Report: Seminar “Secularization, Religion, State” Session 16

1 February, 2009 HANEDA Masashi, Secularization, Religion, State

On January 19th, the sixteenth session of the Seminar “Secularization, Religion, State” was held.

In this session, we discussed the Japanese translation of François Jullien’s Fonder la morale: dialogue de Mencius avec un philosophe des Lumières (translated by NAKAJIMA Takahiro and SHINO Yoshinobu in 2002; originally published in 1996).

First, IWAHORI Kenichiro (master student in Area Studies), the presenter, mentioned a reason he chose the book. Responding to “International Declaration on Laïcité” which Prof. Baubérot set as the main theme of the symposium in last November, he considered a close connection between “laïcité” and “morality”. According to him, the developments of “laïcité” and “secularization” were parallel with the attempt at creating and founding “morality”. Thus we have a reason to pick up the book in the seminar of secularization.

Borrowing the translators’ words, “Jullien’s question is neither the justification of morality nor the denial of it, but the restart of questioning morality”. Jullien actualizes the idea of founding morality, an anachronistic theme, by bringing in a comparative perspective. He relativizes the Western metaphysical framework, using a different thought: Mencius’s one.

With the development of secularization, the authority of God retreated, and the new logic of founding morality was sought. The logics developed by Kant and Rousseau, however, were overturned by Nietzsche. Nietzsche who regarded founding morality as an arrogant attitude advocated the necessity for a comparison between moralities. Based on Nietzsche’s claim, the author attempts at the comparison, taking up the thought of Mencius, a different one from European ones. But he does not blindly follow Nietzsche, because his attempt is to found morality.

According to the author, Mencius and Kant constructed their moral theories of human beings from the same experience. It is an emotion which emerges when seeing something that threatens others. For example, by seeing a child who is about to fall down a well, it occurred as “an instinctive reaction”, or “compassion” in a European expression. The European thinkers who tried to found morality in terms of compassion, however, lapsed into individualism, and then mythicized this emotion. This was inevitable for Western thought in which the separation of subject and object is regarded as self-evident. On the other hand, Mencius’s notion “an instinctive reaction” avoids such a difficulty. Although Mencius or Chinese thought is certainly conscious of an individual, it is perceived not in the isolated perspective of one’s self, but in a reciprocal relationship.

As mentioned above, the question of the author who tries to relativize the framework of Western philosophy was in the end about a relationship between happiness and morality, in other words, about whether virtue is rewarded with happiness equivalent to it. Considering unrewarded circumstances, Kant and Rousseau claimed that the reward would be realized in “another world”. On the other hand, Mencius explained that happiness would be realized in the secular world to the end. Needless to say, the former had to be conscious of God, while Mencius’s claim based on “Heaven” was also inclined to go to the same direction. In short, both views would be connected to the unlimited being who has “a moral character”.

After summarizing the book, the presenter made some comments on it. He said that it was valuable that the author thought out “a way of discussion about morality” independent of a specific tradition or a system of thought. He also claimed that the part of this book, in which the basis of morality in the West was reconsidered, was particularly useful for the seminar of secularization. On the other hand, he pointed out that the lack of X in Chinese thought which the author indicated did not necessarily mean the lack of X in China, and besides the author omitted a discussion about “the subject of morality”.

Based on the presentation, our discussion started. In that time, a question about the significance of founding morality was taken up, and then the morality in “the age of secularization” was discussed. We asked whether it is something to be transferred from the existing religious one, or a quite new thing. There is some indication of a few regions which were specific fields for each attendee. It was indicated that there are both possibilities in France, while in the Middle East, Islamic ethics are transformed and presented as a modern one in many cases. Furthermore, some questions arose as to the author’s discussion. Why did he discuss Mencius? Are there other works in which Confucius or Xun Zi is examined from the same perspective? Also, it was pointed out that in spite of the Japanese title Mencius versus Kant, Rousseau and Nietzsche, Nietzsche was not refuted at all.

(Reported by Yoichi ISAHAYA)

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