Idealism, Empiricism and Realism in Rev. Moon’s Philosophy

By Keisuke Noda

Conceptual frameworks for interpretation determine the limits, or horizons, of human understanding. This applies to the interpretation of Unificationism, the philosophy of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

Here, I look to Platonic idealism and Aristotelian empiricism as two frameworks to interpret “reality;” and I use these frameworks to explore how we can draw out different aspects of Unificationism.  One can certainly use other perspectives to disclose other dimensions of Rev. Moon’s philosophy.

Nevertheless, I use these frameworks to explore how we interpret and relate to Unificationism, and conclude by looking at fishing to highlight the radical realism of Unificationism.

Platonic Idealism: Divine Principle

The most common reading of Rev. Moon’s thought is as a form of Platonic idealism. This aspect of Unificationism is best described in Divine Principle, the core teaching of Unificationism presented in the Exposition of the Divine Principle, the main text of Unificationism. Unificationists, for the most part, understand Unificationism from the way it is presented in this text.

Plato described in his Republic his ideal state as a hierarchical society governed by the Philosopher-King. Likewise, Unificationism presents the Heavenly Kingdom as a society governed by the Second Advent, the “True Parents.” Just as the Philosopher-King, who “knows” the ultimate truth, can tell others what to do, the Kingdom of Heaven is portrayed in the Divine Principle as a hierarchical society where True Parents are the central channel who convey God’s Will and His messages.

Plato viewed the unchangeable and eternal, such as the Ideas of Good, Beauty and others, as reality, and the changeable or temporal as less real, a sort of shadow of eternal Ideas. Hence, the world of Ideas, where souls go after leaving the body in death, is the real world. Accordingly, reality is grounded elsewhere, in another world.  Although Unificationism presents the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth as the ideal, the society it envisions is still a Platonic hierarchical idealistic world under the Messianic “True Parents,” and so the center of gravity exists in Ideas that are eternal, absolute and unchanging.

When I joined CARP, a student organization of the Unification Church, in 1970 on the Waseda University campus in Tokyo, a place occupied by communist radicals, I was inspired by this Platonic vision. Idealism, be it Marxism or Unificationism, was appealing to youth in the 1960s and ‘70s. The majority of my classmates joined Marxist movements to build a socialist utopia. A “Grand Narrative,” a one-size-fits-all theory of modernism, was dominant as the spirit of the era. Many approached these theories through the question of which grand narrative was right, rather than questioning whether a grand narrative was the right approach to begin with. Hence, the Unificationist grand narrative appealed to me as a 19-year-old college student, and I joined CARP to build an ideal world.

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