In this paper, I will examine Nishida's ideas concerning self-awareness, rationality, and agency, and compare them with some related notions in contemporary (Anglophone) epistemology. In particular, I will clarify the so-called “rationality” thesis regarding first-person authority, and argue that some aspect of this thesis is relevant in examining Nishida's philosophical writings. I will also illuminate important differences between Nishida's and Anglophone ideas concerning rationality, and their respective notions of human action and agency.
The thesis that the concepts of reason and first-person-hood are deeply involved in one another plays a crucial role in the theories of self-awareness in contemporary analytic philosophers such as Burge and Moran. Burge argues that, being a rational person, one already has an epistemic entitlement to one's own thought. Importantly, Nishida's idea of self-awareness has a similar structure. When Nishida discusses human action and self-awareness in the historical world, he often insists that there is a transcendental condition underlying self-awareness, and Nishida calls this underlying structure “reason as such.” In this paper, I will examine a few writings of Nishida (including a passage from Philosophical Writings (volume 2)), and attempt to show that Nishida regards “logic” and “life” as two aspects of the same phenomenon, “reason as such.”
Nishida insists that reason as such is “irreducible to any object in consciousness,” arguing that one should not consider reason as noema, but as the noesis of consciousness. It is interesting to consider this statement as an analogue to so-called “rule-following” skepticism in the later Wittgenstein. If we can understand Nishida's idea of “reason as such” as the noetic nature of jikaku, which is irreducible to any objectifiable rules, this notion of reason fundamentally separates Nishida from Burge and Moran. The main difference between Nishida's and contemporary (Anglophone) theses about rationality is that, while the latter tend to consider reason in terms of prescriptive rules, Nishida's notion of reason is essentially characterized by rulefollowing skepticism. This is the point at which Nishida's rationality thesis and the theory of action arising from it differ from contemporary analytic theories of reason/action.