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The Future of Philosophy

Seiji Takeda
Professor, School of International Liberal Studies, Waseda University

When asked by the editorial department to explain the current boom in philosophy, what came to my mind was the Nietzsche's phrase "European nihilism" at the end of the 19th century.

Nihilism was inescapable in Europe at that time. The reason was, of course, "the death of God," or Christianity's decisive loss of authority, which meant that everyone now had to determine the meaning of life themselves. This was a truly unprecedented situation.

Nietzsche went on to say, with a scathing glance at the German culture of the time, that people did not yet understand the seriousness of the situation. The loss of this pillar of inner morality meant the inevitable emergence of various cultural and ideological reactions such as atheism, skepticism, the introducing of old morals, and scientism. Collectively, Nietzsche called them "decadence" of the time. According to him, they were no more than stopgap" ideological reactions in response to the era's great loss of value, and what was really needed was the creation of a new value for a new era.

The Nietzsche's prediction of European nihilism is, I believe, coming true here in the 21st century in the form of a "global nihilism" spreading across the world. In Japan, for example, most people during the half century or so after World War II had a vision of hope for the future of society. That is to say, they at least felt that society would get gradually richer. For the young people who sensed the contradictions of society, Marxism showed a future society for humankind, after which Postmodernism emerged as the latest form of intellectual critical thought. Nowadays, however, both of these European orthodox ideas have lost some of their persuasiveness.

When people lose the pillar of their inner morality and see no hope for the future of society, nihilism is the inevitable result. Nowadays, there is certainly a growing sense of stagnation among young people. At such a time, according to Nietzsche, people seek the crutch of another "meaning of life" by rushing towards spirituality or religion, seeking new ideas from overseas, or trying to summon up some kind of old intellectual authority. And when that happens, there is a boom in philosophy, which may function as one of the "stopgaps" to fill the moral void in an era of nihilism. But, of course, I am hopeful about this interest in philosophy.

Let's think about why Marxism and Postmodernism, the central ideas that supported the social ethics of young people in the 20th century, have now become invalid. Christianity's loss of authority in Europe was, as we know, due to the emergence of the idea of a modern society which aims for "freedom for everyone." Although it was modern European philosophers who came up with this idea, it was inevitable that Christianity's image of a world in which all humankind looks up to a unique sacred authority would become outdated in modern nations that had been developed on the basis of mutual recognition of freedom. A world religion can, essentially, only wield political and ethical authority in a society that has a traditional structure of dominance.

However, the idea of a "modern society" which people had hoped for ended up creating a violent struggle for survival between modern nationalist states, resulting in the unparalleled misery of colonial wars and two world wars. The idea of a modern society based on "freedom for everyone" stopped being a principle of people's hopes. From that time on, instead of the modern ideas, Marxism and Postmodernism appeared as the fundamental ideas for rather criticizing the modern state or as new ideological authorities for doing so.

During the 20th century when people were acutely aware of the contradictions of the modern state, these two ideological authorities became significant emotional props for people because both of them were searching for a blueprint to be able to criticize and overthrow state power and the capitalist system. But the 21st century has seen another large shift in global structure. This change is epitomized by the disappearance of the East-West confrontation, the construction of the American hegemonism, the development of a new capitalistic globalization, and the emergence of international terrorism. Just what has happened here?

Very broadly speaking, here is what I think. The problem now is no longer a matter of somehow overthrowing the modern state or capitalism. At present, various signs indicate that the activities of a global capitalism extending beyond the boundaries of the state are jeopardizing the world's resource limits, yet in spite of this, contemporary society is unable to completely reject the economic system of capitalism. In other words, we are currently faced with the problem of having to control and oppose the runaway of global capitalism within the framework of the modern state (democracy).

This situation is, I believe, the underlying reason why ideas such as the social progressive view of history, Marxism and Postmodernism, which had provided a prop for the people of the 20th century, became invalid. Many others have already commented on this new form of risk faced by the world. But no fundamental ideas for overcoming this crisis have actually emerged anywhere yet. Without any new hope, the nihilism of our times will inevitably spread.

The key to new global thought in response to the crisis of our era is, I believe, in modern philosophy. I will try to explain the reason simply. First of all, it was modern philosophy (such as that of Hobbes, Rousseau, and Hegel) which, by creating a mutual recognition of freedom within a society, led to modern society's fundamental principle of enabling freedom for all people. But this only meant the principle of freedom within one nation. The problem today is not that the modern democratic principle of mutual recognition is being abandoned, but whether this principle can be somehow extended into an international and a wider global principle.

Having taught philosophy for a long time, I am well aware of how the fundamental theories of Western modern philosophy have until now been greatly misunderstood. This is because people have long had the preconception that modern philosophy is the ideology of fraudulent modern nations. But they are sadly mistaken. The big issue currently faced by contemporary society is how it can redevelop a modern "principle of freedom" in a more real way.

It does not matter if people's first approach to philosophy is a temporary one. Fundamental theories are, I believe, sure to capture the fundamental will of a new generation at any time.

Seiji Takeda
Professor, School of International Liberal Studies, Waseda University

Brief Biography
Professor Takeda was born in Osaka in 1947 and is a second-generation Korean living in Japan. He graduated from Waseda University's School of Political Science and Economics. He is currently a professor in the School of International Liberal Studies at Waseda University. He is a philosopher and literary critic. He started out with an essay on Korean authors in Japan. As well as literary criticism and the criticism of ideas, he remains active in philosophy focusing on human nature from existential perspective. Based on Husserl phenomenology, he has shaped the philosophy of the theory of desire, a principle theory of philosophical thought. In his post at university, he is in charge of subjects including philosophy, phenomenology, and contemporary thought.

Main publications
The Basis of "Japan Residency" ["Zainichi" toiu konkyo], An Introduction to Philosophy for Understanding Oneself [Jibun wo shiru tame no tetsugaku nyuumon], Adventures in Contemporary Thought [Gendaisou no bouken], all Chikuma Gakugei Bunko; The Pleasures of Yousui [Yousui no kairaku], Kawade Bunko; An Introduction to Phenomenology [Genshougaku nyuumon], NHK Books; Beginning Phenomenology [Hajimete no genshougaku], Kaichosha; An Introduction to Nietzsche [Niiche nyuumon], Chikuma Shinsho; Theory of Love [Ren'airon], Sakuhinsha; An Introduction to Heidegger [Haidegaa nyuumon], Kodansha Métier; Toward Linguistic Thought [Gengoteki shikou e], Komichi Shobo; Conditions for Human Freedom [Ningenteki Juyuu no jouken], Kodan Gakujutsu Bunko; Philosophy In Search Of Oneself [Jibun sagashi no tetsugaku], Shufu no Tomo sha Bunko; Complete Deciphering - Hegel's "Phenomenology of Mind" [Kanzen kaidoku - Heegeru "Seishin genshougaku"], Complete Deciphering - Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason" [Kanzen kaidoku - Kanto "Junsui risei hihan"]; Kodansha Métier; The Future of Humankind [Ningen no mirai], Chikuma Shinsho; Reading Freud's Ideas [Furoito shisou wo yomu], NHK Books; Philosophy for Junior High School Students - Ultra Basic Introduction [Chuugakusei kara no tetsugaku "chou" nyuumon], Chikuma Primer Shinsho 2009; Ultra Deciphering: Beginning Hegel's "Phenomenology of Mind" [Chou kaidoku - Hajimete no Heegeru "Seishin genshougaku"], Ultra Deciphering: Beginning Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason" [Chou kaidoku - Hajimete no Kanto "Junsui risei hihan"], Kodansha Gendai Shinsho; Professor Takeda's 21 Lectures in Philosophy [Takeda kyouju no tetsugaku kougi 21 kou], Seiunsha