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Husserl and the Kaizo between crisis and renewal

There is an intense sense of crisis that pervaded German life and thought in the early twentieth century, including academic philosophy, as we have seen in previous chapters. The sense of a crisis of European civilization is already present in Husserl’s earlier 1910-1911 essay “Philosophy as Rigorous Science” (“Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft”), which polemicized against the twofold threats of the naturalistic and historicist relativizing and destruction of reason and the sciences.40

Husserl addresses the decline and crisis of rationality and science further in the Cartesian Meditations, initially given as lectures in Paris in 1929 and published in 1931, claiming that (1) when Western philosophy is viewed as a unitary science, its decline since the middle of the nineteenth-century is patent and (2) the positive sciences are troubled by a crisis of their foundations and fundamental concepts and methods.41 A response to this crisis is possible by renewing the radicalness of self-responsibility; renewal requires a culture of autonomy and the realization or rational responsibility that Husserl perceived in Descartes in the Cartesian Meditations and elsewhere in historical figures such as Socrates and Galileo.42

As seen repeatedly throughout the present work, East Asian and Western intellectuals were encountering the crises unleashed by modernization and reflecting on possibilities for renewal and reconstruction. This overlapping intercultural sense of the aporiae and paradoxes of modernity helps clarify why Husserl’s articles on renewal could be published and be of interest in a Japanese setting.

The Japanese journal Kaizo published contributions by Husserl, John Dewey, Albert Einstein, Heinrich Rickert, and Bertrand Russell in the early 1920s.43 Tadayoshi Akita, an editor of Kaizo, invited Husserl to contribute to the journal in August 1922. Husserl sent him three contributions: “Renewal: Its Problem and Its Method” (“Erneuerung: Ihr Problem und ihre Methode”) and, the following year, “The Method of Essential Inquiry” (“Die Methode der Wesensforschung”) and “Renewal as an Ethical Problem for the Individual” (“Erneuerung als individualethisches Problem”). His related article “The Idea of a Philosophical Culture: Its Original Germination in Greek Philosophy” (“Die Idee einer philosophischen Kultur: Ihr erstes Aufkeimen in der griechischen Philosophie”) appeared in another journal Japanese-German Journal of Science and Technology (Japanisch-deutsche Zeitschrift fur Wissenschaft und Technik) in 1923.44 Two related articles were left unpublished at the time: “Renewal and Science” (“Erneuerung und Wissenschaft”) (1922/23) and “Formal Types of Culture in Human Development” (“Formale Typen der Kultur in der Menschheitsentwicklung”) (1922/23).

Prior to the National Socialist assumption of power, and his extensive account of a crisis of science and the lifeworld (Lebenswelt) in the mid-1930s, the sense of intellectual and spiritual crisis is articulated in Husserl’s Kaizo articles. Husserl’s publications in Japan articulate a situation that calls for ethical-cultural renewal by returning to the origins of theoretical and scientific thinking and a culture and ethos that supports it. Mostly appearing in the Japanese journal Kaizo, the articles are primarily about renewing a universal culture of reason and humanity based on Husserl’s own phenomenology and the Western tradition of rational humanism stemming from classical Greece. Greece developed a culture of rational freedom and of philosophy as a rigorous science in contrast to the prescientific forms of knowledge of the “old Babylonians, Egyptians, Chinese, and even the Indians (selbst Indern)”45 Indian Buddhism, as described above, came closest to the achievements of the West in Husserl’s writings in the 1920s.

Husserl specifically addresses the Japanese in these texts only insofar as their efforts at renewal are part of their joining in and contributing to a common “European cultural labor," as Japan becomes a “fresh blossoming branch” of “ ‘ European’ culture” (“frisch grunenden Zweig der ‘europaischen’ Kultur”).46 These publications represent—in contrast to the efforts by Dewey and Russell to engage Eastern questions in their contributions to the Kaizo—a missed opportunity for encountering Japanese and East Asian thinking and engaging in intercultural dialogue. There is a remarkable lack of interest in and engagement with Asian philosophy and the contemporary Asian situation in Husserl’s contributions to the Kaizo.

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