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1st Unit : 3rd Study Group Session

“The Meiji Introduction of Philosophy to Japan as the Learning of a Foreign Language”

6-1   September 14, 2013, the 1st Unit of the Ircp held a session at the Toyo University Hakusan Campus (Building 9, Meeting Room 4), inviting John C. Maraldo (University of North Florida, Emeritus) with the theme “The Meiji Introduction of Philosophy to Japan as the Learning of a Foreign Language”. Maraldo focused on the problem of translation in Japan's reception of Western philosophy during the Meiji Period. In the manuscript for his talk, he wrote the word "trans-lation" with a hyphen, to express the fact that the problem of translation in the reception of philosophy was not just a simple matter of rendering Western languages into Japanese. Meiji Period Japanese lacked words that corresponded to a variety of ideas in Western philosophy. For the reception of Western philosophy in Japan it was necessary to create new words in Japanese or to assign new meanings to words from ancient Chinese classics.

   To get a sense of the uphill struggle that the Meiji Period philosophers faced, Maraldo spoke specifically about the terms "idealism," "subject," and "the individual," and examined the process by which they were rendered into Japanese through a variety of approaches before translations for these terms were finally established. Maraldo proceeded to look at just how novel Japanese terms such as kannenron, shukan, and kojin were at the time and to what extent the Western terms perplexed the people of the day, thus making clear the problems intrinsic to the introduction of Western philosophy during the period.  He also touched on the early modes of Japanese philosophizing in a Western vein.

   Attendees enthusiastically asked questions during a fruitful Q&A session that followed. One question raised in particular was deeply related to the topic of the study group with regards to the relationship between translation and philosophy. In his response, Maraldo emphasized that the history of translations—starting with the translations from Greek into Latin, from Latin into European languages, and from them into Asian languages like Japanese—is itself the history of philosophy.

  The meeting had a rich international flavor, with the 20 people who attended participating in an enthusiastic exchange of questions and responses in both Japanese and English.