by Yuko Ishihara
”Jikaku” (自覚) is a Japanese word comprised of two Chinese characters, “ji” (自), which means “self,” and “kaku” (覚), which means “awaken.” Originally a Buddhist term meaning “self-awakening” or “awakening by oneself” in contrast to “kakuta” (覚他 literally, “awaken other”), or the awakening of oneself that has been guided by another, the word took on a novel philosophical meaning in the beginning of the twentieth century with the work of Nishida Kitarō (西田幾多郎, 1890–1945), the founder of the Kyoto School tradition. In the context of Nishida’s philosophy, jikaku can be roughly translated as “self-awareness” or “self-consciousness” and is one of the key terms that defines his thought. The term first took on an important role in his philosophy around the time of his second major work, Jikaku ni okeru chokkan to hansei (自覚に於ける直観と反省, 1917) which has been translated into English as Intuition and Reflection in Self-Consciousness. The work resulted from critical reflection on the philosophy of junsui keiken (純粋経験) or pure experience presented in his maiden work, Zen no kenkyu (善の研究, 1911). In this work, Nishida argued that pure experience, namely the direct experience prior to the subject-object split, is the fundamental reality and the foundation for all our knowledge. The question remained, however, as to how reflection and reflective thought, which assume a separation between the reflecting and the reflected, can arise from such pure experience. In order to address this concern, Nishida developed the concept of jikaku by taking insight from Fichte’s notion of “Tathandlung” where the unity of self-consciousness is understood as both the act and product of the I. Like Fichte’s Tathandlung, in jikaku the self infinitely develops itself by reflecting itself within itself.
Nishida’s notion of jikaku is further refined in the 1920s when the “place” component of jikaku is brought to the fore. Nishida eventually comes to see that the infinite process of self-reflection in jikaku cannot occur without the “wherein” or the “place” of its reflection. As he later formulates it, “the self mirrors (or reflects) itself within itself” (jiko ga jiko ni oite jiko o utsusu, 自己が自己に於いて自己を写す). Initially, the “place” (basho in Japanese, 場所) is understood in epistemological terms as consciousness or the self. In his theory of basho, first introduced in the late 1920s and further developed in the 1930s and 40s, the “basho of absolute nothingness” (zettai mu no basho, 絶対無の場所) is seen as the ultimate basho and ground of our knowledge and reality. Correlated to this is the notion of “the jikaku of absolute nothingness” (zettai mu no jikaku). “Absolute nothingness” refers to the non-objectifiable nature of consciousness or the self, a complete eradication of the subject-object duality, where consciousness or self is no longer seen as standing over against the world. The “jikaku of absolute nothingness” entails that one become aware of this nature of the self, or better phrased, that awareness awakens to its absolutely no-thingness. “Jikaku” accordingly is a dynamic movement of awareness that essentially involves a deepening of the “place” of our awareness and one’s self-understanding. Here, we can clearly see the Zen Buddhist background to Nishida’s notion of jikaku. For such a deepening of jikaku is not separate from the search for and awakening to the “true self,” a distinctly Zen quest. Because the English equivalents “self-awareness” or “self-consciousness” lack this connotation, they fall short as translations of Nishida’s concept of jikaku. It is also worth noting that Japanese people speak of the deepening of one’s jikaku (jikaku ga fukamaru, 自覚が深まる) in ordinary speech. For example, one’s jikaku as a mother may deepen as she becomes more aware of her specific role as a mother by opening up to the various places involved in being a mother, such as her family, the community, etc. While the Buddhist connotation is absent in such usage, jikaku in ordinary speech still carries the sense of the dynamic movement of self-understanding and has an implicit reference to the “place” of the jikaku.
In the 1930s, as Nishida’s interest turns towards the historical world, his notion of jikaku also takes on a new meaning. Jikaku is no longer understood within an epistemological context but is now understood in terms of our embodied actions in the world. As the concrete form of jikaku, Nishida introduces the notion of “acting intuition” (koiteki chokkan, 行為的直観) which refers to the interlacing relation between our seeing and acting. Specifically referring to the activity of creating things in the world, Nishida underlines how, on the one hand, we are determined by things as they solicit our actions and, on the other hand, we determine things as we create things and give them new meaning. We thus see things through our actions. Nishida further emphasizes the embodied and historical character of such actions and speaks of “the jikaku of the world” (sekai no jikaku, 世界の自覚) whereby the world expresses itself through our actions.
Recently, Nishida’s notion of acting intuition has gained attention from scholars attempting to bring Nishida’s philosophy into dialogue with contemporary discussions on embodied cognition and enactivism. In an article from 2017, “Acting-Intuition and the Achievement of Perception: Merleau-Ponty with Nishida,” David W. Johnson turns to Nishida’s notion of acting intuition to supplement some of the underlying issues with Merleau-Ponty’s account of the relation between perception and expression. In a 2020 book chapter titled, “Habit, Ontology, and Embodied Cognition Without Borders: James, Merleau-Ponty, and Nishida,” Jonathan McKinney et al. introduce acting intuition and related ideas in the context of what Nishida says about habit and sheds light on the resemblance Nishida’s ideas have with enactivism and ecological psychology. Another interesting direction of research has been opened up by Mayuko Uehara and Elisabeth L. Belgrano in their 2020 article, “Performance philosophy seen through Nishida’s ‘acting intuition,’” where they apply the idea of acting intuition to vocal performance. These articles all show that Nishida’s ideas have much to offer to contemporary discussions on the relation between the self and the world.
Johnson, David W. “Acting-Intuition and the Achievement of Perception: Merleau-Ponty with Nishida.” Philosophy East and West 67, no. 3 (2017): 693-709. doi:10.1353/pew.2017.0059.
Krummel, John W. M. and Shigenori Nagatomo (trans.). Place & Dialectic: Two Essays by Nishida Kitarō. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
McKinney, Jonathan, Maki Sato and Anthony Chemero. “Habit, ontology, and embodied cognition without borders: James, Merleau-Ponty, and Nishida.” In Habits: Pragmatist Approaches from Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, and Social Theory, edited by Fausto Caruana and Italo Testa, 184-203. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.
Nishida, Kitarō. An Inquiry Into the Good. Translated by Masao Abe and Christopher Ives. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1990.
Nishida, Kitarō. “Basho” [場所]. In Hataraku mono kara miru mono e [働くものから見るものへ, From the Acting to the Seeing], Nishida Kitarō Zenshū [西田幾多郎全集, Complete Works of Nishida Kitarō] Vol. 4, edited by Yoshishige Abe et al., 208-289. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1979.
Nishida, Kitarō. Intuition and Reflection in Self-Awareness. Translated by Valdo H. Viglielmo, Takeuchi Toshinori, and Joseph S. O’Leary. Albany: SUNY Press, 1987.
Nishida, Kitarō. “Ronri to seimei” [論理と生命]. In Tetsugaku ronbunshū daini [哲学論文集第二, Philosophical Essays Vol. 2], Nishida Kitarō Zenshū [西田幾多郎全集, Complete Works of Nishida Kitarō] Vol. 8, edited by Yoshishige Abe et al. 273-394. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1979.
Uehara, Mayuko and Elisabeth L. Belgrano. “Performance philosophy seen through Nishida’s ‘acting intuition.’” In The Routledge Companion to Performance Philosophy, 69-76. London: Routledge, 2020.
Related emic terms: Basho (“place” in Japanese), zettai mu (“absolute nothingness” in Japanese), reflection, intuition, acting intuition
Relate etic terms: Self-awareness, self-consciousness, self-awakening
 Kitarō Nishida, Intuition and Reflection in Self-Awareness, trans. Valdo H. Viglielmo et al. (Albany: SUNY Press, 1987).
 The English translation is provided by: Kitarō Nishida, An Inquiry Into the Good, trans. Masao Abe et al. (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1990).
 Nishida’s theory of basho was first introduced in an essay titled, “Basho”, published in 1926. See: Kitarō Nishida, “Basho” [場所], in Hataraku mono kara miru mono e [働くものから見るものへ, From the Acting to the Seeing], Nishida Kitarō Zenshū [西田幾多郎全集, Complete Works of Nishida Kitarō] Vol. 4, eds. Yoshishige Abe et al. (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1979), 208–89. The English translation can be found in: John W. M. Krummel et al. (trans.), Place & Dialectic: Two Essays by Nishida Kitarō (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).
 For later Nishida’s views on acting intuition, see for example: Kitarō Nishida, “Ronri to seimei” [論理と生命], in Tetsugaku ronbunshū daini [哲学論文集第二, Philosophical Essays Vol. 2], Nishida Kitarō Zenshū [西田幾多郎全集, Complete Works of Nishida Kitarō] Vol. 8, eds. Yoshishige Abe et al. (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1979), 273–394. The English translation can be found in: Krummel et al. (trans.), Place & Dialectic.
 David W. Johnson, “Acting-Intuition and the Achievement of Perception: Merleau-Ponty with Nishida,” Philosophy East and West 67, no. 3 (2017): 693–709.
 Jonathan McKinney et al., “Habit, ontology, and embodied cognition without borders: James, Merleau-Ponty, and Nishida,” in Habits: Pragmatist Approaches from Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, and Social Theory, ed. Fausto Caruana (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), 184–203.
 Mayuko Uehara et al., “Performance philosophy seen through Nishida’s ‘acting intuition,’” in The Routledge Companion to Performance Philosophy (London: Routledge, 2020), 69–76.