Fall Philosophy Colloquia: Bret Davis will give a talk on "In and Out of Words: Ueda Shizuteru's zen Buddhist Philosophy of Lanugage"
What is the relationship between language and experience? This question was a central concern of the eminent Kyoto School philosopher and lay Zen master Ueda Shizuteru (1926–2019). In fact, this question has long been a focal issue of the Zen tradition. Famously, if also paradoxically, the Zen tradition has claimed to “not to rely on words and letters” even while producing volumes of texts: poetry and didactic discourses as well as encounter dialogues (mondō) and kōan collections. Critics have accused Zen of being self-contradictory in this regard, yet Ueda demonstrates that Zen’s paradoxical ambivalence toward language is not a problem, but rather the point. Moreover, he explains how Zen teachings and practices can help us radically rethink the relationship between language and experience after the “linguistic turn” in philosophy. In this paper, I examine Ueda’s contributions to the philosophy of language by bringing his thought into critical dialogue with continental philosophers such as Hans-Georg Gadamer and scholars of Zen such as Dale S. Wright. In short, Ueda rejects both the viewpoint that we are trapped within the bounds of language and the viewpoint that we could somehow meaningfully dwell outside of language. Rather, he argues, in everyday life as well as—in an intentionally intensified manner—in Zen practice and poetic expression, we are called on to engage in a ceaseless movement of “exiting language and exiting into language.”
Bret W. Davis is Professor and Higgins Chair in Philosophy at Loyola University Maryland. In addition to attaining a Ph.D. in philosophy at Vanderbilt University, he lived for more than a dozen years in Japan, where he studied Buddhist philosophy at Otani University and Japanese philosophy at Kyoto University while practicing Rinzai Zen at Shōkokuji monastery. He has published more than eighty scholarly articles on Heidegger, Zen Buddhism, the Kyoto School, and various other topics and figures in continental and cross-cultural philosophy. He has also published ten books, including the edited volumes Japanese Philosophy in the World (Shōwadō, 2005, in Japanese) and The Oxford Handbook of Japanese Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2020), a translation of Martin Heidegger’s Country Path Conversations (Indiana University Press, 2010), and the monographs Heidegger and the Will: On the Way to Gelassenheit (Northwestern University Press, 2007) and Zen Pathways: An Introduction to the Philosophy and Practice of Zen Buddhism (Oxford University Press, 2022).