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From an East Asian View of the Self to a Society with Multi-Layered Values

Research Topic
From an East Asian view of the self to the society with multi-layered values

Lead Researcher
Yasuo Deguchi, Professor, Graduate Schools of Letters, Kyoto University]

Joint Researchers
Takuro Onishi, Program-Specific Associate Professor, Kyoto University

Ryota Akiyoshi, Adjunct Researcher, Waseda Institute for Advanced Study

Maiko Yamamori, Research Fellow, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science/University of Tokyo

Takashi Yagisawa, Professor, California State University, Northridge

Shintaro Shirakawa, Research Fellow, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science/Hitotsubashi University


In this research project, we will attempt to philosophically recreate the East Asian traditional view of the self, the “true self,” and derive from it an alternative to the Western view of human nature. Based on this, we aim to produce new prescriptions for the various issues that contemporary society faces.

(1) This research project constructs a new view of the self, which is called the “self as we”, as a contemporary version of the “true self” that underlies Mahayana Buddhism (especially Tathagata-garbha tradition), Daoism, Zen Thought (especially the philosophy of Dogen), and the philosophy of the Kyoto School. In this new view, the “self” as the “agent of action” is seen not as an individual “I” but as a “we” consisting of many agents who support (or afford) the action.

(2) Based on the above-mentioned process, this research project distills various concepts from this view of the self: “the auto-heteronomous subject” which has both active and passive aspects; “distributive agency,” in which agency is not possessed in a self-sufficient agent, and; “the fundamental incapability of single action,” which means that one cannot perform any somatic action alone. This project proposes a new view of human beings based on “incapability” which incorporates these elements, in opposition to the Western view of human beings based on “the active subject,” “self-sufficient agency,” “self-determinism,” and “capability.”

(3)Based on this opposing view of human beings, this project presents a new vision from Asia, which does not depend on the conventional Western model, regarding the responsibility for actions and ethics in a near-future society where humans and artificial agents such as AI or robots constitute “collective agents of action.” Thus, we aim to break away from the unipolarism of the West and realize a “multi-layered society” that permits the multi-layered coexistence of various values appropriate for the increasingly pluralistic 21st century.