From the Imperial Rescript on Education to the official promotion of “national morality,” the language of morality played a prominent political role in Meiji era Japan. Yet, few studies have directly addressed the philosophical underpinnings of moral discourse and placed them in their political context. Richard Reitan's illuminating study of rinrigaku, or the academic study of ethics, fills this gap in the intellectual history of modern Japan. Historicizing morality, Reitan traces “the process by which the good as a contingent perspective is recast as a timeless truth or universal principle” (p. x). He principally studies the birth of a scholarly enterprise dedicated to articulating the good and which thus “helped expand the role of the state in shaping the moral interiority of the individual” (p. xii). The organizing argument for the book concerns the character of moral discourse, which authorizes itself as a universal and timeless truth while betraying...

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