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Philosophy of post-Fukushima (Kazuya Kato)

We, the Children of Atom : 1962, 1992, 2011

Philosophy of post-Fukushima (Kazuya Kato) photo01   The 2nd Unit of the IRCP hosted a talk by Prof. Kato Kazuya, a medieval philosophy specialist at University of the Sacred Heart, entitled “We, the Children of Atom: 1962, 1992, 2011,” on July 26, 2013, at Hakusan Campus, Toyo University. The Friday lecture by Prof. Kato marked the 2nd meeting for 2013 of the “A philosophy of post-Fukushima” Study Group.

   Prof. Kato’s presentation began by addressing the question of how to understand the notion of “A philosophy of post-Fukushima”. He explained that three approaches are possible: (1) thinking about the issue as an interested party, (2) thinking about in the “here and now,” and (3) thinking “realistically and practically.” The need to find a way of talking about the issues in terms of how to live and what practices to engage in without lapsing into abstract generalities provided the launch point for his talk as a whole.

   With this in mind, the presenter focused on the three years mentioned in the title of his presentation as he discussed the ways in which, throughout his life, he himself has come into contact with the problems brought by nuclear power. Prof. Kato was born in 1962 in an important era in the history of atomic power. Coming soon after the 1950s when talk of “Atoms for peace” had been rife, the year of his birth saw the threat of global nuclear war almost become a reality with the Cuban Missile Crisis. The very next year saw Japan’s first nuclear power plant come on line in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki prefecture, and also the first television broadcasts of the Tezuka Osamu cartoon, “Tetsuwan Atom” [Astro Boy]. Then, the world would see the nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986) before Kato took his first job in 1992 at Yamaguchi University. While the popular Japanese rock band RC Succession had released several songs with antinuclear themes in the wake of the Chernobyl accident, 1992 saw singer Yamashita Tatsuro issue a single Atom no ko [“Child of the Atom”] in honor of Tezuka Osamu’s creation. Kato’s courses at Yamaguchi covered applied ethics and bioethics, two topics that are intimately related to the issue of utilizing nuclear energy. Finally, it goes without saying that 2011 was the year of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Philosophy of post-Fukushima (Kazuya Kato) photo02   Prof. Kato touched on the progress of his own experiences with getting work and teaching classes at university precisely because, as a problem of “practice,” he thought the focus should be placed on the very issue of liberal arts education in the university. The 1956 standards for university chartering laid an emphasis on the liberal arts that came part and parcel with the introduction of the new university system in Japan following World War II, a move that was held to be one of the lessons of the war. However, the university establishment standards set down in 1990 pulled back from the liberal arts. In response to this move, Prof. Kato presented his proposals for finding new approaches to “liberal arts knowledge.” His five-pronged proposal encompasses (1) integrating study, which would be neither the narrow form of specialized education nor the mere basic education that is its antithesis, (2) the art of dialogue, wherein one “discovers” through debate new viewpoints and ways of thinking, (3) the multiple understandings of a scientific and technological civilization, (4) the ethics of responsibility, underpinned by the thinking of German philosopher Hans Jonas, and (5) “the study of living,” which rather than mere bionomy entails the art of leading lives that are civic-minded and practical. There is a need, Prof. Kato said, to find through these approaches a “different way of living” when it comes to how we approach our way of life with respect to such matters as time, technology, and friends.

   The viewpoint Prof. Kato presented through his personal history and his present-day way of life and activities in his lecture was expansive, covering the history of nuclear power in the 20th century, Japanese cartoons and music and the university education. Listeners found themselves prompted to reflect on the very topics of “knowledge” and “daily life,” and led to lively debate in the question-and-answer period after his talk.