Kiyoshi Miki

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Kiyoshi Miki (Japanese: 三木 清, Hepburn: Miki Kiyoshi, January 5, 1897 – September 26, 1945) was a Japanese philosopher, literary critic, scholar and university professor. He was an esteemed student of Nishida Kitarō and a prominent member of the Kyoto School.

Kiyoshi Miki
三木 清
Kiyoshi Miki.JPG
Born(1897-01-05)January 5, 1897
DiedSeptember 26, 1945(1945-09-26) (aged 48)
Cause of deathNephritis (reportedly due to prison mistreatment)[1]
Nationality Japanese
Alma materKyoto Imperial University
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionJapanese philosophy
InstitutionsHōsei University
Academic advisorsNishida Kitarō
Main interests
Military career
Allegiance Empire of Japan
Branch Imperial Japanese Army
Years of service1920, 1942
Unit10th Infantry Division

Miki was a prolific academic and social critic of his time. He also had tense relations with both Japanese Marxism and the Imperial government at various stages of his career.[3]


Miki was born on January 5, 1897 in Isseimura, Hyōgo (now part of Tatsuno, Hyōgo).[4][5] He was the eldest son of Miki Eikichi, a farmer, and his wife Shin, and was raised a devout Pure Land Buddhist.[4][6] In 1910, Miki entered secondary school and went on to excell in various oratory competitions. He was admitted into the First Higher School in September 1914, where in his third year he formed a society for reading philosophical texts in Japanese. The works of Nishida Kitarō and Abe Jirō had strong influence on his choice to pursue studies in philosophy. In 1917 he met with Nishida and the following September registed in the Philosophy Department of the Faculty of Literature of Kyoto Imperial University. He began studying under Nishida and Hatano Seiichi, then in 1918 also under Tanabe Hajime. Miki wrote a wealth of poetry during this time. After graduating in 1920, Miki spent three months training in the Japanese Imperial Army, 10th Infantry Division, before returning to Kyoto Imperial University as a graduate student.[4][7] While studying philosophy of history he began working as a lecturer at Ryūkoku University and Ōtani University.[4]

In 1922 he travelled to Germany on scholarship where he studied under Heinrich Rickert in Heidelberg. Miki was in contact with over fifteen other Japanese students during his stay, including Hani Gorō, Abe Jirō, Amano Teiyū and Kuki Shūzō. In 1923 he moved to Marburg to study under Martin Heidegger, where he studied the works of Aristotle, Friedrich Schlegel, Alexander von Humboldt, Wilhelm Dilthey, Friedrich Nietzsche and Søren Kierkegaard, among others. In 1924, Miki moved again to Paris, France where he studied the works of Henri Poincaré, Hippolyte Taine, Ernest Renan and Blaise Pascal.[8]

Miki became a contentious figure upon his return to Japan for his outspokenness and outgoing lifestyle,[citation needed] as well as for a controversial involvement with a widowed older woman.[5] In 1927 he was denied a senior position at Kyoto University and was instead granted professorship at Hōsei University in Tokyo.[8] During this time, Miki promptly engaged with Marxist theory and developed a substantial influence over Japanese workers' movements, though did not have communist leanings.[9][10] He was critical of Marxist views on religion and its limited scope of natural philosophy in modern natural science.[9] In 1928, he was engaged to Tobata Kimiko and the following year they married.[8]

Trouble befell him when money he lent to a friend was used, unbeknown to Miki, to make illegal donations to the Japanese Communist Party. Being implicated in the development, Miki was arrested in January 1930 and held for six months, leading him to resign his post as professor. The following November, three months after the birth of his eldest daughter, he was sentenced to one year imprisonment but had the sentence deferred.[11] The same year, members of the Puroretaria Kagaku Kenkyūjo (Proletariat Science Research Institute), including Hattori Shisō, decried Miki's academic works after which he sought to further distance himself from Marxism.[12] While he remained in touch with his mentor, Nishida, and other members of the Kyoto School, he worked outside mainstream academia, producing popular writings aimed at a wide audience.[citation needed] In 1931, Miki was appointed as a Japanese representative of the International Hegel League. He became a staunch proponent of academic freedom after raising earnest criticisms of Nazi Germany and Japanese militarism.[11] One or more of his works were banned by the government during this time.[11]

Throughout the mid-1930s Miki regained his academic standing, forming strong collaborations with his contemporaries. Most notably he became closely associated with Jun Tosaka, a fellow student of Nishida, and remained in close contact with their mutual teacher.[13] He wrote articles for a conservative newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, providing commentary on issues of the day. In 1936 his first wife died, after which he would remain unmarried for three years.[11] In the late 1930s he was employed by the Japanese government to give a series of lectures in China and Manchuria.[13] His firm belief that philosophy should lead politics encouraged the political activism of fellow intellectuals, and when offered in 1937,[under discussion] he eagerly accepted the opportunity to head the cultural division of the Shōwa Kenkyūkai (Shōwa Research Association), the brain trust of Prince Konoe Fumimaro's Shintaisei (New Order Movement). During this time Miki conceptualized the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere though felt deeply betrayed by the Imperial Japanese Army's misuse of the doctrine, employing it in justifying aggressive expansion in China and Southeast Asia. Following the collapse of the Shōwa Kenkyūkai in 1940, Miki became isolated and depressed. During this time he continued to collaborate with fellow academics and members of the newly formed Kokumin Gakujutsu Kyōkai (Civilian Academic Society). In 1942 he served one year in the Imperial Army as a military journalist deployed in the Philippines.

His second wife Kobayashi Itoko died in 1944, after which he moved to Saitama Prefecture with his eldest son. In 1945 he was arrested again and charged with sheltering political fugitive and fellow Kyoto School thinker Takakura Teru.[1] He was imprisoned in Sugamo Prison before being transferred to Toyotama Prison where on September 26, 1945 he died of nephritis—40 days after the end of World War II.[1][10] His death, suggested to be the result of prisoner mistreatment, caused anguish among Japanese intellectuals. Following this, the Allied Occupation pressed to have political prisoners released.


Satō Nobue, a leading scholar on Miki's body of work, rejects the notion that Miki was a mere follower of Nishida, Hegel or Blaise Pascal.[1] Instead, Miki can be seen to have an independent and syncretic approach to his work.[14] Shoji Muramoto credits Miki as "the central figure in the Japanese humanistic movement" and the first to author a book "explicitly related to the existentialist tradition written by a Japanese thinker", his 1926 Studies of Human Being in Pascal.[9] Miki himself writes, "one who strives for a good life is either an idealist or a humanist."[9] His adherence to humanism throughout his works however is disputed.[15]

Tradition was a particular preoccupation of Miki's philosophy.[16] In maturing his thought, he came to emphasize that "the philosophy of history is the logic of historical consciousness".[17] His conception of tradition as active, ongoing transmission by human action he contrasts with the immanent evolutionism of Hegelians and conservative traditionalists.[16] In his 1940 essay "On Tradition", he states "a proper understanding of tradition must consist of an emphasis on both the transcendence of tradition and our active attitude toward it."[18] Through this he stresses a unification of praxis and tradition.[16]

Miki's thought also emphasized the nature of certain concepts in opposition, such as spoken and unspoken philosophy, nature and history, subject and object, logos and pathos, process and moment, organicism and dialectic, immanence and transcendence, and so on.[6] His philosophy saw dialectic or the logic of imagination as the process of reconciliation between opposites, with the principal organ of this process being imagination that creates types or forms.[6]

In response to the growing labour movements in Japan during the late 1920s, Miki published three successive books on the subject of Marxism: The Material Concept of History (1928), Preliminary Concepts of Social Sciences (1929), and The Morphology of Ideas (1931).[6] During this time Miki made efforts to distinguish his own philosophy from Marxism, especially following his arrest in 1930, and remained critical of Marxism as a political ideology.[6] He had been, for a time, a member of the Puroretaria Kagaku Kenkyūjo (Proletariat Science Research Institute) prior to his expulsion.[10] Miki would however not broach Marxism again in his later works.[5] Kenn Nakata Steffensen suggests that to consider Miki's work as either fascist or Marxist is incorrect, stating that it stands in critique of liberalism, Marxism, nationalism and idealism.[15]

Miki developed a reading of Heidegger's early philosophy as essentially being in the tradition of Christian individualism, reaching back to Saint Augustine and being fundamentally anti-Greek in character. As such, his reading of Heidegger falls with the broad class as Jean-Paul Sartre, in that it ignores the priority Heidegger gives to the ontological question of Being, in favor of seeing Heidegger's philosophy as an analysis of human existence.

The German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was influential in his intellectual development.[19]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Dilworth & Viglielmo 1998, p. 292.
  2. ^ Murthy, Viren (2014). "Critical Theories of Modernity". doi:10.1002/9781118525395.ch15. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ Curley, Melissa Anne-Marie (2007). "The Subject of History in Miki Kiyoshi's "Shinran"". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ a b c d Dilworth & Viglielmo 1998, p. 289.
  5. ^ a b c "Miki Kiyoshi". Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Kiyoshi Miki (1897-1945): Age, Life, Works and Implications for Jungian Psychology". Journal of Foreign Studies. 61 (6): 7–29. 2010.
  7. ^ Masuda, Keizaburō, ed. (1986). Nenpu. Miki Kiyoshi Zenshū (2nd ed.). Iwanami Shoten.
  8. ^ a b c Dilworth & Viglielmo 1998, p. 290.
  9. ^ a b c d Muramoto, Shoji (2000). "Historical Reflections for the International Development of Japanese Humanistic Psychology". Archived from the original on 2012-08-05. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ a b c "Miki Kiyoshi". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  11. ^ a b c d Dilworth & Viglielmo 1998, p. 291.
  12. ^ Yusa, Michiko (2002). "Formation of the Kyoto School of Philosophy: (1929–1932)". Zen and Philosophy. University of Hawai'i Press.
  13. ^ a b Dilworth, David A.; Viglielmo, Valdo H., eds. (1998). "Preface". Sourcebook for Modern Japanese Philosophy: Selected Documents. with Agustin Jacinto Zavala. Greenwood Press. p. xv. ISBN 0-313-27433-9.
  14. ^ Dilworth & Viglielmo 1998, pp. 292, 295.
  15. ^ a b Steffensen, Kenn Nakata (2014). "The political philosophy of Miki Kiyoshi: A close reading of the philosophical foundations of cooperative communitarianism". University College Cork. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. ^ a b c Dilworth & Viglielmo 1998, pp. 296.
  17. ^ Dilworth & Viglielmo 1998, pp. 295.
  18. ^ Miki, Kiyoshi (1940). "On Tradition". Translated by Jacinto Zavala, Agustin. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  19. ^ Townsend, Susan C. Miki Kiyoshi, 1897-1945: Japan's Itinerant Philosopher. p. 157.
  • Dilworth, David A.; Viglielmo, Valdo H., eds. (1998). "Miki Kiyoshi". Sourcebook for Modern Japanese Philosophy: Selected Documents. with Agustin Jacinto Zavala. Greenwood Press. pp. 289–320. ISBN 0-313-27433-9.

External linksEdit