The Knowledge of Nature and the Nature of Knowledge in Early Modern Japan

The Knowledge of Nature and the Nature of Knowledge in Early Modern Japan

Federico Marcon

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780226251905

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

The Knowledge of Nature and the Nature of Knowledge in Early Modern Japan is a social and intellectual history of the creation, development, and apparent disappearance of a field of natural history in Japan from the early seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century. It introduces the field of honzōgaku—the original name of the discipline of materia medica introduced from China, which expanded in Japan into an eclectic field of natural history—and the changing views of the natural environment that accompanied its development. The book surveys the ideas and practices developed by honzōgaku scholars, and reconstructs the social forces that affected their work. These included a burgeoning publishing industry, increased circulation of ideas and books, the spread of literacy, processes of institutionalization in schools and academies, systems of patronage, and networks of cultural circles, all of which helped to shape the styles, practices, and goals of the study of nature in early modern Japan. The primary goal of the book is to introduce the field of honzōgaku—which developed into a sophisticated discipline of knowledge about nature analogous to European natural history but independently of direct influence—and the changing Japanese views on the material environment. It also aims to reconstruct the social forces that dominated the life of scholars and cultural producers in general in early modern Europe and Japan, showing how similar social processes produced similar forms of knowledge and similar interventions in the material reality that these knowledges mediated.