An Inquiry Into The Good Philosophy Essay

Kitaro Nishida. An Inquiry into the Good. Yele University Press New Haven and London, 1921, 1987. 184pp + xxxiv. ISBN 0-3000-05233-2.

For me, this is a great book to look at philosophy in a way philosophy is indicating an existential, religiously oriented discipline. Nishida dissatisfied with Western philosophical expressions of pure experience with three reasons. Firstly, explains pure experience on the basis of many uncritical assumptions, such as the claim that experience is individual conforms to the categories of time, space, and causality. Secondly, grasps pure experience not from within but from without, thus missing the true reality of pure experience. Thirdly, True pure experience is direct experience, that is, experience direct to the subject. That is why he concluded: "It is not that experience exists because there is an individual, but that an individual exists because there is experience. I thus arrived at the idea that experience is more fundamental than individual differences, and in this way, I was able to avoid solipsism". (See paragraph three of book`s preface, page, xxx.)

INTRODUCTION TO "AN INQUIRY INTO THE GOOD": For him, the way of Japanese philosophy that is the pure philosophy, which is a rational theory completely free from religious concern. He claims that one`s answer to the question of philosophy in Japan depends on how one defines the philosophy-Philosophy is not only a theoretical system based on logical thinking. But it is also philosophy indicating an existential, religiously oriented discipline.

CONTENT: "An Inquiry into the Good" consists of four parts-Totally is thirty chapters.

Part I: "After Examining the Characteristics of Pure Experience". (Four chapters)

One-Pure Experience; Two-Thinking; Three-Will; Four-Intellectual Intuition.

Part II: "Nishida Discusses the Ultimate Reality of the Universe" (Ten chapters)

Five-The Starting Point of The Inquiry; Six-Phenomena of Consciousness are The Sole Reality; Seven-The True Feature of Reality; Eight-The True Reality Constantly Has The Same Formative Mode; Nine-The Fundamental Mode Of True Reality; Ten-The Development Of Reality; Eleven-Through Differentiation; twelve-Nature; Thirteen-Spirit; Fourteen-God As Reality.

Part III: "Human Personality and the Good". (Fifteen chapters)

Fifteen-Conduct I; Sixteen-Conduct II; seventeen-The Freedom of The Will; Eighteen-A Study of Conduct In Terms of Value; Nineteen-Theories of Ethics I; Twenty-Theories of Ethic II; Twenty-one-Theories of Ethic III; Twenty-two-Theories of Ethic IV; Twenty-three-The Good; Twenty-four-The Good As an Unity of Personality; Twenty-five-The Motivation of Good Conduct; Twenty-six-The Goal of Good Conduct; Twenty-seven-Perfect Good Conduct.

Part IV: "Religion, Especially the Problem of God". (Five chapters)

Twenty-eight-The Religious Demand; Twenty-night-The Essence of Religion; thirty-God; thirty-one-God and the World; thirty-two-Knowledge and Love.


"From these quotations, we can extract the following three points as indicative of Nishida`s "An Inquiry into the Good" is basic philosophical attitude.

Firstly, Nishida valued Western philosophy and logic as universal and thereby recognized the importance of learning from them. And yet he insisted that even Western philosophy and logic are an instance of the self-formation of historical life and are not free from the particularity of the West.

Secondly, through lacking in logic, the Eastern way of thinking is also a mode of the self-formation of historical life; Nishida wanted to give the Eastern mode a logical foundation.

Thirdly, Western and Eastern ways of thinking take different directions toward the self-formation of historical life. In order to create a truly universal logic, Nishida had to return to the origin and role of logic in our historical word and wrestle with the issue on that basis."

He said: "I wanted to explain all things on the basis of pure experience as the sole reality. Over time, I came to realize that it is not that experience exists because there is an individual, but that an individual exists because there is experience. I thus arrived at the idea that experience is more fundamental than individual differences, and in this way, I was able to avoid solipsism. (See introduction, page xiv.)


Pure experience is realized prior to the distinction between subject and object. It is the common basis for subject and object because both the self and things are experienced equally in pure experience. Because of pure experience is activity and constructive; in pure experience, knowledge, feeling, and volition are undifferentiated. For experience that is grasped from within-directly-is active and creative. It is systematically self-developing and self-unfolding. "Discard all artificial assumptions, doubt whatever can be doubted, and proceed on the basis of direct and indubitable knowledge" (See paragraph, first two, eight, chapter 5, page: 37-39.). Direct knowledge that cannot be doubted is pure experience. From the perspective of experience, ultimate reality is nether phenomena of consciousness nor phenomena of matter but an independent, self-sufficient, pure activity. The universe is no more than "the sole activity of the sole reality" (See paragraph, one, night, chapter 10 page, 59, 62.). Further more, our true self is not separate from the universe but rather is the very unifier of universal reality. (See paragraph, four, twelve, chapter 11, page, 64, 66.)

Nishida discusses the problem of ethics, especially human conduct, the freedom of the will, the good, and personality, in part III-The problem of morality. For Nishida, is always grasped in connection with the problems of truth or ultimate reality. The good is not merely the way of human beings but also the way of reality. The good is understood on the basis of reality. "The true unity of consciousness is a pure and simple activity that comes forth naturally; it is the original state of independent, self-sufficient consciousness, with no distinction among knowledge, feeling, and volition, and no separation of subject and object. At this time, our true personality experiences itself in its entirety". (See paragraph, three, ten, chapter 24 page, 127, 130.)

With this angle on personality, Nishida maintains that the purpose of the good is nether to obey the formal laws of morality as in kant nor to seek for pleasure as in hedonism, but to fulfill one`s deepest nature, to realize one`s personality. To realize the fundamental identity of the self and the universe is to realize this infinite reality as infinite truth, good, and beauty: "we find that truly good conduct is neither to make objectivity follow subjectivity nor to make subjectivity follow objectivity. We reach the quintessence of good conduct only when subject merge, self and things forget each other, and all that exists is the activity of the sole reality of the universe". (See paragraph two, seven, chapter 24, page 132, 135.) Here we see the uniqueness of Nishida`s understanding of the good and of the ethics, an understanding deeply rooted in the Asian tradition.

In the beginning of part IV, "religion", Nishida writes, "the religious demand is a demand that concerns the self as a whole, the life of the self. True religion seeks the transformation of the self and the reformation of life… and as long as one has even the slightest idea of believing in the finite self, one has yet to acquire a true religious spirit … an absolute unity is gained only by discarding the subjective unity and merging with an objective unity". (See paragraph two, four, chapter 28, page: 150-151.) The religious demand is thus the deepest demand for the ultimate unity of the self and the unity of the self and the universe. For Nishida, God is nothing but the unity of the self and the basis of this ultimate unity: "God must be the foundation of the universe and our own foundation as well. To take refuge in God is to take refuge in that formation. God must also be the goal of the myriad things in the universe and hence the goal of humans, too. In God, each person finds his own true goad". (See paragraph, five, seven, chapter 29, page: 156-157.).

Nishida rejects both theism and pantheism a, and advances a type of panentheism: "Our God must be the internal unifying power of the universe, which orders heaven and earth and nurtures the myriad things in them". (See paragraph, one, five, ten, thirteen, chapter 30, page, 158,161, 164, 165.)

God-as the basis of the unity of the universe-is the discussed by Nishida not from the perspective of perspective of speculative metaphysics but as a fact of pure experience. And in pure experience this unity called God is experienced as personal, and as inspiring love and respect. God`s self-de-velopment in itself is infinite love for us.

An inquiry into good leaves a number of problems that must be solved in order to give a clearer philosophical expression to the standpoint of pure experience. One of the most serious problems is that of fact and meaning in pure experience. Nishida defines pure experience in chapter one: "A truly pure experience has no meaning whatsoever; it is simply a present consciousness of facts just as they are." Elsewhere, however, he writes that: "the experience is none other than thinking". (See paragraph, night, ten, chapter 2, page: 14-15.) And that "the will is fact of pure experience" and that true reality "is not simply an experience but something with meaning". (See paragraph, ten, eleven, chapter 7, page, 50.) Pure experience is fact without meaning, and yet at the same time it is full of meaning related to thinking, feeling, and willing. This apparent contraction disappears when we understand that in pure experience prior to subject-object separation, act and meaning or being and value, are not two but one.