Watsuji is recognised as one Japan’s foremost philosophers. His work on ethics, Rinrigaku, is cosmopolitan in engaging the Western philosophical tradition, and in presupposing an international audience. Yet Watsuji’s ethical thought is largely of niche interest outside Japan, and it is critiqued on the ground that it ratifies totalitarianism, demanding individuals’ unquestioning subordination to communal demands. We offer a reading of Rinrigaku that, in attempting to trace the text’s intention, disputes these arguments. We argue that Rinrigaku makes individual autonomy central to ethical action, despite the fact that its treatment of coercion may lead one to think otherwise; that it does not reduce ethical obligations to whatever demands any given society imposes on its members; that it draws a distinction between socio-ethical orders that are genuinely ethical and those that are not; and that, in insisting on the grounding of individuals in the Absolute, it makes adequate room for individuals’ resistance to unjustifiable socio-ethical demands.
- Asian Ethics