Defining economy is a quite significant issue in discourses of post-modernism.
Current methodologies to discuss the notion of economy have been monopolized by
western philosophies and sciences while eastern counterparts including Confucianism
have been excluded.
The economic activity is one of the parts of whole human activities, therefore ethics
exploring the entire matrix of human activities, regardless eastern or western, has
examined the substance of economy. For instance, Watsuji Tetsuro one of the most
prominent Japanese ethics scholars tried to find the substance of human being from the
ambition to achieve ethical humanity. In this regard, economic activity is not mere an
action to fulfill material ambitions but an attempt to achieve common goals of entire
human beings by using human instinct pursuing materials as a medium.
Watsuji’s ethics are based on western ethics, Buddhism, and Japanese
Confucianism, and it is not difficult to find the element to examine modern economy in
early modern Japanese Confucianism. Ogyu Sorai’s notion of rite is a great example of
this. Chinese translation of the term of “economy” came from the Confucian notion of
“Ruling the World and Governing the People”, and Sorai who had criticized Zhu Xi’s
focusing on self-cultivation actively adopted this notion into his ideas. Economy is the
entire relationship among materials and rite is the ethical subject of them. From this
perspective, rite is one of the effective creeds to understand economy.
To Sorai, human activities associated with rite were not from natural instinct but
from cultural action separated from natural instinct, and this was oppositional to the
conventional concept of modern economy respecting natural instinct as the basis of
economic activities. I believe that we can learn several lessons to properly understand
modern economy from Sorai’s ideas.