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This letter is from the correspondence of the Japanese writers Seiji Koga and Yashuma Neiboku. Koga (1745-1844) was a scholar of linguistics, translation, and religion, among other things. Neiboku (1747-1821) studied with Koga in the city of Keio in the 1790's. Later, after Koga's return to his native Fukuoka, the two shared a remarkable correspondence, part of which has been lost. The subject of the correspondence was, for the most part, the writings of the Jewish philosopher Baruch de Spinoza, who treated in his Ethics of God, the understanding, the emotions, and love.

This, the first surviving letter from Neiboku to Koga, follows Koga's first surviving letter in which Koga began his explication of the first book of Spinoza's Ethics. In his reply, Neiboku pushes Koga to clarify his definitions, particularly in the case of his controversial translation of the seventh axiom (Ia7). The letter is translated below in toto.



The Most Honorable Seiji Koga,

Your letter has made its many happy returns to my house. My family is pleased to know that you are well. As am I. The land here is wealthy and we are living with fat souls and healthy bodies. Haruko recently had a terrible energy swelling deep in her belly. The local herbalist and accunpuncturist could not cure her. With time, and her mother's many prayers to many different gods, the sickness has passed. As I write, she sleeps slowly before quiet fire.

I thank you for your calligraphy on the words of Spinoza. I have often longed to better understand the philosophers. Perhaps it is only the peace in my heart that has not allowed me the devotion to these texts that you have given them, with an even greater internal peace than that which I feel. If I read your words, will I also find this peace? As you contemplate flowers, I care for Aki, Haruko, and the other children. Perhaps when I am older, though I am already old enough for my pleasing. I hear laughter.

What you have written is most perplexing. The seventh axiom of Spinoza's Latin is this: "Quicquid ut non existens potest concipi, eius essentia non involvit existentiam." A standard translation reads: "If a thing can be conceived as not existing, then its essence does not involve existence". For the critical term essentia, you propose instead of the noun "essence", or as is sometimes given the noun "being", the verb "being", which you write as "be-ing", perhaps to indicate that it is a verb. I find your choice in translation most perplexing. As you ask for my opinion, I shall proffer it. First, though, I must make certain that I understand your characters (words). Certainly, your scholarship far exceeds mine, my master.

Seiji Koga, are you proposing a bifurcation of the metaphysical and ontological categories of reality? Are you proposing that something can be without existing? That is not altogether unheard of, of course. What you propose as a translation is this: "... its be-ing does not involve existence", which implies that something can be without existing. The metaphysics proposed describe being, in the verbal sense, as a feature of reality that does not equivocate to nominal existence, which would be described by an ontology. A list of what exists (an ontology) would not coincide with those things that be, that are, though this being is not nominally described, only verbally described. Being - a metaphysical category - verbal - active attribution. Existening - an ontological category - nominal - passive attribution.

If this is indeed what you propose, I find the view most interesting, though I may not agree with it, for it will have certain consequences on Spinoza's philosophy that I perhaps cannot bear. We shall come to understand these things later, if our life allows us to see them.

Certainly, the view you express is controversial, for you are proposing that essentia, be-ing, does not necessarily involve existing. This, as I am sure you are aware, challenges a powerful tradition of interpretation by the fathers and mothers of the Catholic Church. As you know, readers of The Scripture often equivocate essentia with substantia -- Spinoza defines the latter as "that which can be conceived in and through itself" (Id3). In the writings of the Great Augustine (De Trinitas, VII, 6) and Saint Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica I, 39:3), the term essentia became the preferred term describing the nature of God. As such it certainly implies all of the perfect attributes and modes, which would include existing, at least in the case of a perfect essentia, such as God's. The Trinitarian creed is, "Una Essentia, Tres Personae". If be-ing can not involve existence, this would imply a be-ing, or something that bes (is) in the intellect or heart of God, but nevertheless does not exist? Perhaps this is possible, but would Spinoza propose a bifurcation of these orders? Is it consistent with the rest of this book?

If we read essentia as essence we do not involve ourselves in any of these problems. In this case we have a thing, the nature or essence of which does not include existing. This is, as I am sure you are aware, far from a thing, the being of which does not include existing.

I am confused in my heart, and so,

I Await You,
Yashuma Neiboku

In his second letter to Neiboku, Koga meets the objections expressed above and does not waver from the disputations of his correspondent.

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