The 10th Nichi-Doku Joint Lecture on „The Study of Man as Ethics? Tetsuro Watsuji’s Ethics Revisited“ by Prof. Abe (7/19・Heidelberg)

On the occasion of its 10th jubilee the Kyoto University European Center was able to invite Siebold-Prize recipient Prof. Hiroshi Abe (Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies, Kyoto University) to give the Nichi-Doku Joint Lecture on July 19th, 2018. The lecture was complemented by a commentary by Dr. Jens Heise (Department of Philosophy, Heidelberg University), co-author of a comprehensive standard reference book on Japanese philosophy.  Around 40 people including students from Heidelberg, Toulouse and Bielefeld, professors as well as members of the administration attended the lecture.


The Great Hall of Heidelberg University (Alte Aula) was refurbished to its current state in 1886 as part of Heidelberg University’s  500th anniversary. This was only three years before one of the most renowned Japanese philosophers in modern times, Watsuji Tetsuro, was born. It was this place, the Alte Aula, were the 10. Nichi-Doku Joint Lecture took place, in which Prof. Hiroshi Abe held his lecture on Watsujis ethics, which is deem one of the most prolific approaches of modern Japanese philosophy.

For almost two years now, the Nichi-Doku Joint Lecture is bringing together researchers and students from Kyoto University and Heidelberg University from a wide array of fields from archaeology to history, educational sciences to disaster prevention in order to share and exchange their knowledge and strengthen the networks between both universities. Prof. Heerman, Vice-President International Affairs Heidelberg University, highlighted this in his welcome address, while also adding other joint projects like the Joint Degree Master of Arts in Transcultural Studies (JDTS) and the Kyoto-Heidelberg University Ph. D. program as proof for the close relationship by both universities.

Prof. Abe started his lecture on “The Study of Man as Ethics? Tetsuro Watsuji’s Ethics Revisited” in German by expressing his gratitude for being able to speak in Heidelberg. He introduced Watsuji Tetsuro’s life and work stating research of scholars, which are currently at Heidelberg like Prof. Hans Martin Krämer (Insitute for Japanese Studies).  He especially pointed out how Watsuji’s stay in Germany and his contact with German philosophy – notably by the philosophy of Heidegger –influenced his later works. Prof. Abe then defined Watsuji concept of ethics, which draws from various sources including Aristoteles “Politics” as well as Chinese classics like the Lun yu. He then answered the question why Watsuji understood his ethics as a “Study of Man”: by analyzing interpersonal relationships, Watsuji tried to find a universal ethos that is independent from moral, which is depending on time and space. In order to proof the validity of this universal ethos, Watsuji then tried to deduce existing moral systems from this ethos, in e.g. comparing notions of emptiness in religion, which is – according to Nagarjuna – is the basis of all human action. Because of his deep understanding of Watsuji’s works, but also because of his broad knowledge of Asian and European philosophy, Prof. Abe was able to make this complex subject understandable and approachable for listeners not familiar with this subject.

Following the lecture by Prof. Abe, Dr. Jens Heise gave a commentary. While criticizing Watsuji’s dual way approach as well as his heavy focus on neo-confucianistic thought, he found the way of using anthropology as a way to a universal ethic quite interesting. Approaching from different angles of philosophy, Dr. Heise highlighted the originality of Watsujis thought, while also discussing different perspectives which might help Prof. Abe to further understand Watsuji’s ethic. He concluded, that Heidelberger philosophers like Heidegger and Gadamer, were not right in their assessment, that there was no philosophy outside of Europe. On the contrary, Dr. Heise affirmed Carl Jaspers – also a Heidelberger philosopher – refutation of this dogma.

After the commentary, Prof. Abe and Dr. Heise had a fruitful discussion on the podium, which was complimented by questions from the audience.

Further information on the lecture and the program are to be found here

Prof. Abe lecturing

Prof. Abe and Dr. Heise answering questions from the audience