Migrating Texts and Traditions
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There can be little dispute that culture influences philosophy: we see this in the way that classical Greek culture influenced Greek philosophy, that Christianity influenced mediaeval western philosophy, that French culture influenced a range of philosophies in France from Cartesianism to post-modernism, and so on.
Yet many philosophical texts and traditions have also been introduced into very different cultures and philosophical traditions than their cultures of origin – through war and colonialization, but also through religion and art, and through commercial relations and globalization. And this raises questions such as: What is it to do French philosophy in Africa, or Analytic philosophy in India, or Buddhist philosophy in North America?
This volume examines the phenomenon of the ‘migration’ of philosophical texts and traditions into other cultures, identifies places where it may have succeeded, but also where it has not, and discusses what is presupposed in introducing a text or a tradition into another intellectual culture.

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Date de parution 15 décembre 2012
Nombre de lectures 1
EAN13 9780776620329
Langue English
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Migrating Texts & Traditions



Migrating Texts & Traditions
Edited by William Sweet
Ottawa • University of Ottawa Press • 2012



University of Ottawa Press
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The University of Ottawa Press acknowledges with gratitude the support extended to its publishing list by Heritage Canada through the Canada Book Fund, by the Canada Council for the Arts, by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences through the Awards to Scholarly Publications Program, by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and by the University of Ottawa.
We also gratefully acknowledge the Fr. Gatto Chair of Christian Studies at St. Francis Xavier University whose financial support has contributed to the publication of this book.
eBook development: WildElement.ca
© University of Ottawa Press 2012
“On Being Enabled to Say What Is “Truly Real” © Peter J. McCormick
LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA CATALOGUING IN PUBLICATION
Migrating texts & traditions [electronic resource] / edited by William Sweet.
Includes bibliographical references and indexes.
Electronic monograph issued in various formats.
Issued also in print format.
ISBN 978-0-7766-2031-2 (PDF).--ISBN 978-0-7766-2032-9 (HTML
1. Philosophy and civilization. 2. Philosophy—Cross-cultural studies.
3. Intercultural communication—History. I. Sweet, William, 1955-
II. Title: Migrating texts and traditions.
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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction: What Does It Mean for Texts and Traditions to Migrate?
WILLIAM SWEET
Part I: From the West
The Migration of Aristotelian Philosophy to China in the 17 th Century
VINCENT SHEN
The Reformulation of the Philoponean Proofs in Mediaeval Jewish Thought
GYONGYI HEGEDUS
Putting Islam and ‘The West’ Together Again: The Philosophy of M. M. Sharif
LESLIE ARMOUR
British Idealism as a Migrating Tradition
WILLIAM SWEET
The Migration of Ideas and Afrikaans Philosophy in South Africa
PIETER DUVENAGE
Heidegger, Japanese Aesthetics, and the Idea of a ‘Dialogue’ between East and West
CHINATSU KOBAYASHI
Hermeneutics and the Migration of Philosophical Traditions in East Asia
CRISTAL HUANG
Part II: From the East and the South
D r Shukoh and the Transmission of the Upani ṣ ads to Islam
JONARDON GANERI
A Buddhist ‘good life’ Theory: Ś ntideva’s Bodhicary vat ra
LINDA E. PATRIK
Sharing Insights: Buddhism and Recent Aristotelian Ethics
SHEILA MASON
Process Concepts of Text, Practice, and No Self in Buddhism
FRANK J. HOFFMAN
On Being Enabled to Say What Is “Truly Real”
PETER J. MCCORMICK
The Philosophers of Al Andalus and European Modernity
DAVID LEA
Radhakrishnan and the Construction of Philosophical Dialogue across Cultural Traditions
DENYS P. LEIGHTON
Part III: Theoretical Issues
Philosophy-in-Place and Texts Out of Place
BRUCE B. JANZ
Migrating Texts: A Hermeneutical Perspective
KUAN-MIN HUANG
Text, Rationality, and Knowledge in Indian Philosophy
ELIOT DEUTSCH
Afterword: Migration: Explanation, Analysis, and Directions
WILLIAM SWEET
Index
Contributors



Preface

Philosophy is a part of culture, and there is little dispute that culture influences philosophy. Yet philosophical texts and traditions have been introduced into cultures and philosophical traditions very different from those of their origin and, in a world in which the recognition of diversity often competes with calls for unity, it is important to ask how such an introduction is possible. The claim of the ‘migration’ of texts or traditions from one culture to another is, of course, not a uniquely philosophical one; we have comparative literature, cross-cultural or comparative religions, and intercultural or global ethics, in which it seems that we are dealing with the same or a similar phenomenon. Engaging philosophies outside of one’s own, the project of an intercultural or comparative philosophy, and even communication among philosophical traditions, all seem to depend on the possibility of such a migration. The importance of understanding this phenomenon gave rise to the project on which this volume is based.
I would like to record my thanks to a number of individuals who helped in the discussion and the initial articulation of this project. To Richard Feist, who served on the organizing committee of the conference from which this volume took its inspiration and who served as a session chair and commentator; to Irene Switankowsky, David Savard, and Iain McKenna, who also served as session chairs and commentators; to the participants and audience at York University, Canada, where several of these papers were initially presented; and to scholars in Seoul (Korea), Taipei (Taiwan), Cape Coast (Ghana), and New Delhi (India), where a number of the issues in this volume were also discussed.
I am also indebted to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, whose financial support for the project, “Migrating Texts and Traditions in Philosophy / Textes et traditions philosophiques : Parcours migratoires”, made this volume possible. I am grateful, as well, to the Fr Edo Gatto Chair of Christian Studies, St Francis Xavier University, which provided funding to support initial copyediting of the text.
I would also like to thank Joanne Muzak for the attentive and careful copyediting, and Eric Nelson and Marie Clausén of the University of Ottawa Press, for their support in bringing this volume to fruition.
William Sweet



Introduction What Does It Mean for Texts and Traditions to Migrate? 1
William Sweet
1. Introduction
It is undeniable that philosophical texts and traditions from one culture are, and have been, found in very different cultures and intellectual milieus. Consider the presence of Buddhist philosophy in China, Korea and Japan—and more recently in North America and Europe. From its birthplace in India, Buddhism spread and developed throughout Asia (as Tibetan but also as East Asian, including Pure Land and Chan/Zen, in Japan and China, and as Seon in Korea), and also in North America—for example, Shambhala. Many philosophies originating in the West seem similarly to have travelled east and south; they have been introduced, and it would seem have been integrated and appropriated, into non-Western intellectual cultures and traditions. As examples here we can think of the introduction of schools of British philosophy (e.g., empiricism, utilitarianism, but also idealism) into Southern Africa and India in the 19 th and 20 th centuries, and of hermeneutics and postmodern thought into contemporary East Asia. (One notes the use and the translation of texts by Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault and many others into various Asian languages, particularly Chinese.) We find, as well, philosophies and philosophical texts from one part of the West being introduced into another part of the West. Here, we might think of works of American political philosophy, such as that of John Rawls, being introduced into France and translated into French—or, conversely, texts of French philosophy, such as those of Derrida, being found in the Anglo-American world, and translated into English.
The preceding examples are only a few of the instances of the spread of philosophical texts and traditions. But some would add that often what we have is not simply their presence in new environments, but a ‘migration’.
By ‘migration’ here we mean that the text or tradition has come to, has taken root in and developed, and perhaps sometimes has even flourished in an environment that is far from its origin, and yet there is also a continuity and consistency—and (with texts) a univocity—with that origin. And the preceding examples seem to illustrate a thesis that many take for granted when they read and teach not just the modern and contemporary, but even the classical or mediaeval philosophers today: that philosophical texts and traditions are not restricted to their cultures of origin, and that most—if not all—philosophical texts can, in principle, ‘migrate’.
Some may be curious how, in a world marked by so many different cultures, histories and world views, such a migration occurs. And so they may want to explore what is presupposed or supposed about cultural traditions, or human nature, or the possibility and nature of knowledge and truth across cultures. Others, however, go farther; for them, this thesis is far from unproblematic and uncontroversial. They do not deny that there has been some kind of encounter of the texts, ideas, and traditions of one culture by others, but they challenge how far or how deep it goes, and they suggest that the ‘migration’ and appropriation are more apparent than real.
The essays in this volume bear on this issue and consider different examples and understandings of, and views on, the ‘migration’ of texts and traditions. Many of these essays discuss putative instances of migration and raise and develop answers to several key questions: What does it mean for a text or tradition to migrate? Where do we see the migration of a text or tradition? What is presupposed in introducing a text or a tradition into another (intellectual) culture? What sense can we make of texts and traditions when they appear in contexts very different from where they began? These questions, and the general issue they address are not simply matters of the history of ideas. This issue also raises a number of philosophical concerns—about linguistic or conceptual commensurability across traditions, but also of what it means to talk of a text or a (philosophical) tradition or school. It bears on how traditions and the texts that accompany them understand themselves. It bears on the relevance and place of the moral, political and religious thought of one part of the globe on the others. It also bears on the possibility of cross-cultural or intercultural philosophy. To address these issues, then, few philosophers would disagree that (in the words of Bernard Bosanquet) one needs to move beyond appearances—“the facts as they seem”—and “go deeper and deeper into the heart of facts as they are.” 2 While the examples these essays discuss are far from exhaustive—and in no way pretend to be so—they provide some starting points for examining these questions and this issue as a whole.
2. Challenges
The presence of philosophical texts and traditions outside of their cultures of origin is, as noted above, undeniable. Yet some would challenge how far or how deep such putative migrations go, and insist that the conclusions we should draw from the examples given earlier should be very modest.
A first challenge to the thesis of ‘migration’ derives its force from a claim about the relation of philosophy to culture. A number of authors today argue that philosophies and philosophical traditions are deeply marked by the cultures in which they arise and that this precludes not only any direct engagement across traditions on philosophical questions but any attempt at cross-cultural migration of concepts, methods and truth claims. It is not simply that every philosophy has its source in a particular culture, but that it can never break free of that source. The evidence for this claim is fairly straightforward.
It is within their cultures that philosophers (like all intellectuals) find the specific problems and questions that they pursue. Language and values are rooted in culture. Indeed, it is from our cultures that we learn what counts as philosophy (as distinct from literature, science, history or religion) and how to distinguish philosophy from the religious, the scientific, the axiological and the literary. Culture influences in what ‘language’ philosophical questions are expressed and answered—and even what counts as a satisfactory answer. It is at least in part because of this that, for some time in the West, the work of figures such as Laozi, Confucius or Sankara, or the traditions of thought in Asia or Africa or of American aboriginal tribes, were regarded by many as not being philosophy but rather religion or ‘social practices’ or ‘world views’. Some critics also point to cases where one tradition or culture lacks the terminology or concepts or even the syntax to permit problems or concepts of other traditions to be even intelligible—or where a language can ‘tilt’ a discussion in a way that makes the expression of philosophical issues from one culture awkward or irrelevant. 3 This has been a concern, for example, of some African philosophers, particularly on matters related to metaphysics. For, if there are, in African philosophy, three or four constituent principles of human being, rather than the traditional two of Western thought (i.e., mind and body), then such issues as mind/body dualism, or the nature of death as the separation of soul and body, are not only not relevant but arguably are not conceptually coherent. 4
Second, the thesis of ‘migration’ across philosophical and cultural traditions is challenged by an account of the character of philosophy itself. R. G. Collingwood writes of philosophy as involving a method of ‘question and answer’—of “asking questions and answering them”. 5 And so, in order to understand what exactly a philosopher said or meant, we need to know the question that she or he sought to answer. If this is so, then how a text from another context can migrate and integrate is, at the very least, rather complicated. Prior to employing a text from another culture as possibly providing an answer to one’s philosophical problems, we must, presumably, engage in a ‘mini history of philosophy’ to discern the question giving rise to that text in the first place. And if we do not or cannot know the questions that gave rise to that text, then whatever ‘answers’ we think we find may not be those of the text. Indeed, they may not be ‘answers’ to our questions at all. In such a case, the text is, at best, the occasion for a philosophical reflection; there is, however, no reason to believe that the text actually has any bearing on the question we are considering. 6 While this challenge does not absolutely exclude migration, it does suggest that, to show the relevance of a particular philosophical text, we may first have to go through a lengthy preliminary process, perhaps something like Collingwood’s theory of re-enactment 7 —and even then how far that text is germane can still be contested.
Third, the thesis that texts and traditions migrate, or can be understood within and assimilated into other philosophical traditions, seems also to be challenged by a relatively recent claim found in Alasdair MacIntyre, concerning the nature and role of terms and concepts in relation to traditions. MacIntyre notes, for example, that, in our contemporary philosophical—and, particularly, ethical—vocabulary, we have terms and concepts coming from a range of texts and traditions, but lacking any particular coherence or consistency. Now, when people share a language, or live together, they may believe that they share a broader overall culture and tradition—and so they may think that they can understand one another quite well and that there is no problem in communicating with each other and working together on philosophical problems. But, MacIntyre writes, this view flies in the face of experience; for example, “nothing is more striking in the contemporary university than the extent of the apparently ineliminable continuing divisions and conflicts within all humanistic enquiry.” 8
For MacIntyre, moral beliefs and practices are constituted or formed by the traditions in which they are found. Each tradition has its own vocabulary, “its own standards of rational justification . . . [and] its set of authoritative texts.” 9 Different texts and traditions—and the corresponding beliefs and epistemic and moral practices—may bring with them different standards of reasonableness, or justification, or proof. And so, when
debate between fundamentally opposed standpoints does occur . . . it is inevitably inconclusive. Each warring position characteristically appears irrefutable to its own adherents; indeed in its own terms and by its own standards of argument it is in practice irrefutable. But each warring position equally seems to its opponents to be insufficiently warranted by rational argument. 10
This is not to say that there cannot be any communication across traditions, but MacIntyre would insist that it is much more challenging than many realize. Clearly, texts, traditions and beliefs come into contact with, and in some way cross into, other traditions. But fruitful contact or integration is far from automatic and, even when they do occur, this is the result of a good deal of prior discernment by a person of ‘practical wisdom’. In many if not most cases, MacIntyre’s argument suggests, ‘migration’ is problematic. Before we can think of our views migrating, however, we need, at the very least, to be conscious of the contextually embeddedness or tradition-based character of our beliefs and of our conception of reason and argument—and those of others. Since there are many traditions, sometimes radically distinct, and each with their ‘final vocabularies’, there is an incommensurability among them—and no formal rule for how to go beyond the differences.
There are, of course, many other challenges that bear on the issue of migration, and which require an answer as well. They include, to begin with, how one is to define ‘text’ and ‘tradition’—what constitutes a ‘text’ or ‘tradition’. A second concern is that the phenomenon of migration and integration or appropriation seems to make a number of epistemological assumptions. What does it mean to introduce and appropriate an idea, text, or tradition? Are there common or sharable cognitive structures, criteria for meaning and truth, and standards of justification and truth that allow for such introduction and appropriation, or even communication? And what exactly is it that is able to migrate? Are traditions commensurable—or can one expect only the commensurability of individual statements? One may also ask whether the putative existence of migration would not entail the possibility of or a foundation for a ‘universal’ or an intercultural philosophy, or whether this would mean that there is some kind of cross-cultural truth and objectivity.
The preceding challenges and concerns are clearly forceful, and invite a response.
3. Migrations
To obtain more insight into this alleged phenomenon of ‘migration’, what the notion presupposes or entails, and whether and how far the preceding challenges stand, the authors in this volume present and discuss a number of examples.
In Part I (From the West), the authors examine a number of cases where it has been claimed that there has been a migration of what may be considered as ‘Western’ ideas. In “The Migration of Aristotelian Philosophy to China in the 17 th Century”, Vincent Shen examines the introduction of Western philosophy to China by Jesuit philosophers such as Julius Aleni (1582–1649). Shen describes how, first, Aleni and others recognized the need to find ways to make Western philosophical and theological ideas less ‘foreign’ to the Chinese. Their solution was to attempt to find suitable texts—and they focused on the work of Aristotle, which they believed had parallels with ideas in the Chinese traditions. Specifically, the approach that Aleni and others took was to begin by introducing Aristotle the person—telling the story of Aristotle (e.g., identifying him as a sage)—and then producing Chinese ‘translations’ of certain of Aristotle’s works—or, to be more precise, summaries and introductions to them in Chinese, which presented elements of his philosophy that addressed Chinese interests. Not infrequently they also employed a dialogical structure, which mirrored the approach taken in classical Chinese texts. After focusing on areas such as moral philosophy and ethical values, they were able to present an Aristotelian philosophy of nature and theory of soul (in, for example, Aleni’s Xingxue Cushu ) in Chinese terms. In this way, some aspects of Western philosophical thought were able to move into a Chinese context.
The introduction of ideas from one culture into a new environment may take the form not only of continuing a tradition but of adapting texts, arguments and sometimes simply concepts. Gyongyi Hegedus (“The Reformulation of the Philoponean Proofs in Mediaeval Jewish Thought”) focuses on a case of philosophical proofs taken from one context and employed in another. She considers one of the central figures in early mediaeval Jewish thought, Saadya Gaon, who was born in Egypt in 882 CE, became the head rabbi of the Sura Academy in Babylonia, and who died in Baghdad in 942 CE. Engaged in debates between Muslim and Jewish thinkers concerning fundamental questions of faith, Saadya sought to provide arguments for the existence of God, based on his view that creation was ex nihilo. To do this, Saadya turned to a rather different tradition—to arguments from the Christian theologian and scientist, John Philoponus (490–570). Saadya’s formulation of these arguments differs from that of Philoponus, and there is a significant divergence in their respective epistemologies and the accounts of creation. Nevertheless, Hegedus argues, because of the scientific character of these proofs, through Saadya the Philoponean arguments were able to migrate from a late classical Christian metaphysical context to that of the early Middle Ages in Persia.
Another example of traditions and texts from the West that had an influence within the Islamic ‘east’ is to be found in the work of one of the most influential Muslim philosophers of the 20 th century, Mian Mohammad Sharif (1893–1965). In “Putting Islam and ‘The West’ Together Again: The Philosophy of M. M. Sharif”, Leslie Armour focuses on Sharif’s philosophy of history, tracing its roots through European philosophers—such as Sharif’s Cambridge tutor, the British idealist J. M. E. McTaggart, as well as Hegel, Kant and Leibniz—but also following a lineage that goes back to Ibn Sina, Dirar ibn ‘Amr, Gregory of Nyssa and Philo. This philosophy of history requires, Armour maintains, determining the conditions under which experience of the divine—or, indeed, any experience—is possible. And so, key to Sharif’s account is an investigation of the self and its place as a condition for knowledge. (Sharif interestingly distinguishes between the self as the base, and as the basis for knowledge.) In order to explain what this self is, Sharif proposes a “dialectical monadism”. This view clearly draws on Sharif’s interest in Leibniz, and Sharif follows a Leibnizian account of monads as immanent and yet transcending entities. But Armour adds that the basis of the activity of these monads is, for Sharif, an Absolute, and it is a view with not only metaphysical, but ethical implications—implications about ideals. The search for ideals, according to Sharif, produces common ideas. With the example of Sharif, then, one can say that ideas and strands of philosophy can migrate across traditions and integrate. Armour also suggests that one could go even further and say that this migration shows that philosophical ideas are the common property of all humanity.
In “British Idealism as a Migrating Tradition”, I look at late-19 th - and early-20 th -century British idealist thought as an example of a philosophical tradition that was able to cross not only borders but linguistic and cultural divides. Found in Canada, Australia, South Africa and India, as well as South and East Asia, this idealism arguably had a distinctive influence in the late 19 th and particularly the early 20 th century. I begin by identifying some of the scholars in these countries who either had emigrated from Britain, or who were their students. Then, I show not only how British Idealism had a presence in this ‘diaspora’ but how and where it was taken up and developed. Not infrequently, these scholars continued to draw on an idealist vocabulary and methodology, and applied its insights to contemporary philosophical, social, political and religious problems—in the process providing either new interpretations of idealist thought or extending it in new directions. For example, in South Africa, British idealism had a particular influence in political thought; in Canada, in matters of religion and public policy; and in India, in metaphysics and in ethics.
In “The Migration of Ideas and Afrikaans Philosophy in South Africa”, Pieter Duvenage focuses on some aspects of the movement of ideas from Europe to parts of Southern Africa, which gave rise to what is arguably a new tradition or approach—Afrikaans philosophy. Like Sweet, Duvenage points out that philosophy in South Africa was importantly influenced by late-19 th - and early-20 th -century British idealism, largely because of Britain’s place as a colonial power, which established the foundational academic institutions in the country, but also because of the resonance of its ideas with a number of existential concerns of the Afrikaner community. Eventually, however, Afrikaner philosophers came to react against this idealism and, drawing on continental philosophy and phenomenology, developed what Duvenage describes as an “indigenous” Afrikaans approach to philosophy. The ‘emigration’ of ideas, then, clearly does not simply lead to continuing established traditions but can provide the grounds for articulating new ‘traditions’ in response.
In the final two chapters of Part I, Chinatsu Kobayashi and Cristal Huang discuss the presence of modern European philosophy in East Asia. In “Heidegger, Japanese Aesthetics, and the Idea of a ‘Dialogue’ between East and West”, Kobayashi focuses on the presence and influence of Martin Heidegger’s writings in modern Japanese philosophy as well as the claims that have been made for seeing Heidegger’s work as providing a basis for cross-cultural dialogue. Kobayashi begins by raising the issue of what such an influence or migration of ideas presupposes and notes her skepticism about whether we can speak of either European or Japanese traditions as “fully formed” or as constituting “definite monolithic traditions that developed in complete independence and which are to meet and enter into this ‘dialogue.’” She then turns to the issue of the migration of concepts and the possibility of philosophical traditions borrowing conceptual terminology from one another. Here, Kobayashi examines at length the views of the Japanese philosopher, Shūzō Kuki (1888–1941). Kuki—like, and in relation to, Heidegger—argued against the possibility of grasping certain concepts, such as iki ( いき or 粋 ), by those outside of the Japanese tradition. If the views of Kuki and Heidegger are correct, this would entail that the migration of philosophical ideas and traditions is impossible. Kobayashi, however, challenges this idea.
Cristal Huang considers the place of (Western) hermeneutics in contemporary East Asian thought and, by way of illustration, focuses on how it is engaged in Taiwan. In “Hermeneutics and the Migration of Philosophical Traditions in East Asia”, Huang refers to the presence of hermeneutical methods from the West in contemporary Asian thought but also notes that such methods are broadly parallel to those found within Chinese traditions; she refers, for example, to the history of interpretations of ‘poems’—the answers to prayers—in Chinese thought. Moreover, given the familiarity with Western thought in contemporary Asian education, she also notes that it has been relatively easy to introduce European approaches there. Huang finds Paul Ricoeur’s approach particularly helpful, as it draws on earlier German and French hermeneutics as well as semiotics. But no one ‘school’ of hermeneutics is paradigmatic. For traditions to migrate from the past to the present, or for philosophical approaches to migrate and interact, hermeneutics is necessary, and Huang emphasizes the importance of practicing hermeneutics in order to teach hermeneutics. Moreover, hermeneutics is important, Huang argues, not just for scholarly purposes but for understanding one’s own culture and traditions—an issue of particular importance to contemporary Taiwanese.
What we see in these essays, then, is that ‘Western’ concepts, ideas, texts and traditions are not only present in cultures outside the West but, however varied, they appear to have taken root in and extended themselves in these new environments—and have even given rise to new traditions. Yet the migration is not just one way.
The movement of texts and traditions into ‘the West’ has a lengthy history, but in its details it may be less known to scholars. In Part II (From the East and the South), the authors present examples of philosophies from other parts of the globe that have found their way into the West and into larger, or international, spheres.
There has, of course, been a long interest in philosophies of ‘the East’ and ‘the South’ (i.e., philosophies rooted in, or reflecting the traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam). We see this in the work of the great ‘orientalists’ and Indologists of the 19 th and 20 th centuries, such as Max Müller (1823–1900) and A. F. R. Hoernlé (1841–1918). For example, Müller’s translations and editions of the major texts of the great Asian religious traditions, in the fifty-volume Sacred Books of the East series (published by Oxford University Press, 1879–1910), provided an introduction and access to the ‘East’ for a large number of Western scholars, and contributed not only to philology, but also to the development of philosophy, religious studies, and the like. But, as the authors in Part II point out, we see this migration in a number of other examples as well.
In “D r Shukoh and the Transmission of the Upani ṣ ads to Islam”, Jonardon Ganeri considers the movement of Upanisadic texts from their ‘home’ (in Sanskrit) into Persian—from which the 1804 Latin translation (by A. H. Anquetil-Duperron) was made, and from which, in turn, Schopenhauer and other philosophers of the early 19 th century drew for their knowledge of Hindu philosophy. This movement began, as Ganeri points out, in the mid-17 th century, when the Mughal leader D r Shukoh—because of his “religious cosmopolitanism”, his Sufism, and his belief that there was an affinity between Hinduism and Islam—commissioned a Persian translation of the Upanisads. According to Ganeri, Shukoh believed that the Upanisads supplied answers to the problems that he had encountered in his own studies of Sufism; indeed, he saw the Upanisads as providing a more detailed account of Sufi truths. This kind of inclusivism—and Shukoh’s assumption of a ‘notational congruence’ between Hinduism and Islam—allowed the (Persian/Muslim) translators to bring Islam into “isomorphism” with terms and concepts drawn from Indian literature, and enabled the Muslim readers of the Hindu texts “to appropriate the [Upanisadic] text as speaking about his or her own [Persian/Islamic] concepts, saints, and doctrines.” The translations of the texts that followed were, in fact, reasonably faithful to the originals. There was a philosophical implication of this as well. Shukoh believed that “the stranger [i.e., here, the Hindu text] is a means by which we see ourselves more clearly”—it allows one to know oneself better—though he also held that (paradoxically) by “allowing itself to be so used . . . the migrating text [was able] to retain its own secrets.” Ganeri concludes that there is, then, a “hermeneutical continuity” between Shukoh’s Sufi beliefs and the philosophy of the Upanisads, but notes that this continuity may, in fact, reflect an earlier migration of Indian thought, through that of Plotinus, to Islamic thought as well. Thus, while one can plausibly identify some of the lines of influence on Islamic thought from ‘outside’ texts and traditions, Ganeri notes that such a mode of ‘transmission’ may also allow the original text to “retain its secrets”.
An increasing number of Western scholars have come to engage Buddhist thought, and a central question has been whether, and if so how far, philosophical views and traditions so apparently different from those of the West can actually ‘migrate’ into Western cultures and traditions. As noted earlier, such a migration seems clearly to have happened within the East; one finds Buddhism thriving in cultures far from its place of origin, throughout Asia. What can we make of its more recent appearance in North America and Europe?
In “A Buddhist ‘good life’ Theory: Santideva’s Bodhicaryavatara ”, Linda Patrik argues that there is a profound, radically incommensurable difference between Buddhism and Western ethical thought—that there is a considerable conceptual disparity, as well as differences in method, approach and ethical end, between Western ethical traditions and those, for example, of Tibetan Buddhism. There are, then, considerable obstacles to each understanding the other. Nevertheless, despite these differences, Patrik hints that some migration of ideas may be possible. Though she does not say in what this migration might consist, she notes that some Buddhist teachers “can interpret Mahayana theories across conceptual barriers” and that the traditions may be able to meet and engage—though arguably “only through one who masters both.”
Sheila Mason (“Sharing Insights: Buddhism and Recent Aristotelian Ethics”) does not claim that migration of Buddhism into ‘the West’ has happened but suggests that it is possible. She considers some recent work in “neo-Aristotelian” or virtue ethics and draws a number of parallels or similarities with Tibetan Buddhism. This, Mason believes, is a first stage in the migration of Buddhist concepts, approaches and texts into non-Buddhist traditions. Among the important similarities between Buddhism and contemporary neo-Aristotelianism, for example, is the focus on the transformation of character, based on cultivating our ability to always ‘remember’ what we know to be good when we are acting (i.e., on a moral sensitivity or a capacity for discernment). While it is true that there are notable differences between Buddhism and neo-Aristotelianism (e.g., in how one acquires virtue), and while some of the virtues identified may vary (e.g., compassion), Mason points out how Buddhist ideas might develop the insights of Aristotelian virtue theory. These similarities, parallels and congruities may explain how Buddhist traditions and texts have come to the West in a way in which other Asian traditions have not—and they also suggest that Buddhist thought may be seen as a way of completing the Aristotelian project.
Another approach to the putative ‘migration’ of Buddhism points to a way in which its texts can or should be read. Frank J. Hoffman (“Process Concepts of Text, Practice, and No Self in Buddhism”) draws on the notion of the self in Buddhism in order to provide an illustration of how migration can take place. Hoffman suggests that there is a parallel between the migration of ‘the self’ in Buddhism, and the migration of texts and practices in general. The process concept of the self can help us to understand the process concept of text; just as selves are ‘open’, change in migration, and yet retain identity, so Hoffman believes that texts can be open textured and can change in migration—with even significant changes in meaning—while nevertheless remaining regulative and well-established. If such a process of development is plausible, then texts can not only be introduced but can migrate into new environments. Unlike selves, however, texts obviously cannot do this on their own. Thus, Hoffman also draws our attention to the role in the migration of texts played by minority groups in new environments—that such groups, knowledgeable of the culture of origin of a text, can serve as a ‘medium’ to the majority culture, and that the migration occurs through them.
The reading and migration of texts is, nevertheless, very challenging. In “On Being Enabled to Say What Is ‘Truly Real’”, Peter J. McCormick considers the migration or transmission of ideas from Japanese cultures through the translation of Japanese texts into English. McCormick’s focus is on the challenges encountered by the Japanese scholar Dennis Hirota to ‘read’ in English and to translate texts of the mediaeval Japanese Buddhist teacher, Shinran. McCormick notes, however, that this is but one aspect of a larger issue, and that is, given the general incapacity of language to present reality plainly and completely, and given that “all of our uses of language necessarily distort the ways things truly are”, whether reality can ever be grasped. In light of these problems inherent in texts and traditions, migration is clearly extraordinarily challenging. Nevertheless, following the example of Hirota’s work, McCormick finds that migration may be possible, at least in a weak sense, by “getting into language in a certain way.” One may, therefore, be able to move “through language” to grasp, albeit imperfectly, what one is trying to say.
In the two essays concluding Part II, the authors focus on traditions more than on texts and consider how these traditions have had a place in influencing Western thought. The role of Islamic philosophy in relation to Western thought has widely been held to have been that of conserver and transmitter of the classical Greek traditions. In “The Philosophers of Al Andalus and European Modernity”, David Lea argues that this role was much more profound, and that certain distinctive elements of Islamic thought found their way into the central views of some of the major figures of European modernity. Lea points out that one of the characteristic features of early modern thought, such as that of Descartes, Rousseau, and Kant, was the concept of an autonomous reason, possessed by all individuals, and independent of one’s relations to community. This, Lea argues, is in no way inherited from classical Greek philosophy but has its roots in the mediaeval Islamic thinkers Ibn Sina, Ibn Baijja and Ibn Tufayl. Lea does not discuss whether this putative influence was direct or indirect, or how specifically it may have come about. He acknowledges, as well, that the understanding of autonomous reason within the European traditions is not a mere repetition of the mediaeval Arabic view. Nevertheless, Lea does insist that not only has this distinctive Andalusian notion of autonomous reason had an important role in the West, but that the way in which this notion was interpreted in European thought explains some of the contemporary divisions between the West and Islam.
The relation of Indian thought in the 20 th century to the West has been little discussed. Yet perhaps the best-known academic philosopher of India in the 20 th century is Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. Educated in Christian schools and colleges in India under the British Raj, Radhakrishnan was the author of a number of books and essays presenting Indian philosophies to the rest of the world. In “Radhakrishnan and the Construction of Philosophical Dialogue across Cultural Traditions”, Denys P. Leighton reminds us that Radhakrishnan’s role was not merely—or even importantly—that of an expositor but also that of one who sought to bring the Indian traditions into a broader philosophical exchange and to construct philosophical dialogue across traditions. Such efforts at introducing, adapting and extending Indian traditions, by Radhakrishnan and others, have been criticized by some for being simply instances of ‘colonial knowledge’—as presenting Indian tradition in a way that is wholly subject to the dominant perspective of a foreign culture. Yet this, as Leighton suggests, is surely too simplistic a way of understanding the development, and migration, of Indian traditions in Radhakrishnan’s work. Leighton therefore situates Radhakrishnan’s ideas within a larger context. He notes that Radhakrishnan did seek to bring Indian thought systems into some kind of reconciliation with the West, and that he found ways of doing so by his advocacy of a philosophical view close to that of the British absolute idealists, and by his sometimes unorthodox readings of the Advaita tradition. Yet Radhakrishnan also importantly challenged the Western view of his times, which held that the West had a stronger claim to be philosophy. Leighton notes that Radhakrishnan’s views may also have been particularly apt in promoting a religiously pluralistic democracy at a crucial time in India’s history. While some of Radhakrishnan’s work may have been close to British thought, it nevertheless served to make a broad philosophical point by its emphasis on moral theory in philosophy at a time when ethics was having an increasingly diminished role in Western thought. At the very least, at its origins, Radhakrishnan’s view engaged western thought so much that some, such as C. E. M. Joad, saw it as constituting a “counter attack from the East.” 11 In both of these cases, then, the authors make the argument for non-Western thought as having a role in the development of ideas—as these ideas were understood in the West but also in the engagement of Western ideas within non-Western environments.
The essays in Part II, then, acknowledge to a greater degree than those in Part I, the challenges of communicating and, thereby, of migrating ‘from the east and the south’. Texts and traditions may not be immediately, or at all, translatable. Nevertheless, none would deny that some communication, and even development with or through other traditions, are possible. The openness of texts and traditions (and their ability to respond to novelty and new experience), the role of ‘the medium’—persons conversant with different traditions, or with the language of the text, or of the process of pursuing philosophical investigations together—all suggest some points of contact and access, if not more.
Clearly, however, something needs to be said about the conditions under which communication and migration are possible. While the preceding essays provide examples of the influences but also of challenges to influence, in Part III (Theoretical Issues), the authors offer three distinct general discussions of whether and how it is that texts and traditions might be said to migrate.
Bruce Janz (“Philosophy-in-Place and Texts Out of Place”) adopts a broadly hermeneutical approach and analyzes the phenomenon of migrating texts and traditions by drawing on a model of philosophy that he calls “philosophy-in-place”. Following the 20 th -century thinkers, Gilles Deleuze (1925–1995) and Félix Guattari (1930–1992), Janz reminds us of a number of assumptions that are involved in speaking of the migration of texts. The first involves the relation of philosophy to ‘place’, with regard to both the place of origin of the text as well as its ‘destination’; as R. G. Collingwood had earlier noted, “place matters”. A second assumption concerns the character of texts—what a text is, is not, Janz claims, a quality of the text itself, but is determined by whether and how it engages and is engaged by its readers. Third, we have to be attentive to the notion of migration and of what it is, exactly, that migrates. Janz holds that, given our understanding of what a ‘text’ is, whether and how it can ‘migrate’ depends on how it is approached and engaged in its (new) environment. Indeed, Janz proposes the view that there are no philosophical texts as such, but simply texts that can be engaged ‘philosophically’, that is, with disciplined questioning, and which provide the opportunity for more questions. Janz suggests that, in their ‘migration’, texts may occasion new concepts and new philosophical readings and, hence, that ‘place’ gives rise to their philosophical character. Traditions, one supposes, can be constructed depending on how these texts are read.
In “Migrating Texts: A Hermeneutical Perspective”, Kuan-Min Huang takes another kind of hermeneutical approach and reflects on the nature of text, its relation to place, and the manner of its appropriation—for example, how it is read. Huang argues that if we adopt such an approach, we see the important relation between text and place. A text is, in the first instance, appropriate to a place. But a text is also related to the reader—indeed, they are “mutually bound”. When one speaks of the migration of a text, then, Huang suggests that place is, in a sense, suspended or transformed. Drawing extensively on Paul Ricoeur and Jean-Luc Nancy, Huang explores this notion of place by looking at the idea of limit and how one approaches or touches the limit. This bears on the possibility of a “nonplace”, in which the (migrating) text may be said to exist.
Finally, in “Text, Rationality, and Knowledge in Indian Philosophy,” Eliot Deutsch discusses the role of tradition in the migration of texts and ideas. To illustrate this, he focuses on the question of the conditions of a migration of ‘Eastern’ philosophies into the ‘West’. Deutsch points out that, in the Vedantic traditions, the ‘text’ is the sutra, together with the exegesis and commentary, so that we have what he calls a “tradition text”. In this sense, then, not only is the text an ongoing work but it can be understood only together with tradition; text and tradition are inseparable. Moreover, for any such migration, one must understand the suppositions and presuppositions of traditions. Thus, even though both the Indian and the Western philosophical traditions are concerned with identifying the conditions for correct thinking, what truth is concerned with differs. In the Indian traditions, for example, truth is a product of cognition, not propositions, and establishing truth is a practical and not simply a theoretical activity. This is not to say that this is an impediment to the migration of texts and traditions, but that, in order to engage a text outside its ‘tradition’ of origin, one must first have an understanding of what it means to have a philosophical text, a sense of the underlying accounts of truth and of rationality and the relation of the text to cultural values.
Do these three accounts go far enough? What exactly is the relation of text and tradition? What constitutes a tradition, and how do we determine whether an author or text is part of it? What are the consequences of seeing philosophy as deeply rooted in culture? Is there commensurability across traditions? While place matters to text and its meaning, how is it that some texts can change place easily and others cannot? The volume concludes with an Afterword, “Migration: Explanation, Analysis, and Directions”, in which I consider the kinds of explanations one might give for the migration of texts and traditions into environments far from those of their origin. Some explanations are historical or sociological—for example, that ideas are introduced through colonialism, political or economic—and some simply reflect intellectual curiosity or a sense that one’s own traditions are no longer adequate. But I also suggest that there may be deeper, epistemological or ontological reasons why some traditions succeed in migration and others do not—and note that it is here that further research needs to be done.
4. Orientations
The essays in this volume provide a range of examples, from classical, mediaeval, and modern authors, and from eastern, western, and southern traditions. There are, we find, a number of instances of the presence of texts and traditions in cultures and philosophies far from their cultures of origin.
While obviously not exhaustive, the essays that follow propose to address the issue of the migration of texts and traditions by responding to four central questions: What are some of the instances of the presence of, or what we may call the migration of, texts and traditions? What is involved in migration—epistemologically (in terms of how traditions are understood, continued and communicated), but also historically and socially (in terms of the factors and challenges that bear on laying the groundwork for, but also promoting or accelerating, migration)? A third question is what does the possibility (or difficulty) of migration tell us about the relation of philosophy to culture? But there is also, at the very least, a key fourth question: is there anything within a tradition or text that might contribute to its ability to migrate or to communicate across boundaries and cultures? In short, when and why is a text or tradition not merely present but one that can migrate?
These essays do not pretend to address or solve all of the issues associated with the presence or migration of texts and traditions. Indeed, no doubt several of the authors in this volume would disagree with one another on the answers to the central issues. They do, however, propose to advance our understanding of whether—and, if so, how—texts and traditions can migrate.
These essays, then, seek not only to respond to questions that bear on the history of ideas but to address a number of issues that concern, inter alia, contemporary ethics, epistemology, and political thought. Through their examples and analyses of what must be considered if we are to speak of the migration of texts and traditions, they also make us more aware of our own assumptions about philosophy and culture, of the ways of communicating among philosophical traditions and cultures—and also of the philosophical contributions of other cultures. They also encourage readers to reflect on the explanations for a migration of texts and traditions—of what must occur for texts and traditions to migrate, on how one might respond to the challenges to migration, and on whether those examples can provide any guidance for the communication and migration of ideas in the contemporary world. Some answers may suggest themselves immediately. The challenge throughout is, however, that we need to avoid superficial analogies and responses and, instead, in Bosanquet’s words, “go deeper and deeper into the heart of facts as they are.”


1 Part II of this Introduction draws on my paper “Intercultural Philosophy and the Phenomenon of Migrating Texts and Traditions,” in Comparative and Intercultural Philosophy, ed. Hans Lenk (Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2009), 39–58.

2 Bernard Bosanquet, “Idealism in Social Work,” in Essays on ‘Aspects of the Social Problem’ and Essays on Social Policy, in The Collected Works of Bernard Bosanquet, vol. 14, ed. William Sweet (Bristol, UK: Thoemmes Press, 1999), 151 (originally published in The Charity Organisation Review, n.s. 3 [1898]: 122–133).

3 For more on this, see my “Culture and Pluralism in Philosophy,” in Philosophy, Culture, and Pluralism, ed. William Sweet (Aylmer, QC: Editions du scribe, 2002), v–xxi. It has been claimed, for example, that some philosophers may simply not understand the views of philosophers from other cultures (because their own philosophical views are so culturally laden that they cannot recognize the propositions and conceptual structures of other cultures; or because they are so immersed in their own approach that they cannot recognize that they have an approach).

4 See, for example, Chibueze Udeani, “The Body-Mind-Spirit Relationship within the African World-View,” Philosophy, Culture, and Traditions 2 (2003): 57–62.

5 R. G. Collingwood, The New Leviathan, 2nd ed., ed. David Boucher (Oxford University Press, 1999), 74. Collingwood writes that “every statement that anybody ever makes is made in answer to a question”, and that “in order to find out [a philosopher’s] meaning you must also know what the question was . . . to which the thing he [or she] has said or written was meant as an answer”. An Essay on Metaphysics, 3rd ed, revised, ed. Rex Martin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 23; An Autobiography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1939), 31. (It is interesting that Hans-Georg Gadamer finds a link with Collingwood in Gadamer’s own logic of question and answer, which he develops in Wahrheit und Methode [1960].) See Gadamer, Truth and Method (New York: Seabury Press, 1975), 333.

6 Another interesting implication of Collingwood’s views, however, is that genuine disagreement may be less common that we might think for, “two propositions do not contradict each other unless they are answers to the same question.” Collingwood, Autobiography, 33. Collingwood’s method is, in a sense, backward looking (and hence reflects hermeneutics), but it is also forward looking, for it also provides a way of pursuing future enquiries on a topic. And this, together with the theory of re-enactment, provides a basis for a recognition of the role of history and culture that is consistent with a rejection of relativism, subjectivism and historicism.

7 See, The Idea of History, ed. T. M. Knox (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1946), 215; Autobiography, 110–114. See also, for example, W. H. Dray, History as Re-enactment: R. G. Collingwood’s Idea of History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999).

8 Alasdair MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry (London: Duckworth, 1990), 6.

9 Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), 345.

10 MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, 7. MacIntyre provides a series of caveats, however, starting on page 5.

11 See Joad’s Counter Attack from the East: The Philosophy of Radhakrishnan (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1933).



Par t I From the West



Chapter 1 The Migration of Aristotelian Philosophy to China in the 17 th Century
Vincent Shen

Migration of Aristotle as Rewriting Aristotle
Aristotle wa s the first among the Western philosophers to be systematically introduced into China by the Jesuits in the 17 th century. The person of Aristotle and Scholastic commentaries on Aristotle’s philosophy were introduced and translated, or better, rewritten, into Chinese. The attempt to systematically introduce Aristotle’s philosophy was one of the missionary projects of Matteo Ricci and his colleagues in China, supposed by them to be a country of philosophers or run by philosophers. We could call this, therefore, the migration of Aristotle’s philosophy from the Western world to another world of philosophers in the East.
In Julius Aleni’s Xixuefan ( Introduction to Western Sciences ), Aristotle was taken to be the major philosopher in the West, while St. Thomas was seen as the major theologian. Aleni (1582–1649) introduced Aristotle as someone who had thoroughly studied all things, their causes and their classification. “He has penetrated and understood in a comprehensive way all that which belongs to human learning ( renxue ), and therefore has well prepared the way to heavenly learning ( tianxue ).” 1 For Aleni, philosophy prepared the way for theology, and Aristotle prepared the way for the Christian faith. For that purpose, Aleni explicitly talked about his translation project of Aristotelian works.
As for those who learn theology, there will absolutely be none who can achieve it without philosophy. That’s why we who travel from as far as ninety thousands li are willing to translate into Chinese all the previous mentioned treatises. We will be able to finish translating them by using more than some ten years, so that those in their younger days with good talent start to learn them progressively with their innocent heart . . . in order that the sciences of sages in the Eastern sea and Western sea will be able to meet in one thread leading to a harmonious synthesis. 2
These words of Aleni, while making explicit the Jesuits’ project to translate major Aristotelian works into Chinese, also revealed their idea of synthesizing philosophy, East and West, through the mediation of Aristotelian philosophy, reinterpreted by Christian faith and in need of recontextualization in China. With the progress of their missionary work and the deepening of their understanding of Chinese culture and thought, this project of translation turned out to be a project of ‘rewriting’, as will be shown later.
Introducing Aristotle the Person to the Chinese
The migration of a Western philosopher’s works to China cannot occur without also introducing the philosopher as a person. The Chinese would not accept the idea that one can read a philosophical text without referring to the person of the author. Here we see the deep influence of Mencius, who said, “Can we go without knowing an author when we sing his poems and read his books? This is why we should discuss his times, which is the way to befriend an author in the past.” 3 This saying suggests that, when one reads a book, one should know the person of the author and his time.
The Jesuit fathers who came from Europe to China in the late 16 th century soon became very well versed in Confucian work. They seemed to have caught on to the importance of the human person to the Chinese mind. Thus, both Aristotle’s person and his works were introduced to the Chinese. As to the person of Aristotle, he was quite often referred to by the early Jesuits in China as a great worthy or a sage in his time in order to gain for him a significant influence on both Chinese intellectuals and the common people. Many stories were told about him, even more than those about St. Thomas so that Aristotle might look more impressive to Chinese scholars. For example, when discussing the teaching of philosophy, Aleni introduced Aristotle as a great figure who had once served as the teacher of Alexander the Great. Aleni recounted Alexander the Great’s words, “It’s not my glory to be the king of all under heaven, yet it is my true glory to have Aristotle as my teacher.” 4 This story emphasized the role of philosophy over political power, and of Aristotle as teacher to an emperor, something easily understandable by Chinese intellectuals in the Middle Kingdom who emphasized, according to the Jesuits’ understanding, philosophical governance. 5
Another story about Aristotle in the Suida ( Dialogue on Sleeping ), by Francesco Sambiasi, said that Aristotle, in concentrating on his study, would hold a brass ball at hand, which, when Aristotle felt tired, would fall upon a brass gong to prevent him from falling asleep. 6 This kind of story of Aristotle’s diligence would be very impressive to the Chinese and would make Aristotle seem familiar to Chinese scholars who were encouraged to work hard. There are many traditional stories in China of scholars who hung their hair to a beam or who stabbed their legs with an awl point to prevent themselves from sleeping while studying.
Another story about Aristotle introduced to impress Chinese intellectuals was the story about Aristotle’s death, narrated at the start of the Chinese version of Aristotle’s De Categoriae , the Mingli Tan ( Investigation of Names and Principles ). In his last years, Aristotle withdrew to Charcis in Euboea where the tide of the Euripan sea advanced and receded seven times daily. There it was said,
Aristotle wanted to investigate the cause; he strove to investigate and ponder. For years he did not become weary, but in old age he contracted an illness. When it was about to reach its crisis he still prayed very earnestly to the Creator: “the very first cause of the myriad of things, take pity and reveal to me the truth!” 7
It is evident that this story was told by the early Jesuits in China to communicate the idea of the limitation of human knowledge and the necessity to refer to the tianxue (heavenly knowledge) or to revelation from God, understood here as the Creator and the first cause of the myriad of things. In a sense, it also retold the mediaeval idea that Aristotle was “the forerunner of Christ.” 8
Aristotle’s Works Translated into Chinese
According to the famous Chinese historian, Rev. Fang Hao, four Aristotelian books in the form of commentaries, produced by the Jesuits of Coimbra College in Portugal, were ‘translated’ into Chinese and made available in China in the late Ming period. They were the Mingli Tan , the Huanyou Quan , the Lingyan lishao , and Alphonsus Vagnoni’s Xiu Shen Xi Xuen . 9 I have discovered, in checking the Commentarii Collegii Conimbricensis Societatis Jesu , 10 that they were not ‘translations’ at all. Three of them were in fact freely abridged texts rewritten for the Chinese, giving a Christian interpretation of Aristotelian works based on Aristotle’s discourses in De Categoriae , De Caelo , and De Anima along with the commentaries of the Coimbra College. In fact, the Mingli tan was signed as yiyi (translated as to meaning) by Francisco Furdato and daci (expressed in literary Chinese) by Li Zhizao; 11 the same case holds for the Huanyou Quan , 12 which was based on the Coimbra commentary on Aristotle’s De Coelo . The Lingyan lishao , based on the Coimbra commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima and also freely abridged, was signed as “orally narrated” by Francesco Sambiasi and transcribed into literary Chinese by Xu Guangqi. Alphonsus Vagnoni’s works titled Xiu Shen Xi Xue, Qijia Xixue and Zhiguo Xixuen , were rewritten syllabuses in Chinese on Aristotelian-Thomistic ethics and political philosophy, not translations.
Based on the account in the Commentarii Collegii Conimbricensis Societatis Jesu , we should add to the list the Suida ( Dialogue on Sleeping ) by Francesco Sambiasi, which contains texts that are in fact Chinese rewritings in form of dialogue, rather than a translation of Aristotle’s De Somno et Vigilia and De Somniis ; part of De Somno et Vigilia and De Divinatione per Somnium can also be found in Aleni’s Xingxue Cushu , always based on their Coimbra commentaries but with more Chinese references. 13 Also, the Kongji Gezhi ( Investigation of Heavenly Phenomena ), signed as zhuan (authored) by Alphonsus Vagnoni, in fact contains, in its first volume, part of the Coimbra commentary on Aristotle’s De Generatione et Corruptione , especially that on the four elements and, in its second volume, a good deal of material from Aristotle’s Meteorology , based on the Coimbra’s commentary of it in the Parva Naturalia .
Why Aristotle?
The reason for the emphasis of early Jesuit missionaries on Aristotle’s philosophy could be threefold. First, Aristotelian philosophy was emphasized in Jesuit education at that time. In fact it was included in the education program implemented in their Ratio Studiorum (1585), as recorded in the Monumenta Paedagogica Societatis Jesu , where we read, “The teaching of Aristotle is to be followed in the order of logic, natural, and moral philosophy and metaphysics.” 14 Also the content of teaching prescribed in the “Docenda et Defendensa in Philosophia,” and “Docenda in Scholis Philosophiae,” for example on pages 489–561 of the Monumenta Paedagogica , was very much related to Aristotle’s philosophy. There are some sixty-three pages in these important historical documents where Aristotle’s name was mentioned. We can see that the publication of Mingli tan , Huanyou Quan , Linyan lishao and Xiu Shen Xi Xue followed more or less this prescribed order, though not completely.
Second, Aristotle’s philosophy was probably considered as capable of offering a philosophical system compatible with the Christian faith and serving as a philosophical mediation between different areas of culture such as science, technology, ethics, politics and religion, in laying out the philosophical foundation of a world vision compatible with both the sciences and Christianity. This is arguably why Matteo Ricci and his colleagues took it to be attractive to the Chinese mind and thereby good for their own missionary purposes. Aristotle’s logic, philosophy of nature, theory of soul, ethics and natural theology, after being re-interpreted by Christian thinkers, were thought to be most useful in this regard. Their emphasis on Aristotle’s philosophy of nature seemed go well with their introduction of Western science.
Third, all things considered, this educational program was very compatible with Jesuit missionary work in the Chinese context, especially for the formation of seminarians and advanced Chinese believers. For example, the seminarians and Chinese elites needed to be equipped with Aristotle’s concept of “substance” to argue with or criticize the Buddhist concept of emptiness, the Daoist concept of nothingness and the Neo-Confucian concept of li or principle as Ultimate Reality. The Jesuits also sought to get themselves closer to Chinese culture as lovers of moral philosophy and ethical values and to offer a theory of human nature that could lead to Christian theology. For all these reasons, Aristotle seemed to offer a solid ground, in their eyes.
Aristotle’s De Anima Rewritten in the Xingxue Cushu
Take Aristotle’s major work De Anima as an example. There are two books related to Aristotle’s De Anima : the Xingxue Cushu by Aleni and the Linyan lishao by Sambiasi. In what follows, we will first see how Aristotle’s theory of soul was ‘migrated’ into Chinese thought by way of rewriting. Then we will discuss a work entitled Xingshuo ( A Treatise on Human Nature ), written by a Chinese Christian thinker, to see how Aristotle’s theory of soul was received and transformed by Chinese intellectuals.
The Xingxue Cushu ( General Introduction to Science of Human Nature ), published in 1623 and signed as yizhu (i.e., including both translation and composition) by Aleni, was the first to have introduced systematically Aristotle’s theory of soul. Here we find a definition of anima quite faithful to Aristotle: “the form of living things, in the Western world, is called by us anima, or soul ( hun ), that is the nature of living beings . . . and there are three kinds of soul: nutritive soul, sensible soul and spiritual soul.” 15 This definition shows that it understood ‘soul’ in Aristotle’s sense, unlike St. Thomas’s commentary on De Anima that focussed more on the human soul. Still, Aristotle’s theory of soul was introduced here in preparation for the Chinese understanding of human’s spiritual soul.
Concerning the so-called ‘spiritual soul’, the early Jesuits in China tried to look for theories of the human soul in Chinese philosophy. Chinese thought, however, focuses on human nature rather than the human soul. In Confucianism, this can be traced back to its founders such as Confucius, Mencius and Xunzi. This Confucian concern with human nature is complemented, throughout Chinese intellectual history, by the Buddhist concept of foxing (Buddha nature) and the religious Daoist concept of daoxing (Dao nature). This is why the science of soul introduced with Aristotle’s De Anima needed to go through some modification in order to fit with the Chinese concern for human nature. It is likely for this reason that Aleni named his work on the soul, Xingxue Cushu , 16 though he would preferred to use the term lingxing (spiritual nature), to represent human nature, properly speaking. Notice the book title on the spine of volumes seven and eight of Xingxue Cushu was modified into Lingxing Cushu ( General Introduction to Spiritual Nature ).
Although the title Xingxue Cushu suggests a change of interest from the theory of soul to the theory of nature, in fact, the book was an appropriation of the Chinese theory of human nature by the Aristotelian and Christian theory of soul rather than the other way round. Three guidelines existed simultaneously in Aleni’s Xingxue Cushu : first, to teach, in Chinese terms, Aristotle’s theory of soul in De Anima , in line with Catholic interpretation and in a way more faithful to Aristotle and more philosophical than Lingyan lishao , which was published one year later; second, to communicate the Catholic doctrine of soul and its relation to God to the Chinese; third, to dialogue with Chinese thought and culture, especially the Chinese theory of human nature.
Though infused through and through with the Catholic faith and Scholastic philosophy and with the interest of engaging in dialogue with Chinese philosophy, Aleni’s Xingxue Cushu was still faithful to Aristotle’s theory of soul in the sense that it used the same definition of soul and discussed in detail, as Aristotle does in De Anima , all the various functions of soul such as, growth, movement, sensation (sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch), awareness of self, intellect and will and so on. Apart from its Christian views and dialogical style, the Xingxue Cushu was, in fact, one of the most argumentative and philosophical works by early Jesuits in China. Even today, it deserves detailed and close study. The negligence of this work by ticketing it as ‘missionary work’ is quite unfair to Aleni.
As to the human (spiritual) soul, Aleni expressed the Catholic position by saying that the soul is unique to each person and created and bestowed to each person by God; that it is immortal after death; that the soul, though independent of body, is able to perceive and understand and is capable of pleasure and suffering. These features of the soul reflected a position closer to Platonic dualism and the separation of body and soul than the Aristotelian attempt to unite body and soul.
The Xingxue Cushu , in dealing with memory and methods of memorizing—very good Aristotelian themes—is in fact more Platonic than Aristotelian. It emphasizes, mostly through the influence of St. Augustine, the function of memory, taking memory, together with intellect and will, as the three spiritual functions of human soul. Indeed, the Xingxue Cushu went against Aristotle by saying that the spiritual soul would be able to remember things that happened in one’s lifetime. 17
It is also interesting to read the Xingxue Cushu ’s dialogue with the Chinese view of human nature. This is clear from the start of the Xingxue Cushu , where we find a section in volume one on the comparison of the different names of hun (soul) and xing (nature), in the form of a dialogue.
Someone says that in China the terms for hun (soul) and xing (nature) seem to be different in meaning. Hun (soul) belongs to qi (vital or material force), xing belongs to li (principle). Is there any different meaning in your use of the terms of hun and xing ?
I Answer: The Chinese use of words is indeed very flexibl . . . depending on the context in which they appear. The use of the term xing is very broad, even non- sentient beings have their own nature . . . but when we say lingxing (spiritual nature) or tianxing (heavenly nature), we refer to the nature of meaningfulness and principle that the Creator bestows to human beings. The same with the term hun (soul). Soul is the principle of life. When combined with sheng (life, here understood as vegetable life), it denotes the principle by which plants can have growth and nutrition; when combined with the term jue (sensitive), it denotes the principle by which animals are capable of sensation and movement; when combined with ling (spiritual), it denotes the principle by which human beings can understand and reason. 18
In the Chinese philosophical tradition, it was Huanglao Daoism that posited qi (vital force) or jingqi (subtle vital force) as the principle of life in everything, and the spiritual in human beings that allowed humans to become “sage”. In the Daoist chapter “Nei Ye” (Inner Cultivation) of the Guanzi , it was said,
Among all things, it is the subtle ( qi ) that gives life. It gives birth to the five grains down on the earth and the stars up in the sky. When the Subtle Qi drifts between Heaven and earth, it is called the ghost and the divine. When it abides in the bosom of a human being, it allows him to be called a sage. 19
Against this somehow materialist concept of soul, the idea that that human soul is not qi was developed in Xingxue Cushu in an entire section titled “Spiritual nature is not qi ,” where it was argued that qi both concentrates, which makes life in plants and animals, and disperses when they die; yet the human soul is immortal. Also there are cases in which qi is strong whereas the spiritual soul is weak; contrarily, there are cases in which qi is weak while the soul is strong. These were considered by Aleni as evidence that the human soul is not qi .
One of the most interesting texts in the Xingxue Cushu is where Aleni uses Chinese philosophical terms from different Chinese philosophers to name the human soul.
Some would call it spiritual soul, to distinguish it from nutritive and sensitive souls. Some would call it spiritual heart, to distinguish it from carnal heart. Some call it liangzhi (inborn knowledge) . . . to say the noumenal natural spirit. Some call it lingtai (spiritual seat) . . . to say that this heart is the seat of the spiritual soul. Some call it the true self, to make it clear that the body is a rented house, whereas the inner spirit is my true self. . . . The Daxue ( Great Learning ) calls it mingde (enlightening virtue), to say it is light in itself and understands all principles. Zhong Yong ( Doctrine of the Mean ) calls it the weifa zhi zhong (centrality before manifestation), to say that it is the numenal substance from where all feelings are to be manifested. Mencius calls it dati (great body), to say it is the honorable one. In short, the names are different, yet the noumenal substance they refer to is the same. 20
As we can see, here Aleni referred to Confucian ideas such as Mencius’s concepts of liangzhi and dati , the Great Learning ’s concept of mingde , the Zhong Yong ’s concept of weifa zhi zhong , and Daoist concepts such as Zhuangzi’s concepts of lingtai or zhengjun (here interpreted as zhengwo ), though very different in philosophical content, to denote the same idea of human soul. Such an approach would have been helpful to draw a sympathetic understanding from the Chinese intellectuals, but its scholarly soundness is questionable.
Aleni emphasized the idea that the soul is that which makes one a unique individual. He notes that a question was asked, that since sages like Yao and Shun are the same as the common people (given that their nature, and their mind/heart are the same), is it true that their difference must consist only in the fact they are born with different qi and, after being born, they learn and are influenced in different environments? The answer is that, although they look alike in their body and in having each a spiritual soul, this would not mean they are one person. Each is a unique individual with a unique face and a unique spiritual nature. 21 Although this reads like a criticism of Averroes’s and Avicenna’s interpretation of Aristotle’s intellectual soul as one, in fact, in the Jesuits’ Chinese battleground, Aleni did not have to fight with Averroes or Avicenna—unlike St. Thomas who was defending Catholic positions “contra gentiles” in the Western mediaeval world. What Aleni was targeting was the Idealist neo-Confucian view, mostly under the influence of Buddhism, that there is only one Mind. As Lu Xiangsan says, “There is only one Mind. My mind, my friend’s mind, the mind of sages thousands of years ago, and the mind of sages thousands of years to come are all the same. The substance of the mind is infinite. If one can completely develop his mind, he will become identified with heaven.” 22
Aleni’s criticism of this understanding of the spiritual soul as one was twofold. First, this understanding was unable to explain human individuality. Second, even if the human soul can be in communion with God, it itself is neither God nor to be identified with God as one. In short, Aleni’s Xingxue Cushu enabled the Chinese theory of human nature to be appropriated by the Christian reinterpretation of the Aristotelian theory of soul, in identifying the human soul with human spiritual nature, and as different from other forms of nature and soul.
Linyan lishao ’s Rewriting of De Anima
The Linyan lishao , published in 1624, has traditionally been seen by Chinese historians as a Chinese translation of Aristotle’s De Anima or, more exactly, of the Coimbra commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima . In fact, it is a free abridgment of the Commentarii Collegii Conimbricensis in libros De Anima Aristotelis , “orally narrated” by Francesco Sambiasi and transcribed into literary Chinese by Xu Guangqi with significant Chinese recontextualization. 23
In the introduction of the Linyan lishao, as in the De Anima , the scientia animae , as the science of self, was seen as the most beneficial and most honourable in philosophy, and even most fundamental to all sciences. 24 However, the reason given here is different from that given by Aristotle, for whom “the knowledge of the soul admittedly contributes greatly to the advance of truth in general, and above all, to our understanding of Nature, for the soul is in some sense the principle of animal life.” 25 For the Linyan lishao , the purpose of knowing one’s soul is to better prepare oneself to control one’s desires and to guide oneself by the soul’s principles, so that whenever one’s feelings are affected, one would be able to moderate them. The same applies to the method of governing people, in which the kinds of control, guidance and moderation are quite similar. 26 While Aristotle considered the science of the soul as the most honourable and difficult among all sciences of Nature, the Linyan lishao put it immediately in the domains of ethics, politics and theology. Linyan lishao took anima as the likeness of God, and the ‘science of anima ’ as the science of knowing oneself. This is to say that the Linyan lishao used the term anima only for the human soul, though this included the nutritive and sensitive functions. In this sense, it did not use the term anima in its proper Aristotelian meaning.
Again, right from the beginning, the Linyan lishao appealed to the Bible and Christian faith to understand human soul: “In order to understand totally the marvelous soul, two things are necessary: follow what is said in God’s Scriptures, and follow the light of my faith.” 27 Also, in treating the subject of the soul, it referred to St. Augustine and St. Bernard as much as to Aristotle. It made clear, like the Xingxue Cushu , that the soul is not qi —the vital or material force. This shows that when the Lingyan lishao was written, it targeted the Chinese understanding of the human mind and natural philosophy. All things considered, we should not take, like Fang Hao did, Lingyan lishao to be a translation of the Coimbra commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima . It was, in fact, a free abridgment rewritten in reference to the Chinese context.
The Lingyan lishao ’s understanding of anima was very different from that of Aristotle. Aristotle’s De Anima defined anima or soul as “the actuality (entelechy) of the first kind of a natural body having life potentiality in it”. 28 Soul is the form, principle of movement and end of a living body, including plants, animals and human beings. There are three types of soul: first, the nutritive or vegetable soul, the one we find in plants; second, the sensitive soul, that of animals, which includes the nutritive soul; and last, the human soul, which includes the functions of the two previous souls. In contrast, the Lingyan lishao characterized anima as substantial, independent and immortal, and it especially emphasized anima as the likeness of God and therefore different from other non-divine souls and Chinese theory of soul as qi .
In the main, the Lingyan lishao emphasized the Christian doctrine that the soul is the likeness of God in the human being. 29 From one’s own soul one could communicate with God. Human beings should be able to start from the perfection of one’s soul to reach the origin of all perfection, that is, God. 30 Love exists between man and God based upon their mutual likeness, 31 and the beatitude of the human being comes from divine grace. 32 In this essential perspective, the Lingyan lishao is very different from Aristotle’s De Anima and has more of a Christian and religious character than Aleni’s Xingxue Cushu .
Moreover, in the Lingyan lishao , much emphasis was placed on the soul as an independent spiritual and immortal substance, 33 of which memory, intellect and will (or aiyu [love and desire]) are three basic spiritual capacities. Memory was discussed as the first function, and the Lingyan lishao emphasized that “after a man dies, his soul must be able to remember things in his lifetime.” 34 This emphasis on memory was more Platonic or Neo-Platonic rather than Aristotelian, which held that only the agent intellect survives death and it has no memory of things from one’s lifetime. In fact, when discussing Nous , Aristotle said, “When separated, it is alone what it is, and this above is immortal and eternal (we do not remember, because, while this is impossible, passive thought is perishable); and without this nothing thinks.” 35 This indicates that, for Aristotle, the agent intellect, the only soul that survives death has no memory. In this perspective, the Linyan lishao is again different from Aristotle.
There is another difference. In Aristotle’s De Anima , only the agent intellect is immortal while the passive intellect, being connected to the body, decays with the body. For the Linyan lishao , it is the whole soul that is immortal, together with its spiritual functions of memory, intellect and love. As in Aristotle, in the Lingyan lishao the intellect was seen as having the highest spiritual capacity, as the mover of the human being, the microcosmos. 36 In the intellect, we find the complementary function of the agent intellect, which abstracts forms or intelligible species from the images, and the passive intellect, which receives the forms from the agent intellect and renders them into actual concepts. 37 Although in the De Anima , the distinction between images of things and the intelligible forms d rawn from them was made very clear, in the Lingyan lishao —which used the term “ xiang ”(image) for both wanxiang (myriad of images) and lingxiang (spiritual images)—the distinction between the intelligible species and phantasmata was not very clearly made and was even confused. The importance of the intellect consists not only in knowing all things but also, especially, in knowing the origin of all things, which is God. The Lingyan lishao states
Anima uses the intellect to achieve the understanding of one’s own enlightening power, which, to the realm of anima, is like the sun to all under heaven. Since we have this light in us, we can exhaust the principles in the investigation of all things, and push our knowledge to the utmost degree to know the origin of all things. If there is someone who understands all things except their origin, it is as if he exists in a great light and his eyes are turned blind as if in the darkness, how much of a pity is it! 38
As to the will, like the De Anima , the Lingyan lishao made no distinction between agent and passive will, and it made the trouble to give this a justification in saying that the will tended always toward the desirable as good, which was shown already by the agent intellect. Different from intellect, which happens only in one’s self, the will is a dynamism that goes outside of oneself toward the goodness of the object loved. Although the will has its own freedom in doing or not doing things, the Lingyan lishao emphasized the naturalness of free will towards good, and its wording reads like responding to something similar to what Mencius said: “Thus reason and rightness please my heart in the same way as meat please my palate.” 39 For Lingyan lishao , since God is the most perfect good, it is most natural that human mind tends towards to God by its own will.
Both will and intellect belong to human reason, leading to the virtue of love and wisdom. 40 Different from the De Anima , which, as it was very natural for an intellectualist like Aristotle to place the human intellect over the human will, the Lingyan lishao held that the will was in a much higher position than the intellect because of the fact the love has its ultimate object in God as the perfect being.
A Chinese Christian’s Work: Xia Dachang’s Xinshuo
Apart from the ‘rewritten’ works of Aristotle, is there any work done by Chinese Christians under the influence of Aristoliean philosophy? On this question, it is v ery interesting to read, in the recently published Chinese Christian Texts from the Roman Archives of the Society of Jesuits , a short treatise entitled Xingshuo ( A Treatise on Human Nature ), written in the late 17 th century by Xia Dachang or Mathias Xia, a Chinese scholar who used his baptismal name, Mathias, to sign his book on human nature. Different from Sambiasi and Aleni’s works, this treatise represents a Chinese appropriation of the Aristotelian-Christian theory of soul by the traditional Chinese theory of human nature. We read, right from the start
Those who understand human nature must understand thoroughly the principles of three essential constituents of the universe. Those who could unfold fully their human nature would be able to return to their creator. The three essential constituents of the universe are the way of Heaven, the way of earth and the way of man. The heavenly way is without concrete form; earth is with concrete form; and the human way is between them. His soul, a formless substance, is similar to the heavenly way; his body, a concrete thing, is the same as the earthly way. That is why the human way can synthesize both the heavenly and the earthly. The reason by which man is similar to Heaven and greatly different from plants and animals, both in air and in water, is but the perfection of this soul. 41
After having identified human soul with human nature, Xia writes that the soul of each human person is created by God himself. Human beings are quite different from other beings, created out of four elements, instead of wuxing (the five elements) as in the Chinese tradition. This is an argument for human dignity based on one’s natural endowments. Since God has bestowed this precious human nature on humankind, humankind should develop it fully so as to pay return to God’s grace. 42 Xia then refers to the Book of Documents and Book of Odes to support the idea that human nature is good. He refers, as well, to the authority of Confucius and Mencius to say that both the inborn nature of human beings and human virtues such as humaneness ( ren ), righteousness ( yi ), propriety ( li ), and wisdom ( zhi ) are all good in themselves. 43
With this theological justification of Confucian theory of human nature as good, Xia then criticizes the three traditional Chinese theories: the theory of spirit as jingqi (subtle vital force), the theory that human nature is evil and the theory of human nature as mixture of both good and evil. The argument a gainst the Daoist theory that human nature comes out of qi , through the process of transforming qi (vital force) into jing (essence) and then transforming jing (essence) into shen (spirit), relies on the impossibility of transformation from one species into another.
The invention of the swerving doctrine of transformation of qi (material force) into jing (essence) and that of jing (essence) into shen (spirit) . . . does not understand that billions of things are grouped by their species and classified according to their groupings. 44
Against the theory of human nature as evil, Xia refers to God’s mercy—that He would not allow evil species to multiply themselves. Against the mixture theory of human nature, he argues that it is impossible for contradictory natures to mix one with another, just as fire cannot mix with water because of their contradiction in nature.
The Aristotelian theory of soul was then used as an instrument for Xia to justify Mencius’s theory of human nature as good. In fact, we find in the Xingshuo an axiological rereading of Aristotle’s theory of human soul, saying that human nature as good expresses itself in the three basic spiritual abilities of human being: intellect, will and memory. We find no theory of abstraction nor any account of agent and passive intellect. For Xia, all three functions of the soul could attain God as their ultimate object.
God is the perfect company of highest Good . . . My body has no access to God, yet my will is able to get closer to God and has God as its companion . . . my eyes cannot see God, yet my intellect is able to see God and has God as its companion. My external form cannot have contact with God, yet my memory is able to contact God and therefore has God as its companion. 45
In this way, the Chinese traditional concept of tianren heyi (union of man and Heaven) is now reinterpreted as the union of man and God through the human spiritual functions of will, intellect and memory. Xia writes,
Worthy looks for sage, sage for Heaven, there indeed we can achieve effectively. If I can unfold the utmost capacity of my will, intellect and memory, to connect myself to and unify myself with God, God must be able to increase in me the light o f will, intellect and memory, in order to enlighten my heart. When God is up there, I will be in union with Him up there. When God is in Heaven, I will be in union with Him in Heaven. When God descends down to the earth, I will be in union with Him down to the earth. I will be in union with God without separation, and God will never abandon me. 46
Reasoning from both the Confucian natural capacity argument and the Christian theological idea of grace, Xia arrives at the notion of a certain mystical union with God as a consequence of the joint effect of the unfolding of one’s natural capacity and God’s grace. The Platonic and mediaeval Christian influence on the Chinese appropriation of Aristotle’s theory of soul has, however, an unfortunate consequence for this theory of human nature: that of a dualistic or even conflictual relation between body and mind and, even worse, that of seeing body as a cause of evil. Seeing the human soul as good, the body was regarded as the factor that caused evil doing. Xia writes,
There must be something which is not good in human beings, so that evil can enter into human beings . . . In fact the responsible cause of evil is the body, the companion of the soul. The soul takes the body as its companion, while the body does great harm to the soul. The soul wills to be upward, while body goes downward. Even if the soul has power to control the body, the body has no desire to follow the soul. Why? It is because they belong to different species. Spiritual nature is the spiritual substance bestowed by God Himself, and it is of a noble character; whereas body is a physical thing produced by the transformation of water, earth, fire, and air and is therefore of inferior character . . . since the body is so evil and mean, and the spiritual soul so noble and good, how can the human being not think of changing the course? He must leave the evil companion, and connect himself with the good companion. God is the supremely good companion of human nature. 47
This dualistic vision of human nature was consistently developed, beginning with the early Jesuits’ introduction of the Aristotelian theory of human soul to its development into a Chinese Christian theory of human nature. This has serious consequences, not only theoretically against their hero Aristotle’s theory of soul in unity with body but also practically on their ethical theory.
Conclusion
By introducing Aristotle’s person and rewriting his text, the early Jesuits in China and their Chinese followers allowed Aristotle and his theory of soul to ‘migrate’ into China and to be gradually absorbed into the Chinese context. This is illustrated by the rewriting of Aristotle’s De Anima and its adoption by Chinese Christians. This early effort to bring Aristotle’s De Anima and the Chinese theory of human nature into a form of synthesis in Aleni’s Xingxue Cushu , Sambiasi’s Lingyan Lishao and Xia Dachang’s Xingshuo should not be neglected in the history of Chinese philosophy. Their contribution to the encounter of Western and Chinese philosophy is indeed a significant event in the history of philosophy. Admittedly, Aristotle’s concept of substance was one of the major obstacles for the early Jesuits in China in engaging the Buddhist concept of Sunyata (emptiness) and Daoist concept of wu (non-being) that represented the Chinese non-substantialist concept of Ultimate Reality. Nevertheless, this should not be a pretext for neglecting the historical importance of the migration of Aristotle’s philosophy in general, and his De Anima in particular, to China, and it bears on the possibility of a more fruitful philosophical and religious dialogue between East and West in the years to come.



1 Julius Aleni, Sixuefan 西學凡 Introduction to Western Sciences, in Tianxue Cuhan 天學初函 , vol. 1, ed. Li Zhizhao (Taipei: Students Bookstore, 1985), 42–43. The English translations of the quotations from the early Chinese Christian sources cited in this chapter are my own.

2 Aleni, Sixuefan, 59.

3 In Chinese: 「頌其詩,讀其書,不知其人,可乎?是以論其世也,是尚友也。」 Mencius, Book 5B, Chapter 17.

4 Aleni, Sixuefan, 42.

5 Matteo Ricci, Li Madou Zongguo Zhaji (Matteo Ricci’s De Christiana Expeditione apud Sinas), trans. He Gaoji, Wang Zun Zhong, and Li Sheng (Beijing: Zhonghua Bookstore, 1983, rpt. 2001), 59.

6 Francesco Sambiasi, Suida 睡答 (Dialogue on Sleeping), in Chinese Christian Texts from the Roman Archives of the Society of Jesus, vol. 6, ed. Nicolas Standaert and Adrian Dudink (Taipei: Taipei Ricci Institute, 2002), 415.

7 F. Furdato and Li Zhizhao, Mingli Tan 名理探 (Investigation of Names and Principles) (Taipei: Taiwan Commercial Press, 1965, reprint), 2.

8 The story, though supposed to be a Hellenistic fabrication, was retold in the Vita Marciana, Vita Aristotelis Syriaca, and the Vita Aristotelis Arabica. Ingemar Düring, Aristotle in the Ancient Biographical Tradition (Göteborg: Institute of Classical Studies of the University of Göteborg, 1957), 105, 188, 199). Furdato seemed to follow the mediaeval idea of “Aristotle, a forerunner of Christ”. See Düring, Aristotle in the Ancient Biographical Tradition, 167.

9 Hao Fang, Li Zhizao Yanjiou 李之藻研究 (Taipei: Taiwan Commercial Press, 1966), 103.

10 I am grateful to the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto, for having allowed me access to the precious copy of the Commentarii Collegii Conimbricensis Societatis Jesu that it possesses.

11 The Mingli tan should have been based on the Commentarii Collegii Conimbricensis Societatis Jesu: In Universam Dialecticam Aristotelis Atagiritae (Nunc Primum in Germania in lucem editi. Coloniae Agrippinae, Apud Bernardum Gualtherium, 1611). It is not a translation in an exact sense. Some comparisons on this point have been done by Robert Wardy in the second chapter of his Aristotle in China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). Apart from the published volumes of the De Categoriae, there remain other translated volumes, such as De Interpretatione, De Syllogismo (Analytica Priora) and De Demonstratione (Analytica Posteriora), as yet unpublished because of lack of financial support as well as positive response from Chinese readers.

12 We should point out that this book was classified under the category of ‘Daoism’ in the Official Ming History. Then in the Si Ku Quan Shu (Complete Library in Four Branches of Literature), it was classified under the category, ‘Miscellaneous Schools’, saying that it “steals from three teachings all in criticizing against them”. This can be taken as an exemplary case of how those Western books were misunderstood by the Chinese at that time.

13 Commentarii Collegii Conimbricensis Societatis Jesu in Libros Aristotelis qui Parva Naturalia appelantur, 19–36, 36–48, 48–54.

14 “In logica, et philosophia naturali et morali, et metaphysica doctrinam Aristotelis profiteri oportebit.” Monumenta paedagogica Societatis Jesu: quae primam Rationem studiorum anno 1586 editam, praecessere, ediderunt Caecilius Gomez Rodeles, Marianus Lecina, Fridericus Cervos, Vincentius Agusti, Aloisius Ortiz, e Societate Jesu presbyteri (Matriti: Typis Augustini Avrial, 1901), 461.

15 J. Aleni, Xingxue Cushu 性學觕述 , in Chinese Christian Texts from the Roman Archives of the Society of Jesus, vol. 6, ed. Nicolas Standaert and Adrian Dudink (Taipei: Taipei Ricci Institute, 2002), 103–104.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid., 240.

18 Ibid., 105–106.

19 Guanzi, 268.

20 Aleni, Xingxue Cushu, 107.

21 Ibid., 122–123.

22 Lu Xiangsan qtd. in W. -T. Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963), 585.

23 The fact that it is an abridgement is evident. The Commentarii Collegii Conimbricensis e Societate Jesu in tres libros De Anima Aristotelis contains 546 pages, three parts (I:14–47, II:48–342; III:343–559), whereas the Lingyan lishao contains only 141 (much shorter) pages, two parts (I:1–85; II:86–141).

24 F. Sambiasi, Lin yan li shao 靈言蠡勺 , in Tianxue Cuhan 天學初函 (The First Collection of Heavenly Learning), vol. 2, ed. Li Zhizao (Taipei: Student Press, 1986), 1227.

25 De Anima 402a 5; Aristotle, On the Soul, trans. J. A. Smith, in The Complete Works of Aristotle, vol. 1, ed. Jonathan Barnes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 641.

26 Sambiasi, Lin yan li shao, 1228.

27 Ibid., 1134.

28 De Anima 412a 27; Aristotle, On the Soul, 656.

29 Sambiasi, Lin yan li shao, 1213–1221.

30 Ibid., 1129.

31 Ibid., 1233.

32 Ibid., 1236–1268.

33 Ibid., 1134–1137.

34 Ibid., 1159.

35 De Anima 430a 17: Aristotle, On the Soul 684.

36 Sambiasi, Lin yan li shao, 1185–1187.

37 Ibid., 1168–1169.

38 Ibid., 1189.

39 Mencius, Mencius, trans. D. C. Lau (London: Penguin Books, 1970), 6A:7; 164.

40 Sambiasi, Lin yan li shao, 1209.

41 Xia Dachang, Xing Suo 性說 (A Treatise of Human Nature), in Chinese Christian Texts from the Roman Archives of the Society of Jesus, vol. 10, ed. Nicolas Standaert and Adrian Dudink (Taipei: Taipei Ricci Institute, 2002), 3.

42 Xia, Xing Suo, 4.

43 Ibid., 5.

44 Ibid., 7.

45 Ibid., 12–13.

46 Ibid., 14.

47 Ibid., 10–11.



Chapter 2 The Reformulation of the Philoponean Proofs in Mediaeval Jewish Thought *
Gyongyi Hegedus

This essay see ks to provide three examples of how proofs about the createdness of the world, found in the works of the Aristotelian/Neo-Platonic philosopher John Philoponus (490–570) were reformulated in early medieval Jewish thought, namely, in two works of Saadya Gaon (882–942). 1 In the vivid atmosphere of the religious debates of 10 th century Baghdad, it became necessary both for Muslim and Jewish thinkers to provide a system through which the statements of the Bible and of the Qur’an could be justified not by mere belief and acceptance but also by rationalistic proofs. The question of creation ex nihilo, as the negation of anything coeternal with God, became of crucial importance, because it might serve as the foundation to prove the existence of the Creator.
After a short description of two of Saadya’s seminal works, I attempt to show how the Philoponean proofs were ‘migrated’ into these texts. These proofs were used in a flexible way, that is, in ontology and in epistemology—in the former, in order to prove the finitude of time, and in the latter, in order to prove the finite nature of human knowledge. I conclude that the reason why a set of proofs coming from a Christian cosmology can be used in a rather different epistemology is because the two questions of how we see the world and how we formulate our epistemological frame are interconnected.
1. Two Seminal Texts of Saadya
The Book of Beliefs and Opinions
Th e Book of Beliefs and Opinions , composed in Baghdad in 933, is considered to be Saadya’s philosophical magnum opus. It is intended to be a general guideline for the knowledge of the Jewish faith on a rational basis, a presentation destined for a large public. Its structure follows the order established in the work of the Muslim rationalist theologians, the mutakallimun , who were profoundly influenced by the kalam —the seeking of theological truth through dialectic.
After having established some basic epistemological principles for achieving knowledge, Saadya addresses the topic of creation ex nihilo in the first treatise of The Book of Beliefs and Opinions . 2 Here he asserts that the origin of the world must be investigated in a speculative manner and offers four proofs demonstrating the creation of the world out of nothing, namely, its finitude, its composite nature, the inherence of accidents in it, and its existence in time. Moreover, it is argued that the fact of creation ex nihilo implies that there must exist an external cause or agent that created it. At the end of this treatise, Saadya refutes twelve divergent views on the origin of the world that propose theories other than that of the creation ex nihilo.
Each treatise starts with the establishment of the right view concerning a particular topic, next all other views are refuted and finally the right view is proven on the basis of Scripture. Saadya’s opponents, named or anonymous, are numerous. He appears to draw lines of demarcation, based on logically proved statements, against a wide range of the religious and philosophical ideas of his age.
The full title of The Book of Beliefs and Opinions is Kitab al-Mukhtar fi-‘l-Amanat wa-`l-I`tiqadat ( The Select Book of Beliefs and Convictions ). It is “select” because the work critically considers a variety of views on each topic it discusses, offering arguments for the preferred view and against the views rejected. It can be considered as the summit of the Jewish kalam , and also as the prefiguration of the Guide of the Perplexed of Maimonides, since it intends to function as a complete handbook regarding the beliefs to be accepted and those to be rejected. With its composition, Saadya attempted to attained a double objective. On the one hand, he found a way to articulate the Jewish faith using the language and the thought system of the mutakallimun and, on the other hand, he also found the kalamic solution for the demonstration of those articles of faith that are specific to Rabbanite Judaism (e.g., the impossibility of the abrogation of the law revealed on Mount Sinai, and that of the validity of the oral tradition).
The Sefer Yezirah and Saadya’s Commentary
The Sefer Yezirah , the Book of Formation , or Book of Creation , is considered to be the earliest extant Hebrew text of systematic speculative thought. It consists of no more than 1,600 words, and its solemn and enigmatic style makes it one of the basic texts of Jewish mysticism. The text was probably composed between the 3 rd and the 6 th centuries in Palestine. According to Gershom Scholem, the author was a devout Jew with leanings toward mysticism whose aim was speculative and magical rather than ecstatic, and who endeavored to ‘Judaize’ non-Jewish speculations of a Gnostic character 3 .
The central topic of the Sefer Yezirah is cosmology and cosmogony. It opens with the declaration that God created the world by means of “32 secret paths of wisdom” ( natibhot pel`aot hokhmah ). These thirty-two paths, defined as the ten numbers ( sefirot ) and the twenty-two elemental letters of the Hebrew alphabet, are represented as the foundation of all creation. The first four sefirot are said to emanate from each other, the first one being the “spirit of the Living God” ( ruah elohim hayyim ). The elements of air, water and fire came into existence through the condensation of this first ether-like element. The primal air created by God became engraved ( haqaq ) by the twenty-two letters and the universe resulted; the primal waters generated the cosmic chaos, and from the primal fire the Throne of Glory and the host of the angels came into being. The remaining six sefirot represent the six dimensions of space. The ten sefirot constitute a closed unit, since “their end is in their beginning and their beginning in their end” and “they revolve in each other”. 4
The manner in which Saadya comments on the text of the Sefer Yezirah is rather different from those of his commentaries on biblical books. While interpreting the various books of the Bible, his commentary generally follows the text quite closely, often verse by verse, whereas in his Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah he usually composes longer, almost independent treatises commenting o n larger portions of the text. For Saadya, the translation of the text into Arabic, or its paraphrase, is part of the Commentary ; this translation of the sometimes quite obscure text is done often in a way that renders it fit for his interpretive framework. Moreover, in doing so, he introduces divisions into the text, dividing it into chapters and paragraphs.
The commentary opens with a methodological introduction in which Saadya states that the Sefer Yezirah is a speculative search for the originating principle of all visible beings. He legitimizes philosophy by arguing that it is an activity analogous to the acts of the Creator and establishes its harmony with biblical precepts. In the second part of the introduction, Saadya enumerates and refutes eight views concerning the first element out of which things were created, and articulates his own view, which is that of the doctrine of the creation ex nihilo. He asserts that it is the only acceptable view but, in order to provide a mental representation of the work of creation, the system of letters and numbers offers the most appropriate analogy.
Saadya also discusses the ‘vision’ of Abraham as described in the Sefer Yezirah . Therein, it is stated that Abraham, the patriarch, was able to arrive at an understanding of how things were created in an illuminative experience, which will be discussed later. He then discusses two types of wisdom, one open to the perception of the subject, the other remaining beyond it. Saadya also defines the way in which he thinks Abraham, the patriarch, could have arrived to an understanding of how things were created, namely, through its representation in his mind. He argues that the most fitting way to represent the work of creation is through the analogy existing between the symmetry of the numeric system and the fact that it starts from the number one, and God’s creative activity, equally symmetrical, and also starting from the uniqueness of the Creator. Saadya demonstrates that the traces of God’s creative activity are present in all realms of existence. It is here that Saadya makes use of the proofs from Philoponus, which were originally intended to demonstrate the createdness of the world. At the end of the chapter, the enclosure of the creatures in God’s creation is affirmed, that is, that they are unable to rid themselves of certain characteristics, which are inherent in them in virtue of their createdness.
2. Creation
The Importance of the Idea of Creation
Ontology, cosmology and createdness are three concepts organically interrelated in mediaeval thought. For the mediaeval philosophers, things exist since t hey are created and they exist in the way they are created. For Saadya, creation means creation ex nihilo, and all theories that imply emanation or the existence of some sort of primordial matter, are to be refuted. The reality of both material and non-material beings means createdness in an ‘objective’ sense, that is, as God created them, and so their existence must be acknowledged by all. If creation is not established, this would mean that no proofs can be derived for the existence of the Creator, since there are no proofs other than those offered by the fact of creation itself. Thus, ontology is not concerned with how things are in themselves, as they are not self-subsistent. Rather, it treats the ‘how’ of their createdness. Createdness, then, appears to be a basis for human knowledge as well. Humans are able to know given the fact that they are created with the capacity for knowledge.
The topic of creation is the question par excellence that interrupts the triumphant march of ‘evident knowledge’ based on sense perception. Although creation was not witnessed by human eyes, Saadya is anxious to ascertain it by means of rational deduction ( istidlal bi-‘l-ma`qul ) 5 , a process which leads to the (re)formulation of the four proofs of Philoponean origin. 6 It is important to note that while these four proofs are able to establish that the world was created, they are not able to ascertain how it was created. As such, in The Book of Beliefs and Opinions , Saadya remains at this limit, asserting that
there is no way whereby a mere creature could conceive of how such an event could have taken place. Whoever, therefore, could compel us to demonstrate the quality of this process ( kayfiyya ), would be forcing us to make creators of ourselves as well as of him. Hence we must be content to contemplate this process ( kayfiyya ) with our intellect ( bi-`uqulina ) without picturing it concretely or representing it in imagination ( min gayr an nushakkilaha aw nusawwiraha ). 7
In his Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah , Saadya refers to the distinction between the wisdom of the Creator and the wisdom attainable by the creature. 8 The attainable, nearby ( qariba ) wisdom is that of the commandments and prohibitions, whereas the remote, unattainable ( ba`ida ) wisdom is that of the nature of the elements and their specifications ( tab` al-`anasir wa-takhsisuha ), that is, the way in which ( kayfa ) things were created ex nihilo. 9 Saadya also states that “the [remote] wisdom is with God, and whoever enters this knowledge ( man dakhala fi-`ilmihi ), leaves the congregation of His saints”. 10 At the same time though, and in both texts, he holds that the topic of creation is central. Indeed, it is at the core of both systems as there are no other means by which to prove the existence of the Creator other than by that of the creation ( dalil al-hadath ). 11
In point of fact, the entire project of the Sefer Yezirah is nothing else but an attempt to enter this knowledge, that is, the way in which creation occurred, or the how of creation. While this appears to be a contradiction, Saadya bridges the gap between the two realms by appealing to the flexibility of the language. He asserts that the way in which creation occurred can be fathomed only by “transparent indications” ( iyma’at bazi`at ) and “gleaming allusions” ( talwihat lami`at ). 12
The Place of Creation ex nihilo
The ambitious project of The Book of Beliefs and Opinions is focused on three main points: the human intellect, creation and revelation. The harmony of these three aspects lies at the core of Saadya’s philosophy. According to Saadya, when humans arrive at the right understanding of these three notions, they will be able to find the appropriate solution for each basic question. In this “triad”, creation holds the pre-eminent position as, according to Saadya, both in The Book of Beliefs and Opinions 13 and in the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah , “there is no means of proving the existence of a Creator other than that of creation ( dalil al-hadath )”. 14 Createdness represents the aspect of the ‘reality of things’, without which both speculation and revelation would be meaningless.
In The Book of Beliefs and Opinions , the createdness of things is the starting point for further proofs, such as for the unity of the Creator, the central position of humans in creation and so forth. Thus, it appears to be a basic statement out of which, with the addition of other proofs, the whole of Saadya’s thought can be logically deduced. Conversely, in the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah , the createdness of things is not a starting point for further argumentation. Here, rather than building a logical system based on the proofs of createdness, Saadya treats the question intensively, that is, instead of proving creation ex nihilo using the methods of linguistic formalism, he wishes to demonstrate how things were created, and how and to what extent the human mind can fathom or represent the work of the creation. The question of creation in the commentary is ‘archeological’ in nature, that is, it investigates the first principle, the deep structure of creation, the ‘ arkhe ’ upon which things exist in the manner they exist and not in another way. The fact of creation is of interest here not in terms of its factuality, but rather as regards its structure, namely, that there must be a fundamental notion ( ma`na ), on the basis of which all subsists ( qawam al-kull biha ). In other words, the laws and regularities according to which things change must be underpinned by a timeless omnipresent principle. The arkhe of creation are the ten numbers and the twenty-two letters. 15 Thus, both for the author of the Sefer Yezirah and for Saadya the smallest building blocks of the representation of human intelligence are analogous to the basic principles according to which divine wisdom performed the creation.
Finding logical (external) proofs for a statement is not equal to grasping or understanding the statement in its depth. For Saadya, the text of the Sefer Yezirah fulfills this latter function, that is, it depicts a timeless plan of the creation that unveils the deep structure of each being. In order to elucidate the dichotomy regarding the understanding of creation in The Book of Beliefs and Opinions and in the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah , however, one needs to see the two ways in which the statements concerning creation ex nihilo are treated in the respective books.
Two Statements Concerning the Creation Ex Nihilo and the Place of the Philoponean Proofs
In the first treatise of The Book of Beliefs and Opinions Saadya formulates four proofs for demonstrating the createdness of the world. They are as follows.
According to the first proof based on the finitude of the universe, it is certain that heaven and earth are both finite, because the earth is in the center of the universe and the heaven revolves around it. It therefore follows, of necessity, that the force inhering in them be finite, since it is impossible for an infinite force to reside in a finite body, for such a possibility is rejected by all that is known. Now, since the force that maintains these two is finite, it follows necessarily that they must have a beginning and an end.
The second proof
is [derived] from the combination of parts and the composition of divisions ( gam` al-agza’ wa-tarkib al-fusul ). That is to say, I noted that bodies consisted of a combination of parts and a composition of connecting links. Therein were clearly revealed to me signs of the handiwork of the Maker, as well as of creation.
The third proof
is [taken] from the accidents. That is to say, I found that no bodies were free from accidents, either such as arise in each of these bodies themselves or from external sources. Thus animals grow and increase in size until they have reached maturity. Then they diminish again and their parts disintegrate.
The fourth proof
is [based] on [the conception of] time. That is to say, I know that there are three [distinct] periods of time: past, present and future. Now even though the present is shorter than any moment of time, I assumed that this present moment is a point, and said: Let it be supposed that a person should desire mentally to advance in time above this point. He would be unable to do it for the reason that time is infinite, and what is infinite cannot be completely traversed mentally in a fashion ascending [backward to the beginning]. 16
Herbert Davidson, in his seminal article on Philoponus, 17 establishes that these four proofs of Saadya can be traced back to Philoponus’s Contra Aristotelem , a refutation of Aristotle’s arguments for the eternity of the world.
Saadya’s first proof relies on the first supporting argument of Philoponus for the demonstration of the generation of the universe from the finiteness of the power contained within it. That proof says “The heavens are composed of matter and form. Consequently they are not self-sufficient, and what is not self-sufficient does not have infinite power”. Saadya’s second and third proofs of creation from ‘composition’ and from ‘accidents’ contain, each in its own manner, central elements of the first three Philoponean proofs. The second proof of Philoponus reads, “The nature of matter is such that matter cannot retain any form indefinitely. Therefore nothing composed of matter and form can be indestructible”. According to the third proof of Philoponus, “the heavens are composite. Whatever is composite contains the grounds of its dissolution and therefore does not contain infinite power.” The fourth proof of Saadya in its turn is a reformulation of the first Philoponean proof of the generation of the universe from the impossibility of eternal motion: “If the universe were eternal, the generation of any object in the sublunar world would be preceded by an infinite series of generations. But an infinite cannot be traversed. Therefore, if the universe were eternal, none of the objects presently existing in the sublunar world could ever have been generated”. 18
There are, clearly, some differences. At first glance, the second proof of Philoponus seems to have little in common with the second proof of Saadya. But, it must be recalled, that the Aristotelian concept of a form that carries the essential nature of each thing was rejected by the kalam , and that the distinction between form and matter became replaced by a distinction between substance and accident. Moreover, in the fourth proof of both authors, both proofs adduce the principle that an infinite cannot be traversed, and conclude that, on the assumption of eternity, the present could not have been reached. In its details, however, Saadya’s formulation once again differs. Particularly, Philoponus considered transformations whereas Saadya considers time, and therefore Philoponus’s infinite is an infinite series whereas Saadya’s is an infinite continuum . Still, there is an important congruence between the two.
Saadya’s account does not stop here. After having established, in The Book of Beliefs and Opinions , creation ex nihilo by suing the speculative method ( bi-tariq an-nazar ), 19 Saadya proposes the three following statements: (1) things are created ( muhdatha ); (2) they were created by someone else ( muhdithuha gayruha ); and (3) he created them not from anything ( la min say’ ). The second and third statements, deduced from the first, clearly indicate the analytic approach used by Saadya having scientifically established the fact of creation (based on the four proofs originating from Philoponus), 20 Saadya opens the way for the establishment of the One Transcendent Creator (by the second statement), and for the refutation of the doctrine of pre-existing matter (by the third statement).
In the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah , we find two views concerning creation ex nihilo. The first is implied in the introduction. 21 There Saadya insists that the view according to which the world was created (i.e., out of the ten numbers and the twenty-two letters) must be completed with the statement that the elements were created instantaneously ( fi waqt wahid ), in the shortest possible time ( fi aqall an takun ), and at once ( bi-daf`a wahida ). For Saadya, this crucial addendum implies creation ex nihilo. This accent on the instantaneousness of the creation reflects Saadya’s anti-emanationist conviction. It is very likely that this remark was intended to refute certain previous readings or commentaries of the Sefer Yezirah , which posit a chain of emanations from the Creator through numbers and letters, or which derive the elements from each other, thereby postulating the existence of a prima materia .
The second view is more explicit. 22 In the beginning of the fifth section of chapter IV of his translation of the Hebrew text of the Sefer Yezirah into Arabic, Saadya translates the sentence, “ yazar mitohu mammas ” (“He formed [a real] substance out of the chaos/formlessness”) as “ khalaqa say’an la min say’’ (“He created something from no thing”). This translation clearly indicates how Saadya attempts to bridge the gap between the Hebrew expression of the Sefer Yezirah , which allows the existence of some sort of prima materia ( tohu ), and the philosophical view of creation ex nihilo as presented in The Book of Beliefs and Opinions .
These different approaches to the problem of creation ex nihilo provide us with an appropriate example for illustrating the different paths of thinking that Saadya follows in The Book of Beliefs and Opinions and in the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah . In The Book of Beliefs and Opinions , the doctrine of creation ex nihilo is the pivotal point for the establishment of the One Creator. Once the creation ex nihilo is proven by four ‘scientific’ proofs that are ultimately based on observation, it can serve as a building block in the further demonstrations. In the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah , however, the Saadya’s goal is a deeper conceptual understanding of the matter. It is important to be aware of the fact that, while he was translating (or rather paraphrasing) the Hebrew text of the Sefer Yezirah into Arabic and commenting upon it, he had to find common conceptual denominators between the sometimes quite obscure language of the Sefer Yezirah and the Arabic philosophical terminology of his commentary. This second approach then required a greater precision in the formulation and definition of concepts than was the case in The Book of Beliefs and Opinions .
3. Epistemology
The Epistemological Use of the Philoponean Proofs in The Book of Beliefs and Opinions
The discussion of the concepts of time and causality is characteristic of the approach of The Book of Beliefs and Opinions . It is crucial to Saadya to prove that both the duration and the extension of the universe are limited; otherwise, neither creation ex nihilo, nor human knowledge, would be possible. Conversely, in the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah , exponential growth is used to model the relative infinity of both the epistemological and the ontological realms, that is, a combination of a limited number of building blocks may result in an infinite variety. Again, it will be argued that the concepts of finitude and infinity are not contradictory notions but simply result from the different approaches.
The nature of the process of cognition is approached in the introductory part of Treatise II of The Book of Beliefs and Opinions . This reconsideration takes the form of the following six observations. 23
(1) The data with which the sciences start out are perceptible, 24 whereas the objectives that they strive for are imperceptible. (2) There is reached in the field of scientific research a last terminal beyond which no further knowledge is possible. (3) Man’s progress in his intellectual attainments is gradual, proceeding from point to point. (4) Every station reached by him in his advance in knowledge consists, of necessity, of ideas more abstract and subtle than the preceding. (5) The last [station] constitutes the most imperceptible and subtle of all. When, therefore, in the course of his reasoning, a person arrives at conclusions of so abstract a nature, that is in itself a guarantee that he has reached the object of his quest. (6) [At this stage] he can certainly not demand that they be of a concrete character, for to make such demands is to seek to return to the first datum of knowledge from which he started out.
An attentive reading of these six observations shows that the subject matter of observations 1, 2 and 3 is not identical with that of observations 4, 5 and 6. In the first case, Saadya tackles questions concerning knowledge itself, that is, the result of the process of cognition, and states three of its characteristics: (a) the increase in its abstract nature during the process of cognition, (b) its finitude, and (c) the necessary gradualness of proceeding from a more material knowledge towards a more abstract one. The latter three observations are basically repercussions of the first three, with the difference that they refer to the activity of the seeker of knowledge, that is, to the process of cognition. The principle that is stated here implicitly—that is, that the process of cognition is homologous with its result—plays a central role in Saadya’s epistemological system.
The Finitude of Human Knowledge in The Book of Beliefs and Opinions
In his commentary on the second observation, Saadya reformulates two of the four Philoponean proofs that he originally used to establish the createdness of the world in order to prove the finite nature of human knowledge. The basis on which these proofs can be applied to the nature of knowledge is that of the symmetry and analogy between Saadya’s ontology and epistemology.
Saadya appears to ‘transplant’ these proofs to the realm of epistemology in a conscious way. In the description of the first proof for the finitude of knowledge, he notes the correspondence between the two sets of proofs: “Since man’s body is limited ( mahdud ) and finite ( mutanahi ), whatever powers ( quwwa ) reside in it—and the faculty of knowledge ( quwwat al-`ilm ) is one of them—must necessarily be finite. This corresponds to my remark in regard to the heavens that the period of their duration is necessarily finite.” 25
The second proof used to establish the finite nature of human knowledge displays a strong similarity to the fourth proof of Philoponean origin, that is, the ‘time proof’, which is ultimately based on the impossibility of a traversed infinity. Saadya’s argument is as follows: “Knowledge ( `ilm ) 26 is capable of being grasped by man ( yanhasir li-‘l-insan ) only because it is finite, for if it were thought to be infinite, it could not be grasped in its totality, and, once that becomes impossible, it is no longer subject to the cognition of anyone.” 27
In the ‘time proof’, then, Saadya argues that if the succession of time were eternal, we would not be able to exist at all, as in this case the actuality of our existence would have to traverse an infinite time in order to arrive at the present. And as we know, infinity, from its very nature, cannot be traversed. The argumentation in the second proof concerning the finitude of knowledge is, then, parallel to the ‘time proof’ insofar as this too can be ultimately retraced to the principle of the impossibility of a traversed, or rather, encompassed infinity. For Saadya, understanding means the encompassment ( inhisar ) of the object by the intellect, and as the knowing faculty of the soul is finite, 28 it is not able to encompass an object of an infinite nature.
Like Saadya’s first proof for the finitude of knowledge, the third proof may also be considered a reformulation of the first Philoponean proof, which is based upon the finitude of powers ( quwa ) residing in the universe. This proof is, in fact, identical with the first one, the only difference being that the first proof is concerned with the finitude of the knowing faculty, whereas the third proof is concerned with the finite nature of the faculty of sensation. This third epistemological proof states that “the source ( asl ) whence all the sciences are derived—I mean sensation—is unquestionably finite. It is, therefore, impossible that what is derived therefrom should be infinite, so that the offshoot would differ from the stock.” 29 The faculty of sensation, like the faculty of knowledge mentioned in the first proof, is of a finite nature given the finitude of the human body. Thus, the basis on which the two statements stand is the same: in a finite body only finite powers can exist.
The finitude of knowledge is of crucial importance to the epistemology of The Book of Beliefs and Opinions . In the same way as the finitude of the universe in time and space demonstrates its dependence on God or its createdness, so too the finite capacities of the knower and the finitude of knowledge indicate their dependency on the Creator. Indeed, the very concept of the Creator is the ultimate and necessary result of the process of cognition. 30 The knowledge of God then is marked by an internal tension: while the existence of God can be proven in a logical way, His quiddity cannot be understood or encompassed by human knowledge.
The ‘Enclosure of Existence’ in the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah
The idea that creation can be understood as having occurred through numbers and letters leads Saadya to compare existence to the constitution of a wall. Saadya states that “the fact that beings are [constructed] out of numbers demonstrates that He [God] had built them, since one sees them as a wall constructed by stones placed on top of each other, or as similar to the layers of the earth”. 31 This description in the Commentary refers to the existence of a type of deep-structure underlying the visible surface. But Saadya asserts more than this. He holds that man is placed in a double enclosure: in the first instance, by his createdness, since “there is no way out of this existence”, and secondly by revelation, given the fact that “there is no way out of His commandments”. 32 In this manner, God is present in human life in a double way: on the one hand, He encompasses creation by being included in it; and on the other hand, He creates the conditions ( surut ) for existence and for revelation whereby He is omnipresent.
There are, moreover, “three noble witnesses” (those of the world, the year and the soul) that are irrevocably enclosed within the “laws of the thirty-two” (understood, in the terms of his epistemology, as the ten numbers plus the twenty-two letters, or ontologically as the three, the seven and the twelve, which are posited by the Sefer Yezirah as the crucial numbers of creation). 33 Thus, the epistemological as well the ontological ‘prison’ of humans is determined to be thirty-two. It becomes very clear here that in Saadya’s philosophy, ontology and epistemology are organically interwoven, so much so that epistemology is nothing else but ontology made intelligible.
In the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah , createdness is represented as an indelible impression ( tab` ), a line ( khatt ), a trace ( rasm ) or as intransgressable limit ( hadd ). Thus, humans are totally unable to increase the crucial numbers, by which creation is generated, or to leave the realm of the numbers of creation while they speak, count or compose. 34 This ‘existential’ tone is almost totally absent in The Book of Beliefs and Opinions . Therein, the inevitability of the divine commandments is only mentioned in passing: “the refusal to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Lord does not exempt us from heeding His commandments.” 35
The Principle of Analogy and the Extension of the Philoponean Proofs by way of Analogy in the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah
There is a deep difference between the respective epistemologies of the representation of creation in each The Book of Beliefs and Opinions and in the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah . In The Book of Beliefs and Opinions , the role of the intellect (the agent of cognition) is primarily defined as cutting, selective, analytical and eliminative in nature. Parallel to this, the work of creation can also be characterized by a series of divisions (substance versus accident, unique versus symmetrical phenomena) and distinctions (between internal and external sources of knowledge and so forth). Conversely, the whole system of the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah , both in its epistemology and as concerns creation, appears to be based on the idea of the essential interconnectedness of things and on analogy, given the common originating principles (represented by numbers and letters).
The interconnectedness of things is clearly stated in the text of the Sefer Yezirah as follows: “everything is attached.” 36 Saadya translates this idea of mutual attachment in an even stronger sense, in a statement expressing homology: “everything is alike.” 37 This idea, repeated several times in his commentary, defines the general picture of creation and the representation of God as well.
In respect to creation in the Commentary , Saadya establishes a system of correspondences according to which the macrocosm, ( al-`alam al-kabir ), the “middle-world” ( al-`alam al- awsat ), and the microcosm ( al-`alam as-sagir ) are analogous ( muqabalat ). 38 God, depicted in the commentary as ‘the intellect of the world’, is represented through a fourfold analogy with the human intellect. 39 It is crucial to note that whereas the establishment of the creation ex nihilo in The Book of Beliefs and Opinions implies the total otherness and transcendence of the Creator from His creation, the analogical approach of the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah places God in the very center of creation, in the core of its deep structure. In this respect then, the world appears to be ‘God’s body’, and as such is inseparable from His essence. 40
The analogical model of creation here has two further implications. First, the temporal dimension is of less import here than is the case with creation ex nihilo treated in The Book of Beliefs and Opinions , wherein creation implies creation in time. In the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah , Saadya states that “in this way was created everything which was and is created everything which will be” 41 and “the beginning (fatiha) and the end (khatma) are interconnected”. 42 Secondly, in a sense, everything contains everything, as each being is created by the totality of the principles. Thus, the obvious differences between beings are due to differences in the proportion of the ‘ingredient principles’, and not to essential differences. While we do indeed qualify objects according to the dominant feature, which is caused by the preponderance of one of the constituents, nothing is entirely ‘pure’. 43
The Book of Beliefs and Opinions , then, works according to proofs, demonstrations and analysis, whereas the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah uses representations and illustrations. Thus, in The Book of Beliefs and Opinions the four proofs of Philoponean origin are merely enumerated. In the Commentary though, three of them are used as illustrations for the work of creation on the level of the ‘three noble witnesses’ of the creation (world, year and soul) as introduced by the Sefer Yezirah . As such, the proofs based on (1) composition (in the commentary athar as-san`a [‘traces of creation’]), (2) finitude ( nihaya ) and (3) the existence of accidents ( a` rad ), are expanded in the commentary into a system consisting of nine illustrations. 44
On the level of the world (cosmos), the proofs for creation are provided by
(1) the visible differences between the celestial bodies,
(2) the finitude of heaven and earth and
(3) their inseparability from accidents.
On the level of the year (time) the proofs are given by
(1) the dissimilar length of days in winter and in summer,
(2) the year being a limited period and
(3) the inseparability of the year from its accidents (e.g., the seasons).
And finally, on the level of the soul, createdness is proven by
(1) its divergent faculties (appetitive, affective and rational),
(2) the finite existence of the soul and its activities and
(3) the necessary coexistence of the body with its accidents.
The illustrations above are based on analogies, or “correspondences” ( muqabalat ), 45 which are supported by immediate insight and not by logical demonstration. According to this analogy, widespread in the works of Jewish, Christian and Muslim philosophers, 46 the structure of the universe is analogous to that of the human body. Thus, different parts of the cosmic structure can be related to various parts of the body. 47
4. The Role of the Philoponean Proofs
At this point, the following question arises: what makes the Philoponean proofs so appropriate to use in so many diverse ways and in so many diverse contexts? I intend to answer this question from two perspectives: (1) while the notion of causal relations based a linear concept of time is of a paramount importance in rationalist thought, in a Neo-Platonizing Gnostic style, structural symmetries and analogies take over the importance of the linearity of time. The Philoponean proofs, then, may be used for the demonstration of the finitude of structural patterns that constitute the world. (2) The coherence of a philosophical model is provided by a harmony between epistemology and ontology. In the two books under consideration, we can detect two different, although coherent, models: the rationalist approach and the Gnosticizing tone.
The Concept of Time in The Book of Beliefs and Opinions and Timelessness in the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah
The notion of time as linear, connected to bodily existence, and (therefore) finite is overwhelmingly present in The Book of Beliefs and Opinions . Each single human act needs time, creation happened in time, the process of knowledge needs time, and so on. It seems that the concept of time functions here as a dividing line between the human and the divine realms. According to Saadya, he “who wants to remove all uncertainties by a single act deviates from the law governing all creatures ( yakhrug `an rasm al-makhluqin )”, 48 since timeless knowledge can be attributed exclusively to the Creator. Due to human nature, the removal of uncertainties can be achieved only in time, which is why revelation occurred— that is, in order to shorten the period that is necessary for unaided speculation. The act of speculation and the fact that it always covers a lengthy period of time is according to the divine plan. In his Commentary on the Genesis , Saadya explicitly states that God wanted His servants to pay effort and to speculate upon His orders, which is why He did not reveal His Holy Scripture in a well-systematized form. 49
In the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah , Saadya does not appear to have any interest in expanding upon the definition of time or on its finitude. On the contrary, he tends to suggest that the future is similar to the past, given the fact that both were created in the same way: “in this way was created everything which was and is created everything which will be” 50 and “the beginning ( fatiha ) and the end ( khatma ) are interconnected”. 51 Elsewhere he states that “what comes [in the future] is similar to what is present, since before becoming present [the present] was future. Consequently, each statement referring to one of them necessarily refers to the other one as well. And the things are all like one another.” 52 In this interconnection of the tenses, the notion of linear time appears to be senseless. Creation, the divine act par excellence, happened ‘at one blow’, not sequentially. However, the human intellect, which exists in time, and as a facilitation for the limited human understanding, God’s acts can be translated into temporal succession:
When we say that He pressed, filtered, etc., we do not mean that He fabricated ( sana`a ) the things by parts ( ab`adan ), one part after the other. We only intend an introduction ( tawti’a ) and facilitation ( taqdir ) for our understanding, that is, how we can fathom [creation]. Ultimately, we retrace everything to [the statement] that He created it all at one time ( daf`a wahida ). 53
Comments on Epistemology and Ontology
In The Book of Beliefs and Opinions , the process of cognition appears to be analogous with its result. The basis for the fifth statement in the six observations is one of Saadya’s fundamental epistemological equations. 54 It asserts that the object of a more subtle investigation must be a notion of a more subtle nature. The example Saadya gives here is the apparent stone-likeness of ice. After a more refined investigation, it appears to be replaced by a water-like nature, then by a vapor-like nature, and finally, by tracing it back to the cause which made the vapor rise, it turns out to be of an immaterial nature.
In this important passage, Saadya makes it explicit that the result of this observation corresponds to the method of the observation. Dependent upon the ‘refinement’ of our methods, we can detect that the ice is of a solid nature, a fluid nature, a vapour-like nature, or of a non-material nature. But the reality is that it has all these natures at the same time. How we see it depends on the nature of our investigation. Thus, in this passage, the method of investigation plays a determinative role and the ontological structure follows it.
In the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah , the very origins of the ontological and the epistemological systems are depicted in the same way and by the same image, namely, as generated by a ‘flash-like’ sudden act: “the principles of things appear to the intellect as the light of a flash, then they become manifest and certain . . . and afterwards they grow and multiply until they reach their extremities. And that is how each intelligent person feels when he starts to think, namely, thinking is as if he brought out something from the darkness to the light”. 55 Some pages further Saadya says that “the radiance of the numbers and letters is like a flash in the beginning, but at the end they are endless”. 56
The peculiarity of the above passage is that it can be understood as referring to both the epistemological and to the ontological realms. Thus, when he states that “the principles of things appear to the intellect as the light of a flash, then they become manifest and certain”, it is not entirely clear if he is making a statement of an epistemological nature, that is, asserting that knowledge is acquired through a ‘flash-like’ act, or if the sentence is to be taken in an ontological sense, meaning that creation can be represented for the intellect as a ‘flash-like’ appearance of the principles of things.
Both the act of creation and human knowledge concerning the real nature of creation are ‘flash-like’ and both are best represented by the different formations of numbers and letters. ‘Oneness’ appears to be the original state of both realms, and, whenever they deviate from it, it is to be considered a secondary modification of a transient nature. Instead of the notion of finitude of a linear time and the chain of causes, so important for rationalist thinkers, here we find the concepts of original ‘oneness’ and secondary infinity, insofar as the permutation of numbers and letters exhibits an infinite variety. However, this apparent infinity is far from being perplexing and chaotic, it can be perfectly assessed based on a finite number of such repetitive patterns as the alphabet or the decimal numeric system.
In Saadya’s works the question of “How was the world created?” was understood in two ways. (1) What is the right view that we have to embrace about the origins of the visible world (the problem of creation versus eternity)? (2) According to what laws and patterns did God create the world, that is, according to what kind of laws and principles do the universe, time, bodies and souls function? Both questions can be answered by introducing the notion of finitude, although in different senses: in the first case the finitude of time and of human knowledge, and ultimately the doctrine of the creation ex nihilo, provide the answer. In the second case the finite number of the analogical patterns that occur in the world may supply a satisfying response.
5. Some Conclusions
To address issues in the debates among Jewish and Muslim thinkers in the 10 th century, and specifically those debates concerning the existence of God, Saadya sought to draw on classical Jewish texts such as the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah but also had to keep in mind the order and vocabulary of the kalam thinkers and of the mutakallimun . Here, Saadya appealed to philosophical texts from another tradition—notably, the tradition of the Christian thinker John Philoponus. Saadya drew on Philoponus’s work, making its arguments more accessible and more intelligible, but also sometimes by re-expressing and extending them. The Philoponean proofs offered the ‘scientific’ set of proofs for finitude and, as ‘scientific’, they could be applied both to the doctrine of creation ex nihilo and to the questions of the finitude of time and of human knowledge. It was this scientific vocabulary, then, that seems to have been a key element in the migration and the reformulation of the Philoponean proofs into the texts and contexts of Saadya’s work.



* In this text we have used a simple system of transliteration of Arabic terms in which diacritical marks are omitted.
1 Philoponus is sometimes referred to as John of Alexandria or as John the Grammarian. Saadya ben Joseph (in Arabic, Sa’id ‘ibn Yusuf al-Fayyûmî) became Gaon or intellectual leader of the Jewish diaspora at the Sura Academy in Babylonia in 928.

2 Saadya Gaon, Kit b al-Am n t wa-’l-I’tiq d t, [The Book of Beliefs and Opinions with Hebrew translation], ed. Y. Qafih (Jerusalem, 1970). Unless otherwise noted, I use S. Rosenblatt’s translation of Saadya throughout this chapter: Saadya Goan, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, trans. S. Rosenblatt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948).

3 See, for instance, the article of Gershom Scholem in the Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 16, cc 782–788 and on its commentaries, see, for example, G. Vajda, “Le commentaire kairouanais sur le ‘Livre de la Création,’” I–II–III, Revue des Études Juives, 107 (1947): 99–25; 110 (1949): 62–92; 112 (1953): 5–33; Vajda, “Nouveaux fragments arabes du commentaire de Dunash b. Tamim sur le ‘Livre de la Création,’” Revue des Études Juives, 113 (1954): 37–61; Vajda, “Deux nouveaux fragments arabes du commentaire de Dunas b. Tamim sur le Séfer Yezirah,” Revue des Études Juives, 122 (1963): 149–162.

4 Saadya Gaon, Tafsīr Kit b al-Mab dī, Commentaire sur le Sefer Yesira ou Livre de la création, ed. and trans. M. Lambert (Paris, 1891).

5 Saadya Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, trans. S. Rosenblatt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948), 34.

6 Ibid., 35–37.

7 Ibid., 73.

8 Saadya, Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah, 9, 17. Saadya refers to the distinction in terms of ‘the realm of the Creator’ (umur al-bari’) versus ‘the realm of the creature’ (umur al-makhluqin). Elsewhere in the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah, he asserts that “the information [al-hasilat] are of two sorts: either they go towards their seeker [possibly referring to sense perception], or they draw the seeker to themselves [possibly referring to intuition], but the wisdom of the creation is none of these” (18).

9 Saadya, Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah, 19.

10 wa-awliya’uhu hum alladhina yuslimun lahu hadhihi-‘l-af`al fa-man dakhala fi `ilmihi fa-qad kharaga `an gumlatihim. Saadya, Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah, 20.

11 See Saadya, Book of Beliefs and Opinions, 84. In the Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah Saadya states that God is proven by day and night (31), even without the notions of ‘voice’ (sawt), ‘expression’ (lafz) and ‘combinations of words’ (ta’lif), i.e., the proof of intelligible articulation (revelation) is second after the proof of the creation itself. Moreover, creation appears to be the link between the human and the divine, which accounts for the fact that creation is mentioned before the Creator in the Hebrew text of the Pentateuch (Gen. 1.1). Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah, 38.

12 Saadya, Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah, 9.

13 Saadya, Book of Beliefs and Opinions, 84.

14 Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah, 31. In this latter text, in the course of an investigation of the origins of ‘meaning’ (ma`na), Saadya states that the divinity of God is proved by day and night, even without the concepts of voice (sawt), utterance (lafz) and combination of words (ta’lif).

15 The word Saadya normally uses for arkhe is asl. At one place though he notes that “father-principles (aba’), mother-principles (ummahat), bases (usul), matter (huyula), principles (`anasir) and elements (ustuqsat) are all the same (kull dhalika ma`na wahid)” (Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah, 35). His identification of these notions may reflect the harmonization of the terminologies of earlier commentaries on the Sefer Yezirah. See also H.A. Wolfson, “Arabic and Hebrew Terms for Matter and Element with Especial Reference to Saadia,” Jewish Quarterly Review, 38, no. 1 (1947): 47–61.

16 Saadya, Book of Beliefs and Opinions, 35–40.

17 Herbert A. Davidson, “John Philoponus as a Source of Medieval Islamic and Jewish Proofs of Creation,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 89, no. 2 (April–June 1969): 357–391, esp. 363–370.

18 Ibid.

19 Book of Beliefs and Opinions, 40.

20 R. Sorabji, “Infinity and Creation,” in Philoponus and the Rejection of Aristotelian Science, ed. R. Sorabji (London: Duckworth, 1987): 164–178.

21 Saadya, Commentary on the Sefer Yezirah, 15.

22 Ibid., 99.

23 Saadya, Book of Beliefs and Opinions, 76–77.

24 The Arabic words latif (crude) and galil (subtle) are translated by Rosenblatt as ‘concrete’ and ‘abstract’. In my translation, I prefer to render them as ‘perceptible’ and ‘imperceptible’, since the crucial difference between them seems to be their availability to the senses.

25 Saadya, Book of Beliefs and Opinions, 77.

26 In Rosenblatt’s translation ‘science’, in Book of Beliefs and Opinions, 89.

27 Saadya, Book of Beliefs and Opinions, 77.

28 See the previous proof for the finitude of knowledge.

29 Saadya, Book of Beliefs and Opinions, 78.

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