Towards What Can’t Be Said: Exploring the Limitations of Language in Zen Philosophy




Fitzsimmons, John

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This research project aims to explore the relationship between language and experience as understood by the Zen philosophical tradition. Specifically, I draw on the thought of Kyoto school philosophers Nishida Kitarō and Ueda Shizuteru, who pay close attention to the dangers and limitations of language, as well as Zen-informed strategies for overcoming language’s tendency to “cage” or “sediment” experience into abstractions. Together, they provide a picture of philosophical dialogue that emphasizes the creative, the playful, and the poetic, often avoiding "literal" philosophical definitions in order to prevent linguistic illusions from taking hold. To illustrate how these principles may benefit philosophical dialogues even outside of Zen contexts, I consider Heidegger's "A Dialogue on Language" as a potential example of a philosophical exchange that uses a creative, Zen-informed approach in order to communicate ideas that would otherwise be "unsayable."



zen, language, philosophy