The roots of Kyoto University’s Philosophy Department go back to 1906, the year the College of Letters (later to become the Faculty of Letters) was founded. During its long history the department has included the following professors and associate professors in its ranks.
- Kuwaki Genyoku 桑木嚴翼 (1874 –1946; professor 1906-14)
- Tomonaga Sanjūrō 朝永三十郎 (1871-1951; associate professor from 1907, professor 1913-1931)
- Nishida Kitarō 西田幾多郎 (1870-1945; professor 1914-28)
- Tanabe Hajime 田邊元 (1885-1962; associate professor from 1919, professor from 1927-1945)
- Kōyama Iwao 高山岩男(1905-93; associate professor from 1938, professor March-August 1945)
- Yamauchi Tokuryū 山内得立 (1890-1982; professor 1945-53)
- Miyake Gōichi 三宅剛一 (1895-1982; professor 1954-58)
- Noda Matao 野田又夫 (1910-2004; professor 1958-74)
- Tsujimura Kōichi 辻村公一 (1922-2010; professor 1974-85)
- Kiso Yoshinobu 木曾好能 (1937-94; associate professor from 1973, professor 1988-94)
- Itō unitake 伊藤邦武 (1949 – ; associate professor from 1991, professor 1995-2014)
- Deguchi Yasuo 出口康夫 (1962 – ; associate professor from 2002, professor 2016-present)
- Ōtsuka Jun 大塚淳 (1979 – ; associate professor 2017-present).
Before World War II the department, which became known as the Kyoto School of Philosophy, flourished under Professors Nishida Kitarō and Tanabe Hajime. However, when Kōyama Iwao was expelled from office following the war, an academic shift took place in the department.
Starting as just one classroom, the department grew and developed under the name ‘Jun Tetsu’ (Pure Philosophy), subsequently going on to occupy an important place in the history of modern Japanese thought.
Detailed information on the history of the department can be found in Kyoto University’s Clock Tower Centennial Hall. There, Nishida and Tanabe’s philosophical contributions, as well as documents showing the expulsion of Kyoto School philosophers from public office, are displayed alongside the shining achievements of Nobel Prize-winning physicists Hideki Yukawa and Shinichiro Tomonaga.
Such prominent display of the philosophical tradition shows how the Kyoto School symbolizes one of the two main pillars of Kyoto University’s academic history.
The history of the department and the stories surrounding all those involved – covering both pre-war and post-war times – is recounted in the well-known 2001 book “The Story of the Kyoto School” by Takeda Atsushi.
The department’s long history has also been examined in “The 50-Year History of the Graduate School of Letters” (1956), and “The 100-Year History of the Graduate School of Letters” (1997). For that reason, this brief introduction focuses on the department’s progress over the past 30 years.
Although the research style of the department has changed many times over the years, one of the biggest changes in its recent history has been a weakening of the influence of German philosophy, and an increased interest in French, and, more prominently, English-language philosophy.
German philosophy was favored from the time of the department’s first Professor Kuwaki Genyoku to the time of Professor Tsujimura Kōichi. However, from the time of Professor Kiso Yoshinobu staff members in the department began to travel to English-speaking countries to study. This tendency was followed by graduate students and alumni, who also began to focus more on philosophy from English-speaking countries.
The end of World War II, and a shift in the world order, brought a change in research trends not just in philosophy but in the various fields of science too. Nevertheless, the Philosophy Department didn’t solely devote itself to the modern British-American style centered on analytic philosophy. A look at the various research areas staff members in the department have focused on over the last 30 years shows that analytic philosophy was done in parallel with research relating to classical modern philosophy such as 17th century epistemology and metaphysics, British empiricism, Leibniz, Kant, German Idealism, Heidegger, and American pragmatism. At its heart, the department strives to tackle contemporary philosophical problems based on accurate and extensive knowledge of classical philosophy.
Another feature of the department is its success in having exchanges with foreign countries. Graduate students and alumni not only study in English-, French-, and German-speaking universities, but foreign students continue to visit and study with the department in Kyoto. Moreover, many foreign researchers also visit the department for both short- and long-term stays. For example, since 2000 the department has hosted researchers such as Wesley C. Salmon, (University of Pittsburgh University), Hugh Mellor (University of Cambridge), Graham Priest (University of Melbourne), and Donald Gillies (University College London), among others.
These foreign researchers have spent anywhere from several weeks to several months with the department, giving lectures and seminars to both specialists and students alike, influencing not just undergraduate and graduate students in the department, but also many other Japanese academics. This type of direct exchange with foreign researchers was developed even further through the COE project, which began in 2002.
One constant in the department is that it continues to embrace a large number of undergraduate and graduate students. For that reason, there is a thriving culture of self-initiated study and research groups within the department. A reflection of that student research life can be seen in the journal “Tetsugaku Ronsō” (Philosophical Review) which the department – along with the sub-department of the History of Modern Philosophy – has published once a year since 1974, and which focuses primarily on research by graduate students.
Also, “Prospectus”, which acts as a bulletin for the department, has been published since 1997. Not only does this contain articles that can be considered philosophy proper, but it also publishes topics relating to applied philosophy and modern culture in general. Recently, graduate students in the Master’s course have also contributed to this journal, with their research becoming more and more popular.
Furthermore, as a result of the Faculty of Letters placing an emphasis on graduate research, submissions of doctorate theses have steadily increased. Doctoral research themes cover a wide range of subjects and have included the study of Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Russell, Wittgenstein, comparative research of Nishida and Heidegger, and the philosophy of modern logic.
To sum up, Kyoto University’s Philosophy Department encourages students to acquire a deep understanding of the history of philosophy gained through access to information in multiple languages, and with an open mind to other academic and ideological traditions, including those of science. It is only after one has successfully acquired these skills that it is possible to build one’s own philosophical position.
It is this attitude that has persevered in the department since the era of Nishida and Tanabe, and that continues to be passed down to students today.