Research Fields




Introduction to this field

Phenomenology is a philosophical attitude or mode of thinking founded by Edmund Husserl (1859-1939). Phenomenology has divided and evolved into many forms after Husserl. Even Husserl's thought had varied in his lifetime. Therefore it would be not reasonalbe, if man tried to explain it by a simple idea which Husserl claimed especially in a specific stage of his study. However I try here to explain it by the idea of phenomenological epoche (refraining from judgement), which Husserl established in his middle stage.

Suppose we see a desk in front of us. We judge, "This is a desk." But could not an illusion happen? What is it then, if it were not a desk? Whatever it is, illusion is possible. While we remain our judgement that it "be" a desk, let us neither approve nor disapprove it.

What happens then? We must tell a farewell to the question what exists actually there. Instead such problems appear in the front as "I believe that I am looking at a desk." or "I judge that it is a desk, although it is not clear if it is the case." What I can now see is only the upper surface of the desk and the foot are hidden. Why do I judge that it is a desk, although I can actually see only part of it? So long as I judge that it is a desk, I know very well the meaning of "desk". But where does it come from? If I were born in the culture which had no desk, what I would judge it is? So many questions hit upon me.

Phenomenology demands an attitude of us that we endevor to refrain form judging, if our pregiven prejudice (for example, "It is a desk. No problem.") appears, and after all to seek for knowledge that we can never reject. The undeniable knowledge would become more and more abstract. For example, "Seeing is an undivided experience. But it includes necessarily two moments: seeing I and seen object. These moments cannot be diveded from the experience of seeing.", "When we sensuously see something, e.g. we see something with our eyes, the seen object always appears with a different direction and distance from the origin of my body." and "When the seen object appears through its ever changing phases, the former phase make us expect the latter phases. Seeing is such a process."

This investigation is at once to dig in the discouragingly vast layers which supports our judgments that it is such-and-such. Even if we believe that we could arrive at the last ground and we could dig no more, it might be possible that the ground is no other than a prejudice of our contemporary or traditional viewpoint. However, in ordet to be aware of it, we must refrain from the judgement, namely we must abide by phenomenological attitude.

The example here was "seeing a desk". But of course the phenomenological attitude can be applied to everything, for example, the difference between normal and abnormal, such institutions as law or family, and such concepts as sex, gender, and death. Phenomenology succeeds to the spirit of philosophy in the sense that it deliverates radically on what we take for granted.

What attracts me in this field?

In my graduation thesis I referred to Husserl's Cartesian Meditations. Thus my career of study started. Why did I pick up the text? My interest consisted in the issue of intersubjectivity rather than phenomenology. Why was I attracted by this issue? Since I was a child, somehow I had concerned myself with such problems as "Do other persons than myself actually exist?" or "Why can we call the persons except meself 'others' ?" They are indeed absurd questions at least from the viewpoint of common sense. But they seemed to me to be enigmas that I would like to manage to solve.

Husserl's Cartesian Meditations did not only deal with such problems, but also go beyond them: the questions which I had conceived since childhood remained naive after all, because I presupposed existence of others. The word "naive" is a term of phenomenology: we are naive, if we believe in existence of our concerned object and judge that it is such and such.

As obvious from the title, Cartesian Meditations was written after Rene Descartes Meditations. Descartes cast doubt on knowledge through perception, because it might be under illusion. Furthermore he cast doubt on mathematical knowledge under assumption of a misleading spirit. His thought is a forerunner for the radical thinking of phenomenology just referred.

It was this radical thinking of philosophy that attracted me. It upsets our everyday thought and attitude so that we might begin to whirl. But its purpose is to keep ourselves awake absolutely. Therefore it is demanded by philosophy, e. g. love of knowledge, although it is wholly "strange" from the viewpoint of mundane life.



Foundation of moral norms

Introduction to this field

My lecture of ethics often begins as follows: "This lecture is not on 'ethic', but on 'ethics'."

What is the difference between ethic and ethics? While 'ethic' means "a set of principles in human conduct", 'ethics' means "thinking about ethic". Man can distinguish them in English and Japanese ('Rinri' and 'Rinrigaku'), but not in Germany ('Ethik') and French ('éthique'). But we can also express this difference with two other words, namely, 'moral' and 'moral philosophy'. My point is that 'ethic' is a sort of preach or claim founded on a certain value, while 'ethics' is thinking about 'ethic'. There are various sorts of 'ethic'. In liberal and multicultural society, what ethic you abide by depends on your decision. Naturally we do not always select it explicitly, but we are brought up in a specific tradition and culture so that we might be accustomed to appropriate a pregiven ethic tacitly. However we are not also caged in our tradition. We sometimes happen to cast a question on the values and norms that prevails in our society. Then we might learn to reflect radically our base on which our lives are built up. Thus we can begin 'ethics', i.e. philosophical thinking about 'ethic'.

But how do we think about 'ethic'? There are mainly three approaches. An 'ethic' teaches us that we should / may do such and such or should not do such and such, and that it is good / evil to do such and such etc. Why should / may we do it? Why should not we do it? Why is it good/ evil to do it? We seek the answer :because ..., so do .... It is normative ethics that casts these questions and endeavors to reconstruct or sustain our values and moral norms. However the questions of normative ethics may be strange to us at least in our daily life, because we usually take our values and moral norms for granted. When would we like to reflect and reconstruct them? The needs occur, when we encounter foreign customs, other viewpoints of values, or wholly novel events. So it is important to learn different sorts of 'ethic' that were or are dominant in the past times or foreign cultures. It is also useful to learn past great philosophers. This study is called descriptive ethics or history of ethics. Now if we want to do ethics as science, we need to grasp what our study is focused on. In ethical or moral judgments we often use the words 'should' 'may' 'should not' 'good' 'evil' and so on. What do these words mean at all? This study is called metaethics. Thus normative ethics stands at the center of ethical study. Because its aim is to found moral norms and to investigate their validity. That is no other than thinking about 'ethic'. Descriptive ethics or history of ethics trigger off the questions of normative ethics. And the scope of research can be delienated by metaethics.

What attracts me in this field?

As said above, ethics is to think philosophically about moral . The tougher moral is, the sharper ethical thinking must be. It attracts me in this sense.

But may we throw moral i.e. our basis of life into radical and skeptical thinking in the name of an intellectual spirit? Did not Descartes warn that his meditations should be applied only to theoretical issues? Yes. We should be very careful not to undermine our ethical attitude. Nevertheless ethics has its full charm because it belongs to philosophy.

Naturally ethics is required to give society some solution for each urgent ethical issue. So it must collaborate with other sciences, for example, law, politics and economy. But the link of these fields is not supeficial. Ethics is originally a search for a good and right life. Law is originally a necessary condition for us to lead such a life. Politics is originally a search for forming a society where we can seek to actualize it. Economy is originally a search for distribution and circulation of goods. All these fields concern with the concept of 'good'. However law, politcs and economy tend to stick with actually pregiven condition. When ethics also limited its function to respond to urgent isuues applying our well-known and prevailing norms to them, it would be no philosophy, but only repeated preach or advocacy.


Applied Ethics (Practical Ethics)

Introduction to this field

As written in the introduction to foundation of ethics, ethics consists of normative ethics, descriptive ethics (history of ethics), and metaethics. In the first half of the 20th century metaethical investigation was dominant especially in Anglo-American philosophy. This trend was propelled partly by endeavor to build up ethics as science: so long as ethics investigates goodness scientifically, it must grasp the meaning of 'good' at first.

But where this idea lead us to is relevant to the concept of science. Under the framework of positive sciences it is because judgments correspond to matter of fact that they are true. Under the framework of logical sciences true judgments correspond to coherence. Can ethical (moral) judgments appeal to logical coherence? No. They must have some substance. Do they correspond to matter of factst? No. For example, such a judgment as "war is wrong." does not mean that "no war has happened in the world" nor that "no war goes now in the world." nor that "no war will happen in the world for ever." It expresses that "we would like to make the world without war." That is an anti-factual ambition. Then ethical judgments are neither true nor false. If only positive sciences or logical sciences could be entitled to be genuine sciences, ethics would not be science except metaethics, because the function of it lies in analysing the meaning of ethical words logically. This metaethical argument was called 'emotivism'.

The dominance of metaethics waned in 1960s. The ground for it was complex. Naturally there was a due reaction that man wanted to tackle actual ethical issues rather than mere conceptual analyse. On the one hand man cast doubts on positivist conception of science. On the other hand a host of ethical issues began to be brought up by science and technology: biomedical problems, environmental crisis, computer or internet abuse, irresponsibility of makers, etc. Thus ethical guidelines for them are required in sequence. Hence various fields of applied or practical ethics has been developed: bio(medical)ethics, environmental ethics, business ethics, computer ethics, engineering ethics etc.

What attracts me in this field?

I was a graduate school student in 1980s when the issues and controversies of bioethics unfolded, especially, in USA were vehemently introduced into Japan. As a philosophical beginner I learned them. But at a first glance I was not so much interested in it. I believed that man could solve the issues by applying the allegedly effective norms to them. However such a conception is a mistake. For example, when we regard a brain-dead man as dead, our attitude and behavior for him will change and we must set bounds again on the category of objects that we should respect absolutely. It requiers to think radically again about the ground of respect for person.

What and why should we respect ethically? Should we respect endangered species for their sake? How should we respect future generation of mankind who does not yet exist? May we utilize cells of human beings for scientific research? Many questions applied ethics provokes lead us to reconsideration of our ethical frame of reference. That is why I have become interested in this field.


Philosophy and Ethics

Conceptual Study of Justice, Responsibility and Care

Introduction to this field

What does "justice" mean? Roughly speaking, it means to treat equally those who are equally entitled. Then, if a group consists of members with equal entitlement in some respect and they are treated equally in fact, justice would be established within the group. However, what does it mean to the outsiders of the group? They are deemed to have no entitlement that belongs to the insiders. How could the criterion to distinguish the insiders from the outsiders be settled? By whom? Even if it is settled by agreement of the insiders, namely, under justice in the group, could it be not nevertheless self-righteous for the outsiders?

What attracts me in this field?

These issues about justice call attention to a possibility of ethic which is not based on justice or equality, but on asymmetrical relation. Thus I have tackled, for example, Hans Jonas' principle or imperative of responsibility and the ethic of care that has been evolved by Carol Gilligun and Nel Noddings etc.