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Figures & Movements: Philosophy of the Samurai




Admissions requirements

There are no prerequisites, but Philosophies of the World will provide helpful background.


The purpose of Figures & Movements courses is to allow students to zoom in on a particular thinker or philosophical tradition. From year to year, the subtitle can shift as the course focuses on different figures and movements. In this particular offering, we will discuss the aristocratic mounted warriors who are “known in Japan by the generic term of bushi, ‘military families,’ but in the West usually by the more specific name of samurai, or ‘retainers’” (Reischauer). The samurai have been romanticized in both the West and the East for their exotic weapons and armor, martial arts expertise, extreme discipline, and willingness to die or even commit suicide (seppuku) in the service of their lord. The later samurai developed “an idealized combination of Confucianism and feudal ethics that came to be known as bushido, or ‘the way of the warrior’” (Reischauer). Confucianism asserts the importance of social and familial relationships (filial piety), but downplays the significance of individual interests. The ruling class of samurai used the Confucian ideals of loyalty, honor, and service to one’s social superiors to maintain control of Japan. But this is not the only philosophical tradition to have an impact on the samurai; various forms of Buddhism also influenced their views. Zen was perhaps the most significant: “There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. If one fully understands the present moment, there will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the moment” (Yamamoto).

Course objectives

By the end of this course students should be able to:

  • Critically reflect on and examine both shared and diverse human experiences so that they can recognize the similarities and differences across cultures as well as historical periods.

  • Exhibit the analytic skills necessary to comprehend the relevance of the past to their understanding of the present, while becoming more familiar with the perspective of their own cultural assumptions and values.

  • Acquire a set of reading, writing, and discussion skills that allow them to engage texts and others in an informed and conscientious manner.


  • Become familiar with some major movements in the history of philosophy and religion.

  • Become well versed in the shifting views of a particular tradition as it develops across hundreds of years. Specifically, the students will gain an understanding of the Confucian, Buddhist, and martial roots of samurai thought as it adjusts to shifting social circumstances.


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Mode of instruction

Each teaching week of the course will consist of two 2-hour interactive discussions on the weekly topic, with reading to be completed prior to the meeting. This course depends heavily on group discussion of significant primary texts. Each class will begin with the instructor introducing the key issues and readings for that day and offering an interpretation of the works being discussed. Students should join in the discussion at any time, asking questions, making suggestions, or making comparisons with other texts we have read. For each meeting, each student should mark out a short passage (1-3 sentences) from the day’s reading that especially stood out.


  • Participation and attentiveness in classroom discussions is worth 18% of the overall course grade. This will be assessed throughout the course, and is meant to encourage constructive and active engagement with course materials and fellow students.

  • A 300-word reflection will be due in four different weeks, and each will be worth 6% of the overall course grade (totaling 24%). These will help to assess the capacity to articulate questions, concepts, and arguments based on individual engagement with course readings.

  • One in-class “midterm” short answer and/or essay exam will be worth 18% of the overall course grade. This will encourage a clear comprehension of objective course content.

  • One final paper (due during reading week) will be worth 40% of the overall course grade. This will encourage analysis of concepts covered throughout the course, and force students to express their ideas clearly and organize them coherently.


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list

Everything below is required—-there may be more recent editions, which are fine to use, but be sure they are translated by Wilson.

  • Tsunetomo Yamamoto, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, translated by William Scott Wilson (NY: Kodansha International, 1979)

  • Yuzan Daidoji, Budoshoshinshu: the Warrior’s Primer of Daidoji Yuzan, edited by Jack Vaughn and translated by William Scott Wilson (Burbank, CA: Ohara Publications Inc., 1984)

  • Ideals of the Samurai, edited by Gregory N. Lee and translated by William Scott Wilson (Burbank, CA: Ohara Publications Inc., 1982)


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact


Dr. Adam Buben


If I say texts are required, I mean it. Do not wait until this class begins to see if I am serious. Show up on the first day with the required books.