An Inquiry into the Good

An Inquiry into the Good
Author Kitaro Nishida
Original title Zen no kenkyū
Country Japan
Language Japanese
Subject Ethics
  • 1911 (in Japanese)
  • 1960 (in English)
Media type Print
ISBN 978-0300052336

An Inquiry into the Good, also known as A Study of Good, (Japanese: 善の研究, Zen no kenkyū) is a 1911 book by Kitaro Nishida, the foremost Japanese philosopher of the 20th century and founding father of the Kyoto School.[1] The work has been described as a masterpiece.


The work was made possible by the Japanese interest in western philosophy that began with the Meiji Restoration of 1868.[2]


Nishida articulates a system of thought based on the Zen Buddhist experience in terms borrowed from French, German, and Anglo-American philosophy, psychology, and natural science. Drawing on William James and Henri Bergson, he develops a philosophy based on "pure experience" as that which underlies the subject-object relation.[1] Pure experience does not contain any cognitive perception of oppositions such as those of subject and object, body and mind, and time and space. Nishida aimed to use the concept to define the value of religious experience. By transcending the dichotomous standpoint, Nishida opens a new metaphysical passage to the consideration of immediate experience absent all intervention by judgmental reflection. Nishida, who did not consider ethical problems separate from the problem of self for each individual, understood pure experience to be the realization of true selfhood. The good is the perfection of true individuality, the only foundation for the well-being of all humanity.[3]

Influence and reception

A path-breaking work, An Inquiry into the Good is Nishida's best known accomplishment.[1] Author Ninian Smart writes that the book "struck many readers as the first truly creative work by a Japanese that did not merely repeat western ideas, and yet made use of modern thinking and terminology." The work was, however, criticized by philosopher Takahashi Satomi, who found the subjectivism of "pure experience" too psychological.[4] Graham Parkes has described An Inquiry into the Good as a "masterpiece".[2]



  1. 1 2 3 Parkes 2005. p. 659.
  2. 1 2 Parkes 2005. p. 458.
  3. Machida 1995. p. 384.
  4. Smart 2008. pp. 426, 430.


  • Machida, Soho (1995). McGreal, Ian P., ed. Great Thinkers of the Eastern World. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers. ISBN 0-06-270085-5. 
  • Parkes, Graham (2005). Honderich, Ted, ed. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-926479-1. 
  • Smart, Ninian (2008). Leaman, Oliver, ed. World Philosophies, Revised Second Edition. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-41189-9. 
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