borel, Le hasard, rev. ed. (1920; Paris: Alcan, 1938).

6 - Masao Abe, Zen and Western Thought (Houndsmill: Macmillan, 1985), p. 214.

7 - Maurice Guyau, L'Irreligion de l'avenir: Etude sociologique (Paris: Alcan, 1887), p. 12. Guyau alludes to the German anthropologist Max MOller. All translations from the French and German here are my own.


Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.