Imagination and Technology in Miki Kiyoshi

The Logic of Imagination is regarded as Miki Kiyoshi’s masterpiece. It remained uncompleted due to Miki’s premature death in 1945 at age 48. The first part of the book was first serialised in the journal Thought (1937-38) before being published in book form as The Logic of Imagination Part One in 1939. The second part was published posthumously as Part Two in 1948. An English translation of The Logic of Imagination by John Krummel is due to come out in July 2024.

Miki had began to develop his ideas on The Logic of Imagination in the late 1930s, which had prompted him to abandon the writing of Philosophical Anthology. At the same time, he wrote The Philosophy of Technology, where he used his new insights into the logic of imagination to show how “Technology is our material expressiveness given a particular form by our imagination.” 

Krummel sums up Miki’s argument as follows: “Through this work, we find the imagination playing an ontological role in constructing our world together with what, in Heideggerian terms, is our being-in-the-world. The imagination expresses itself in embodied action, technologically constitutive of the concrete world, producing what he calls ‘forms’ … The imagination’s ontological function involves the social collective beyond individual subjectivity; and extends into the unfathomable preconscious depths of life in terms of ‘nature’, beyond mere humanity. He takes off from Kant’s understanding of the imagination as productive, but while Kant confined this to the epistemological and the aesthetic spheres, Miki broadens it, with ontological implications, together with the role of technology in constructing the world.”

Such a world that is created may be termed expression” 

Miki had resonated deeply with Martin Heidegger’s concept of human beings as involved in “making the world“: “Human beings are not simply in the world; rather, they make the world by working with the world. Such a world that is created may be termed “expression” (Heidegger). To express, as such, is giving forms. “Making the world” is to give form” to the world. Japan’s rapid technological expansion in Miki’s time had “trans-formed” the whole cultural and economic landscape in the country. Furthermore, had not the question of how the forms of the phenomena we see around us arose from the emptiness of the One whole haunted humans for millennia, in the East perhaps even more than in the West? How have our experiences given rise to the apparently substantial “things” we are interacting with in our everyday lives? 

“From the created to the creating, from the formed to the forming”

Form as rupa has been ubiquitous in Buddhist teachings. The Heart Sutra says that “form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” This, however, was written from the existential standpoint of the practitioner wishing to break free from attachment to forms. There was then no incentive to marvel at our faculty to create forms! Miki’s project is different. Nishida Kitaro had already studied humans’ creativity in their interaction, which Robert Carter summarised as follows: “We are determined by the world, and yet we ourselves determine the world. This important mutuality must not be lost sight of, for we are not victims, but creators. From the created to the creating (from creatus to creans), from the formed to the forming is how [Nishida] describes our situation: we are created by our inheritance and our environment, and yet, we also are capable of re-shaping our environment and of altering our inheritance both for ourselves, and for our offspring.”

This had opened the way for Miki to delve into the process of formation and trans-formation of the world through human agency. Krummel notes that the German language may have helped Miki connect the concept of “form” to that of “image,” and hence to that of “imagination.” Krummel tells us that “In the German, Einbildungskraft indicates that it is a faculty of formation or cultivation (Bildung). Bild means not simply ‘image’ but also ‘form’. This might explain Miki’s usage of the term keizo, literally ‘form-image’, for the German Bild. Through its act of synthesizing opposing qualities, which Miki characterized in terms of pathos and logos, the imagination produces ‘form-images’” (keizo).

Image versus concept

Traditionally, it has been said that humans had superimposed “concepts” over reality that had stood in the way of experiencing the “things” of reality as they are in themselves. Concepts by definition arise from our grasping of things to make use of them for our advantage. On the other hand, Kant had talked of the “synthetic function of imagination that brings together sensibility and understanding.” And Heidegger had recognised “the ontological significance of this function.” Imagination allows us to create images that include our sensibility, the “felt” aspect of our lives, which Miki refers to as pathos, to an understanding of the world, i.e., logos, to avoid falling in the trap of the grasping tendency that generates “concepts.” 

Krummel writes: “Miki broadens the imagination’s formation of forms beyond the purely mental or ideal realm to the concrete somatic, social, and historical dimensions of the world in which technology plays a primary role … The originary root of the faculties that Kant hinted at indicates for Miki an ontological priority deeper than, and preceding, the unity of apperception – a depth reaching into the historical world and its on-going self-constitution of which we are embodied participants.” Image-making is carried out by the“aesthetic function of the example or model and exemplary validity, connecting the imagination to the social and what Kant called “common sense” (Gemeinsinn) or sensus communis. What is produced here is the result of genius (Genie), attributed to the productive imagination, the ability to create unseen new forms and reorder reality in works of art .… As Miki explains, the ‘aesthetic ideas’ it expresses are intuitions, representations of the imagination, but with no definite thought (i.e., concept) adequate to it, hence linguistically inexpressible. Exceeding the bounds of conceptuality, the aesthetic work of genius cannot be fully communicated in language and thus induces in its audience an experience that likewise exceeds linguistic or conceptual boundaries.” Judgment, in responding to that product of genius, however, discovers within its singularity something general but without recourse to an a priori conceptual rule. … For Miki, it is not ‘laws’ but rather ‘examples’ in the sense of historical schemas that are ontologically significant for the living historical human being who is historically creative.”

World making through imagination is then the way of the shutai, the embodied self, while world making through concepts is the way of the epistemological shukan. In the chapter she contributes to Miki Kiyoshi and the Crisis of Thought, Arisaka Yoko defines shutai and shukan as follows: “Shukan  would refer to an epistemological subject of perception, cognition, sensation, and other ‘mental’ faculties. Shutai, in contrast, is subject-as-body. It is a material subject that acts in the world. When Miki uses the term shutai, it is translated as ‘embodied subject’.” Shukan is the subject as the West understands it, a subject looking at the world as an object separate from the subject. Shutai is the existential embodied subject that experiences, and acts in the world. She adds: “The embodied subject acts and interacts in the world in her concrete environment, taking things in, acting and reacting with others, processing ideas and objects, and constantly changing with the situation. It is the constant action that casts out the surrounding world in a particular way, and in this sense, it cannot be objectified as a thing, not even an acting thing – it is instead the acts themselves that do the objectifying (among other things).” Miki also writes: “Embodiment, that is, body in their body-ness, is the realm of the body-as-subject that cannot be objectified.”

Krummel ends the first section of his text with a reference to Philosophy of Technology: “Miki emphasized in his contemporaneous work Philosophy of Technology (1941) that both subject and object, consciousness and the preconscious, together constitute our embodied subjectivity, which in turn must actively negotiate with the physical world. The synthesis of these opposites in the imagination unfolds dialectically through history. The imagination ‘gathered together’ the formless to give it form, imposing logos on pathos; and this process unfolds through history as the transformation of forms.”


John W M Krummel – “Imagination and Technology: Ontological Formation of/as Being-in-the-World” 

Arisaka Yoko – “Miki’s Philosophical Anthropology: Embodiment, Mediality and Everydayness”

both in Miki Kiyoshi and the Crisis of Thought, ed. Steve Lofts, Nakamura Norihito & Fernando Wirtz

Robert Carter – Encounter with Enlightenment: A Study of Japanese Ethics