What Is “Ri-Ta” — Phenomenology of “Benefit” and “the Others” by Eisuke Wakamatsu


Translated by Yoshinobu Morita


     "Ri-Ta" is, literally, to "benefit the others." The word does not seem very complicated, but when we start thinking about what really is to "benefit (Ri)" "the others (Ta)," it suddenly becomes difficult to define.
     Additionally in the modern society, "Ri-Ta" is often regarded as an antonym to "Ri-Ko (selfishness or ego)." In fact, "Ri-Ta-ism" is still deemed as an antithesis of "Ri-Ko-shugi (egoism)" in the West.
     It would be fair to say that it was the French philosopher Auguste Comte (1978-1857) who established "altruism" as a philosophical term in the West. The term once used to be translated into Japanese as "Ai-Ta-shugi (love-other-ism). We do not often see this term recently, but it might be easier to grasp the original intention of "altruism" by Comte when we translate it as "Ai-Ta."
     In this essay, I would like to address Comte's "altruism" as "Ai-Ta" or "Ai-Ta-shugi (Ai-Ta-ism)" in order to illuminate the difference with the Japanese word "Ri-Ta."
     According to "A General View Of Positivism," one of Comte's main works, we can acquire a dimension from each individual to "the whole mankind" through "Ai-Ta-shugi." And we will be unconsciously acquainted with "a deep emotion such as social solidarity that is extended rightly to every time and place." He also argues that a man would eventually feel one's own "happiness" within the "sympathy" toward the others. (retranslated from the Japanese translation by Kazuo Kiryu)*1 His "Ai-Ta-shugi" can be classified roughly as follows.

1:a function to expand a man from "an individual" to a community, and eventually to the whole mankind
2:a function to stimulate sympathy for the others
3:a function to find happiness in coexistence with the others

     Comte described "Ai-Ta-shugi" in three "functions" because he regarded it as a kind of "virtue," which is something to be practiced rather than contemplated.
     The Frenchman considered human spirit would progress from a theological period to a metaphysical period and subsequently to a positive one. What he meant by "theological" is equivalent to being religious. He says that religion "evolves" fetishism (a form of animism,) polytheism and monotheism.
     The same can be said to metaphysics. For him, metaphysics was philosophy turned into religion. It was still immature to be regarded as philosophy. However, Comte thought that once the positive spirit was displayed, human intellect would harmonize with science in its true sense and reconstruct the world. Comte's "positive philosophy" was not only something to exceed the earlier metaphysics but also beyond the theology, which had been the top religious wisdom. For him, "Ai-Ta-shugi" would eventually bloom as the final phase, which is "positive morality.". When we think about the essence of Comte's "positivism," it is important to recognize that it was on a far different sphere from the modern philosophy. The term "sociology" is also derived from Comte. His "positivism" was to be placed within what he called "sociology." For Comte, "sociology" was the most evolved science. Science started out with mathematics, and then evolved to astronomy, physics, chemistry, and biology. "Sociology" was the sixth science for Comte.
     When you ponder the meaning of Comte's "Ai-Ta-shugi," it is necessary to attend to the nuance which used to be attached to the French word "isme" or the English word "ism."
     Now, "ism" is a word which represents a certain way of thinking, but at least until the beginning of the 20th century, it was not necessarily so. This is evident from the fact that the teachings of Buddha and Tao are called "Buddhism" and "Taoism" respectively. Tenshin Okakura (1863-1913) is indicative for that matter. When he published "Cha No Hon (Book Of Tea)" in 1906, which was written in English, he used the word "teaism" for "cha-do (the way of tea)" adding it was "the religion of beauty."
     "Ism" had a quite close nuance to the Japanese word "Do or Michi (a way)." It was not only an object of contemplation. You needed to practice it to understand it.
     Comte shared the similar insight. It is apparent when you take a look at the words of Alain (1968-1951), who developed his own philosophy under the considerable influence from Comte.
     Alain had this habit of defining the words which felt important to him. The document was published posthumously as "Definitions." There he defines "altruism (Ai-Ta-shugi)" as follows.

This is opposite to egoism. This is a nature to endear the others (autrui.) A nature to consider what the others are thinking, feeling, hoping, wanting, supposed to be wanting, not abiding, etc. It means to put oneself in the position of the others. Therefore it will be strongly influenced by the acclaim and the blame which the others express or supposed to express. (retranslated from the Japanese translation by Mikio Kamiya)*2

     「He argues that "Ai-Ta" is to feel for the others and to consider what they want or not want. That also means to abandon one's own viewpoint and replace it with the others'.
     Here, it is worthwhile to note that Alain refers to the replacement of a viewpoint rather than the expansion of a perspective. Not to view multi-dimensionally from the same position, but to get away from your viewpoint once and for all and face with the others or the world again. That IS the origin of "Ai-Ta-ism," Alain points out. He continues from the above:

f not for this kind of friendship, there would be no society at all in the world. Friendship is a totally different sentiment from thinking about the others but systematizing them without feeling for them. A king may have discretion but not necessarily "altruism." In other cases, through his "altruism," he may turn away from the reasonable attitude when the public oppose to his unequivocally appropriate reformation. (retranslated from the Japanese translation by Mikio Kamiya)*3

     Alain says "Ai-Ta" is a kind of "friendship." However, this "friendship" is not only a feeling towards the friends near by. It is something similar to "fraternity." Mentioning the administrator and "Ai-Ta," Alain also claims that a reasonable king may not have the sense of "Ai-Ta." And even if he had one, he might make a decision which betrays his reasonable judgement just because he HAD this heart of "Ai-Ta."
     To understand the philosophy of Comte, we cannot ignore his concept of "evolution" or "progress." As discussed so far, it is clear that "progress" for Comte was not just about enhancing convenience or encouraging egoism. Alain quoted while analyzing Comte; "progress is always nothing but the development of an order." For Comte, what he could truly call "progress" had to be deeply connected with an "order." Retrospectively, it is worthwhile to note that the philosophy concerning "Ai-Ta-shugi" was not genuinely developed until the 19th century in the long history of the Western thinking. "Ri-Ta" in the East, however, grew on a different path. The origin of "Ri-Ta" in the East precedes Comte for more than one thousand years easily. In fact, the Japanese word "Ri-Ta" can be found as early as in the 9th century.
Furthermore, "Ri-Ta" in Japan does not put "Ri-Ko (ego)" in its antithesis. Instead, "Ri-Ta" looks for its fulfillment beyond the difference between the self and the others.
     What is "Ri-Ta"? Or where is the pristine "force" which fulfills Ri-Ta? By exploring these issues, I would like to catch a glimpse of the philosophy of "Ri-Ta."
     It may be a good idea to explain why this essay is subtitled with the word "phenomenology." That was because I came across one part in "The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology," a work by the father of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), when I was pondering what "Ri-Ta" was. The German thinker stated that "simple factual science would only make simple factual men," before he said as follows:

We often hear that this factual science would not tell us anything when our survival is at risk. This science fundamentally excludes the issue urgent (shobi) to a man who is commended to a fatal turn in this tragic time. The issue is; does the whole human existence have a meaning, or not? (retranslated from the Japanese translation by Tsuneo Hosoya & Gen Kida)*4

     The translators tell us that it was written between 1935 and 1936. As title of the book also shows, it was the time the Nazi totalitarian regime was in its full swing.
     We are now living in a crisis different from the one Husserl experienced. To contemplate what "Ri-Ta" means for the mankind going through COVID-19 crisis --- isn't it literally a "shobi (eyebrow-burning) or urgent task?
     And when we think about what "Ri-Ta" really is, we must never forget that the immediate crisis we are facing now is not only of "a man" but of the "whole mankind," as Comte saw.

1. "A General View of Positivism" by Auguste Comte, translated by Kazuo Kiryu, "Sekai no Meicho 30" (Chuoukouron-Sha), 1970, p.206
2. "Definitions" by Alain, translated by Mikio Kamiya, Iwanami-bunko, 2000, p.23-24 3. ibid. p.24
4. "The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology" by Edmund Husserl, translated by Tsuneo Hosoya & Gen Kida, Chuoukouron-sha, 1990, p.17
Translated by Yoshinobu Morita