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Chōkōdō Shujin examines the complexities of naturalist skepticism, emphasizing the need to promote a genuine understanding of the world based on lived experiences.

I have seen the modern incarnations of naturalism and have a vague impression of it as an appreciator of literature and art, and for this reason, while I am far from a proponent of naturalism, I would like to say a few words about the tendency of suspicion that some naturalists themselves profess, which I believe is one of the most important motivations for naturalism.

Austen’s writing is less refined than either Zola’s or Kosugi’s, and her subject matter more pedestrian, but she remains a favorite among modern women and is perhaps the reason why such a prosaic and naturalistic style of literature continues to proliferate in the Anglosphere.

Literary naturalism began in France with Émile Zola’s 1880 The Experimental Novel. Philosophically, the novel can be traced to Auguste Comte’s theories of positivism, which he proposed as having gone “beyond empiricism, beyond the passive and detached observation of phenomena.” Comte called for “controlled experiments that would either prove or disprove hypotheses regarding those phenomena.” As a novelist, Zola took this method and made his own argument that literary naturalism should resemble controlled experiments in which the characters function as the phenomena. In Japan, the movement began with Tengai Kosugi, with his 1900 novel Hatsusugata about a geisha and her relationships with men from various social strata. Anecdotally, Kosugi first brought a sample of his writing to the eminent novelist, surgeon, and war correspondent Ōgai Mori, who encouraged him to find another profession. Japanese naturalism largely died out by the beginning of the Taishō era (1912–1926). In the Anglosphere, naturalism presently lives on in a more feminine mantle: although in her own language she is rarely categorized as such, Sōseki Natsume, the father of Japanese literature, described Jane Austen as the “undisputed queen of the naturalists.” Some have misattributed this as praise, as they neglect to take into account the fact that Sōseki was in fact an opponent of naturalism. Austen’s writing is less refined than either Zola’s or Kosugi’s, and her subject matter more pedestrian, but she remains a favorite among modern women and is perhaps the reason why such a prosaic and naturalistic style of literature continues to proliferate in the Anglosphere. The Jane Austen Society, The Jane Austen Book Club, The Other Bennet SisterJane Fairfax, The Jane Austen Project, and countless others in this vein continue to be published, perhaps to the detriment of more serious literature, but I digress.

Perhaps some two dozen definitions are lodged under the umbrella of naturalism, so if we take the so-called naturalists’ works and discussions and analyze them one by one, there is no doubt that they have very different and even incompatible ideas in terms of art and life. In 1911, the philosopher Charles Albert Dubray wrote, “Naturalism is not so much a special system as a point of view or tendency common to a number of philosophical and religious systems; not so much a well-defined set of positive and negative doctrines as an attitude or spirit pervading and influencing many doctrines.” Therefore, it can be said that the first step in attempting a critique of naturalism is to first distinguish the colors within it. However, this umbrella principle is not only present in naturalism, but almost every other principle. This is especially the case with the newly born principles that have not yet been thoroughly debated. Pragmatism, which is considered to have similarities with naturalism, is a good example. While the word “pragmatic” has existed in the English language since the sixteenth century, pragmatism as a philosophy began in 1870. Its direction was determined by The Metaphysical Club members Charles S. Peirce, William James, John Dewey, and George Herbert Mead. In the twentieth century, different types of pragmatism emerged. Naturalism is also a nascent principle. It has not yet undergone a thorough refining of its arguments. At any rate, there may be various contradictions among those who equally advocate naturalism, and even within the arguments of the same person there may be a mixture of various ideas that are difficult to reconcile. However, there is still room for further development, and I believe there is life in that. Looking at it from the other side, there is also a reason why so many different ideas are gathered under the same banner. Is there not a vague tendency amongst these many ideas to be the same? If we take the arguments of a person and analyze them closely, we will find that there are contradictions to this common tendency, but this only shows that there are other tendencies as well, and the reason why a person is a member of the school of naturalism is that he has more of this common tendency than of any other tendency.

This is especially true in the case of the more modern principles, such as pragmatism, where the positive aspects are different for everyone, but they can all agree on what the enemy is.

In general, many ideas that advocate a single name are difficult to unite in terms of the positive, but they are often united in terms of the negative – that is, what they are not, rather than what they are. This is especially true in the case of the more modern principles, such as pragmatism, where the positive aspects are different for everyone, but they can all agree on what the enemy is. In other words, they are all in agreement as to what kind of trend they are against. The same is true of naturalism. While positive views of art and human life differ from one person to another, a common tendency can be clearly recognized in the negative.

However, the common tendencies can be examined from a variety of perspectives. For example, although I am largely a proponent of their art and literature and often write in such a style, even I can agree that the Romantic school was perhaps too idealistic and distant from the real world. Or, in contrast to the traditional school of the visual arts, which was focused on external observations, they could be seen as those who emphasized internal reflection. However, this is mainly a characteristic of the natural school of literature and art, i.e., they are characteristics in contrast to other principles or tendencies in literature and art. Besides these characteristics, I think there is a kind of view of life that has been significantly and unintentionally influencing the naturalists’ works and debates. That is skepticism. It would be more accurate to call it a skeptical tendency rather than skepticism. Among the advocates of naturalism, some have clearly advocated this principle, while, in a stunning display of either ignorance or naivete, others have championed the opposite. And among those who do not advocate it, there are also those who repudiate the principle that I will call bosom-skepticism. However, although they may deny it in principle, it cannot be denied that the tendency to be skeptical is an important motive for their works and debates. And even among those who clearly advocate skepticism, the degree of skepticism is not always the same. There are also many different theories, and they differ in degree. But you may be unaware that some naturalists do not even include this tendency towards skepticism.

Now, I have often used the term “skeptical tendency,” but I have not yet clarified what this skepticism is. In order to do so, I must explain it all briefly. There are various degrees of bosom-skepticism. If it is at the lowest degree of skepticism, then it can be said that everyone has at least a somewhat reflective attitude towards the problems of life. It is precisely because of their skeptical tendencies that they are willing to consider the problems of life. In other words, they are not satisfied with their predecessors’ principles, teachings, and precepts regarding academic questions, morality, religion, practice, and other leanings, so they want to examine such issues on their own. However, among such people, there are two types: those who are only somewhat unsatisfied with traditional theories and forms, and those who are very clearly doubtful of all traditional theories and forms, and who declare it publicly. It is the latter that is usually referred to as skepticism. The best example of this kind of skepticism is Descartes, the founder of early modern philosophy. Descartes taught that at the origin of philosophy, one must doubt everything that was taught by the sages of antiquity, everything in the Christian scriptures and doctrines of the Church, and all other theories of science and practice based on popular tradition and custom, and even the existence of the external world must be doubted. The fundamental doubt is the starting point of this philosophy. However, this level of skepticism is still extremely rudimentary compared to the most thorough skepticism. Descartes doubts all traditional theories and truths, but he does not engage in outright denial of truths and theories themselves. He also doubted the existence of the external world as indicated by the senses, but he did not doubt the correctness of the principles of reason, such as the law of cause and effect and contradiction. After doubting all the traditional theories, he organized his own system of philosophy by appealing to these principles of reason, and came to recognise them as the true truth.

Socrates, however, also saw that each individual’s reason contains the germ of truth, which, if developed, would lead to the development of a common and practiced standard for all people, and he attempted to abandon the skeptical attitude at the point of its development and to formulate a positive ethical view.

The same is true of Socrates, who is also known as the founder of “Attic” philosophy. Socrates did not advocate fundamental doubt like Descartes. However, he is similar to Descartes in that he believed that we must take a skeptical and critical attitude towards the traditional philosophers and towards social traditions and customs. Socrates, however, also saw that each individual’s reason contains the germ of truth, which, if developed, would lead to the development of a common and practiced standard for all people, and he attempted to abandon the skeptical attitude at the point of its development and to formulate a positive ethical view. These scholars are skeptics about the past, but they are not thorough skeptics yet. A thorough skeptic is one who denies the universal standards of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, beauty and ugliness. The Sophists of Greece are the best examples of this. They deny all objective criteria of right and wrong, of truth and falsehood, and reject all ideals. They therefore held that if there were to be a measuring stick for right and wrong, it would be the individual’s feeling of pleasure or displeasure as it changes from moment to moment. In other words, he regarded the individual, who changes from moment to moment, as the measure of all things, and thus advocated extreme individualism and ephemeralism.

If we want to attain true happiness, we must reach a state of ataraxia, that is, a state where we are not disturbed by anything that happens in the outside world.

The next most thorough skeptics, equal to the Sophists, and in some respects even more so, were Pyrrho and Sextus Empiricus. However, the doubting theories of Pyrrho and Sextus Empiricus are somewhat different in character compared to the doubting theories of the Sophists. The Sophists generally have a much more serious yet frivolous tone. They preach and practice a kind of “cat-and-mouse” idealism. They are in pursuit of what will benefit and please them moment by moment, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to satisfy themselves moment by moment, even if it means sweetly winning the hearts of the people of the world or else misleading the people of the world. But Pyrrho and Sextus do not have such character. Socrates, Plato, and the Stoics, who arose around the same time as the first humanists, do not have the seriousness and sincerity of the Sophists, even if they are not as serious as the Stoics. This is the way of this school of skepticism. We are constantly disturbed by the various events and changes that occur in the outside world, and this causes us to feel insecure, which is the source of unhappiness in life. If we want to attain true happiness, we must reach a state of ataraxia, that is, a state where we are not disturbed by anything that happens in the outside world. In this, the philosophy is quite similar to Kitarō Nishida’s Zen Buddhism, the Kyoto School in particular. However, the first obstacle to reaching ataraxia is the discriminatory view of right and wrong, true and false. Only when we see that everything is neither good nor bad, neither true nor false, in other words, nothing is written down, can we reach the boundary of ataraxia. We must renounce philosophical and ethical arguments against truth and falsehood. Philosophy and ethics lead us into endless arguments and contradictions, and instead of giving us peace, they give us anxiety and troubles. According to this argument, the main enemies of Pyrrho and others are philosophical and ethical arguments about truth, falsehood, and right and wrong. There is little of the Sophist attitude of deriding the ethical values of the world. In this respect, Pyrrho’s skepticism is much more sound than that of the Sophists. However, Pyrrho and others have pursued the logical conclusion of the humanist theory to a point that the Sophists and others have not yet reached in other respects. That is to say, if you do not doubt yourself, it cannot be called a thoroughgoing humanist theory, and if you do not take a humanistic attitude towards yourself, you are not a sincere humanist. In this, perversely, the philosophy has elements of puritanism. Most of the humanists are convinced that their humanism is true. They are convinced that there are no definite good or bad markers of truth or falsehood. However, this is the self-contradiction of the humanist. In the slightest, the theory of sincere doubt does not mean that it is true; it does not mean that there is a definite marker of right and wrong, nor does it mean that there isn’t. The essence of sincere doubt is to take a neutral attitude towards everything. This was the peak of the development of skepticism. Therefore, although there have been many scholars and schools of thought known as the humanists at any time since then in the medieval and early modern periods, no such thoroughgoing theory of humanism has emerged. Even if it is a skepticism, it is not a purely neutral attitude, and therefore it is not a coherent theory of skepticism according to the Pyrrhonian method. According to this method, a skeptic cannot say anything definite. David Hume, for example, is usually called a skeptic, and he describes himself as a skeptic, but many historians say that it is not appropriate to call him a skeptic, and he himself calls Pyrrho-style skepticism “radical skepticism.” In more recent times, Nietzsche can be seen as a very serious skeptic in the sense that he rejects history and fundamentally destroys modern civilization. However, their destructive attitude is only towards the past, and they have very clear ideals for the future of culture.

How far have the doubters come? Of course, there are many different theories and degrees of difference even amongst the humanists. Therefore, it is difficult to say, but if we take those among the naturalists who are considered to be the best representatives of this tendency, there are those who have gone to the extreme at any time, that is, first of all, they have eliminated almost all past and present philosophy, morality, and religion. Then there are those who have gone further, not only in the past and the present, and they exclude all philosophical concepts, all moral and religious ideals and values, and advocate individualism, realism, and ephemeralism at any time and in all its forms. There are also those who take a neutral attitude to everything and are content not to solve any problems. There is also the Sophist style, which is a kind of seriousness that tries to throw itself into the will of the young and frivolous and the mundane. In short, the central idea of these skeptics is to reject conceptual systems for all philosophy, and to reject ideals, norms, and values for all religion and morality.

The attitude of many people towards nativism today is divided into two main types, although there are of course a few well-informed people who are excluded. Those who agree with it. The other is those who criticize or even scoff at it. Both sides agree that naturalism is a defender of immorality and lawlessness, and that its aim is to provoke the flesh. Both sides are of the former group, those who interpret naturalism in this way and use it as a tool to justify their own richer lifestyles, and the latter group are those who try to rescue the morality of the common conception from this destructive trend. Many young, frivolous, and bloodthirsty people go for the former, while formal educators, moralists, and religious people mainly go for the latter. However, this is an extremely cynical understanding of naturalism. Naturalism is based on a kind of self-justifying view of life. It must be said that this principle is not always consciously clear, but it is always significantly and unintentionally driven by this principle. We must therefore see how justifiable it is, that is, how much of it is purely new, and how much of it is wrong.

It has already been argued in various quarters that naturalist skepticism is wrong in excluding all conceptual systems and all norms, ideals, and values. The skeptics’ arguments already use a number of concepts, contradictory rules, and the three-stage argument as their tools. The arguments of the skeptics have already recognized some ideals and values. In fact, many leftist American politicians, who advocate the elimination of prices and ideals in the clearest terms, have stated that those whom we reject as much as possible, while eliminating all prices, are living a deceptively good life, a life that is contradictory both internally and externally. This is proof that we place a price on a life without contradictions inside and outside, that is, a unified life. This is clearly a contradiction in the logic of the humanists. It is of course part of naturalist criticism to point out such contradictions. This is very effective in encouraging naturalists to refine their arguments and promote their development. I believe that the debate on naturalism has already become much more refined than at the beginning. However, it would be wrong to think that naturalism itself has been defeated simply by pointing out such contradictions in the debate. The logical system of naturalism – the humanists may not like this word – may be temporarily broken because of this. However, the dynamic underlying this argumentative system will not be easily extinguished.

It is a logical contradiction that the American leftists, while advocating the theory of no price, consider the hypocrisy of goodness to be bad, the contradiction between inside and outside to be ugly, and recognize the price of a united life.

It is a logical contradiction that the American leftists, while advocating the theory of no price, consider the hypocrisy of goodness to be bad, the contradiction between inside and outside to be ugly, and recognize the price of a united life. This contradiction cannot be defended. However, I believe that in this contradiction lies the significance of the skeptics. If today’s skepticism has any significance, any reason for its existence, it lies in the fact that it seeks to undermine these internal and external contradictions. To put it another way, philosophical concepts, religious and moral ideals and norms should not only be based on actual, lived experience. This is why the skeptics are calling for a return to actual experience. This is the pure part of naturalism. However, naturalists do not stop there; they go to the extreme and reject all concept systems, all ideals and all values, regardless of whether they are related to actual experience or not. This is the error of naturalism.

Schopenhauer says in his The World as Will and Representation that our intelligence can be likened to a bank. The representations, or ideas, in our intelligence can be broadly divided into two types. The first is abstract representations, that is, concepts, and the second is direct representations, or experiences. Abstract representations are the equivalent of banknotes in a bank. Just as paper money represents money and aids the management of hard cash, concepts represent objects, i.e. concrete experience, and aids their management. The difference between humans and animals is that humans have the function of abstract representations. Because animals have only direct representations, they cannot know anything other than what is in front of them and what is going on at the moment, but humans can use the power of abstract representations to think far ahead and make far-reaching plans. Just as it is inconvenient to have only cash, but with paper money and bills, it is easier to send and deal with money. However, abstract concepts do not have their own value; they only have a value in that they represent concrete experience. Just as paper money and bills become like scrap paper when they no longer represent positive money. Those who think abstractly without concrete experience and recognize value in such things are not to be chosen over those who think that paper money and bills have value apart from cash. Many philosophers have fallen into this trap. The intelligence of scholars who ignore their concrete experience and only tinker with abstract concepts will soon be as bankrupt as a bank that empties its coffers and produces only notes and bills. So said Schopenhauer.

Humanists are those who want to destroy banknotes that don’t represent genuine money.

Pragmatism is one of the most important philosophical movements that has emerged to counteract the evils of empty banknotes and the practice of storing out-of-circulation banknotes for posterity. Whether those who consider pragmatists to be abusive are in fact abusive at all is a question that requires serious consideration, but it is true that philosophical thought often flows formally without representing a living philosophical conscience. Pragmatism has a great significance as a corrective to this problem. The skeptics’ rejection of philosophy is also an outcry against this. Humanists are those who want to destroy banknotes that don’t represent genuine money. However, they also call for the destruction of banknotes that do represent money. The first point is the significance of this argument. On the second point, however, it is wrong. In the past, the pre-Socratic philosophers of the Eleatic school, who began their philosophy to explain the world of experience, were completely insulated from the world of experience and denied the existence of the world of experience in order to establish philosophical principles, and then they tried to maintain the so-called “existence” that they assumed as a sacrifice to this world of experience. The existence of the Eleatics is Schopenhauer’s so-called empty paper money. Gorgias the Nihilist, a disciple of Empedocles, was the first to realize this when he came out of the Eleatic school and exclaimed that this “existence” was empty. However, not only did he shout that “existence” is empty, he also shouted that everything is empty, which is an extreme theory that has destroyed the significance of all banknotes. The attitude of today’s humanism is similar to this.

The above is said about philosophy, but I think the same can be said about religion and morality. How much of what is preached in today’s religious forms and sermons represents actual, living religious experience? How much of what is being spoken from the mouths of moralists is the result of personal experience? If we consider this point, we can see that half of what the skeptics say is wrong, while the other half is of great significance. I think it is undeniable that naturalism is accompanied by a perverse tendency to lack sincerity, or to try to cater to the will of the young and unsophisticated, or even the masses. However, if such naturalism and doubtful thinking arise, even among young people who are frivolous, and even among the masses, then the religious and the moralists who adhere to the lifeless form must bear part of the responsibility for their actions, and both the religious and the moralists must stand up straight. Before attacking naturalism, we must first look back at ourselves and seriously consider whether we are truly sincere in our religious and moral conscience.

The person who has integrity has the power to move people.

Any principle, any movement, if it is born of an earnest inner demand, if it is born of a sincere concern for the times, no matter how radical or insincere it may be, in the degree to which it is earnest, in the degree to which it is serious, will always have the power to move people. The person who has integrity has the power to move people. In other words, to that extent, I believe that he is a person who will live forever in the future as what Hegel called Aufheben, or “to uplift.” But only to that extent. As I mentioned before, pessimism contains many elements of both frivolity and sincerity. There is also the tendency to be a kind of airing of the air of young, frivolous and unaffected youth and the taking up of the human spirit of the masses. In short, there is a lack of earnestness and seriousness. These impassioned, insincere aspects are the ones that should die out forever in the midst of skepticism. No matter how much you can move the young and frivolous, the young and the common people, this is an element that must be destroyed. But if we are steeled to fight against the times based on a naturalistic conscience, that is, if we can get rid of such a serious element as flirting with the masses, then we still have a reason for existing today. So what attitude must we take to this? Philosophers should fight against it with their philosophical conscience, and the religious and the moralists should fight against it with their religious and moral conscience. If philosophers, moralists, and religious people fight against naturalism not on the basis of their philosophical, moral or religious conscience, but on the basis of forms and habits that have lost their life, apart from their own lived experience, then naturalism and skepticism will still have sufficient reason to exist. Naturalism and humanism may cease to exist in the form they do today, but I believe that this humanistic trend will appear in various forms. We must be stimulated to self-examination, just as Socrates was stimulated by the Sophists. But, we must also be vigilant lest we fall into the error of following the same path. However, if philosophers, moralists, and religious people truly go back to their own conscience and experience, then naturalism and humanism will disappear like the evil spirits of the mountains and rivers in the face of the rising sun.

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Chōkōdō Shujin

Chōkōdō Shujin is an artist in the tradition of the Shirakaba-ha,or White Birch School, of Japanese literature. As such, his work is strongly grounded in aesthetics, pessimism, and a strong skepticism towards modernity and technological “advancements.” A believer in art for art’s sake, Shujin is a poet, essayist, novelist, and hack writer of short stories. His translations of Japanese literature into English can be found on his substack: https://teikokubungaku.substack.com, and Twitter account: @CShujin. His hobbies include smoking cigarettes and thinking unpleasant thoughts. He resides in Aomori, Japan.

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Atlantean
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10 months ago

Five-star article. This was all new information to me and really valuable. Thank you!

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