Rights and Moral Objectivism in Watsuji Tetsuro’s Rinrigaku

Conference: The Asian Conference on Ethics, Religion & Philosophy (ACERP2022)
Title: Rights and Moral Objectivism in Watsuji Tetsuro’s Rinrigaku
Stream: Ethics – Ethics/Law/and Justice
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Aleardo Zanghellini, University of Reading, United Kingdom


In this presentation, I will discuss Watsuji Tetsuro's Rinrigaku. Watsuji's work presents a much needed corrective to Western ethical projects that overemphasise individualism; and it does so in a way that anticipates Western communitarianism and post-humanism, while at the same time being, often, more subtle than either. Rinrigaku is a rich, suggestive work -- one that, in addition, is occasionally given to making startling, almost provocative claims. It is also complex and open-textured, inviting the reader to actively construct some of the architecture of the book's ethical argument. In particular, I think that engaging with some key questions that Rinrigaku raises, but does not expressly answer in a definitive way, is key to assessing its success as an ethical project. I propose to address two of these questions in this presentation. They are: Does Rinrigaku make (adequate) room for individual rights? And: Can Rinrigaku be interpreted as defending a moral objectivist stance (roughly, one which treats ethics as a matter of moral facts), or does it ultimately propose a conventionalist morality (roughly, one where ethics is reduced to the contingent practices of any given community)? My normative premises are that moral conventionalism is unattractive and that rights should matter under any ethical system; thus, I am interested in a reading of Rinrigaku -- assuming one is possible -- that can be reconciled with these normative premises.

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