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Professor MOCHIZUKI, Taro 《Philosophy, Thought and Culture》

Interviewer/Planner: Hiroto Hirayama (2nd year specializing in English and American Literature/English Linguistics), Kazuko Watarigawa (2nd year specializing in Comparative Literature)
Photographer: Yumi Chikamatsu

Reason for Studying French Philosophy

Watarigawa: Why did you decide to major in French Philosophy?

Mochizuki: I always wanted to study and research the philosopher Descartes. He is said to represent the beginning of modern philosophy. He is known for his famous words, “I think, therefore I am.” There is the phrase, “philosophy or ideology.”  I believe that a life without ideology is a life that is meaningless. I wanted to live my life with a certain ideology, which is why I decided to major in philosophy.

Hirayama: What do you think makes French Philosophy appealing?

Mochizuki: I like it because of its freedom. One characteristic of French Philosophy that begins with Descartes is that it is not something that is bound to a social authority or an institution, like a church or university. Descartes even said that he discarded any education through books. There is no use for universities; there is no use for books. That was his way of thinking. Moreover, another clear and interdisciplinary reason is that French philosophy does not use difficult words, unlike Japanese philosophy.

About Student Life

Hirayama: What were you like as a student?

Mochizuki: I joined a mountain climbing club called the Wandervogel. We climbed major mountains of Japan,  including the Northern Alps and the Southern Alps, from the north of Japan in Hokkaido to the south of Japan in Yakushima; we have conquered many mountains along the way. After graduation, we also climbed the Himalayas.

Through mountain climbing, I acquired survival skills. I learned to survive off of water that I found in nature and to cook rice with it. I never necessarily wanted to become a researcher while I was in university, so other than climbing mountains, I lived a relatively normal university life.
However, I always put effort into studying French and English. The university I went to was very progressive and focused on languages. We had twenty hours of English per week, not to mention that my French teacher was French, and I also went to a French language school at night. To read the original texts, I also learned Latin, especially as Descartes often wrote in Latin. It is true that it is easier to understand nuances if you can read the original text.

Watarigawa: Why did you decide to continue your research?

Mochizuki: Around the time I was graduating, I began to understand and feel the depth of French philosophy. I heard that the people at the top in the field of philosophy were here at the University of Osaka, and that was the reason I wanted to come here. After my master’s, I studied abroad at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium. I went for a year, but it was in Europe that I discovered Africa. Before I moved, I had always thought that Europe was filled with white people; my image of Europeans was white. However, at the university I studied at, there were many international exchange students who had come from Africa. There were many students from Arab countries in North Africa to West Africa. Once I had met them and become friends, I finally realized that Europe and Africa were very close to each other. The students I had met who had come all the way from Africa were in a very politically and financially unstable position while studying abroad. It made me think about the obstacles and relationships between colonizers and colonies.

I began my study-abroad program in 1988, which lasted until 1989, but 1989 was the year the cold war between the East and the West began to collapse, and events such the Tiananmen Square incident and the collapse of the Berlin Wall occurred. There were also many Chinese exchange students, and I was moved by their willingness to participate. This was when I truly realized that philosophy was not just something that I could learn cooped up inside in a classroom or research lab. It should be something that the world can relate to and engage in. That is related to my current research.

About Research Content

Watarigawa: Could you please tell us about your research?

Mochizuki: I began my research with Descartes and other modern French phenomenology, but after my experience in a protest against the incorporation of a national university, my research began to take a turn towards alter-globalization and actual philosophical practices. Alter-globalization is a new idea that takes the place of globalization based on current neoliberalism. To wrap up the definition in one phrase: the current neoliberalism is the idea of treating everything based on market mechanism. The university will be dragged into that mechanism and become involved in market competitions. Education becomes commercialized: prospective students are customers and graduates are products. We must change that kind of a mechanism at its roots.

I am currently putting my efforts and knowledge into philosophical practice, mainly by introducing and teaching philosophy in developing countries. As I am teaching as a guest professor at the Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, I am also currently working on a program of developing a graduate school for philosophical practice in Cambodia. Philosophy is especially necessary for a country like Cambodia. To create a peaceful country, people must also believe in and think through the idea of peace. My wish is to help develop people so that they can begin thinking for themselves and become capable of criticizing and making judgments through their own opinions. The only problem is, in a country like Cambodia, it can also be considered dangerous to be opinionated because it is very politically different from Japan.

I am also currently practicing ways to import philosophy that has originated from Europe to Asia, specifically Southeast Asia. For example, I teach my Japanese students how to write a dissertation in English, but the students cannot help but think in Japanese. Therefore, I first need to teach my students how to think in English, the fundamental way. The only problem is, the Anglo-Saxon ideology does not necessarily blend in with the teachings of Asia, so I need to tackle the problem of how to develop these theories together. I teach my classes with this in mind, while paying attention to the student’s reactions. This can also be considered a practice of philosophy.

Hirayama: What is your opinion about why philosophy exists and the significance of learning philosophy?

Mochizuki: I believe that by having ideologies, people become capable of changing society. First off, you have to look at your life and see what changes you can make. Only then can you start changing the society. I believe that is why we have philosophy. There is no point in ideology if you do not practice it. This means that if you only think but not do anything about philosophy, it loses its purpose.

A Message to the Students

Hirayama: What kind of students would you like to take up philosophy?

Mochizuki: I would say students who are interested in working for international organizations such as the UN and NGOs worldwide. It may sound paradoxical, but you cannot change a country or an area if you do not change the world. This means that without global evolution in your field of vision, it is in no way possible for any change to happen.

Watarigawa: What would you say to the younger generations?

Mochizuki: I want them to go out and see the world. Get out of your comfort zone and out of the university. I see that young people nowadays don’t reach far enough and stay within a short distance of where they stand. They try to go to university for four years and start working at a company. I understand that it is difficult to live in Japanese society where there is much pressure to stay within our limits and to stay on the straight path ahead of us. However, don’t you feel that Japan is lacking in unique and maybe strange individuals? That is no fun. The world is an amazing and exciting place because of all the diverse people in it. It seems as though people have lost vitality without having even a vision or a dream for their future. It seems as though everything has already been laid out on top of this disciplined system for us to live by, and people are scared of escaping it. People say that there is a limit to our current system, and yet people still cling to to it as the only system they believe they have. Our people have become immune to the energy that may come from a chaotic world. I wish for you to visit somewhere like Southeast Asia, where chaos is your everyday life, and feel that force of life.

Excerpt from Introduction of Osaka University School of Letters, 2012-2013. The interviewers’ years are presented as they were at the time of the interview (October 2012).