One aspect of the intellectual upheaval which accompanied the Meiji Restoration of 1868 was the phenomenon of bummei kaika, “civilization and enlightenment.” Although it may be useful to think of the early Meiji years as a Japanese siècle de lumières, it is significant that the country's most progressive scholars derived their main inspiration from such contemporaneous Western social philosophies as positivism and utilitarianism, not the European enlightenment of the eighteenth century. It is natural that the proponents of bummei kaika turned for guidance to John Stuart Mill and Auguste Comte rather than Diderot or Rousseau, because their goal was to expose Japan to those urbane modes of thought from abroad which would bring her to the “civilized” stage of development envisaged by European social philosophy. The means to be employed consisted of empiricism, not abstract reasoning: “what we should call the truly enlightened world,” wrote Tsuda Mamichi in 1874, “is when practical studies become popular in our country and each person attains an understanding of truth.” Similarly, Fukuzawa Yukichi took nineteenth century England, not eighteenth century France, as the model for Japan's efforts to achieve “enlightenment.”

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