In their historical course, philosophy and science have looked at nature to find meaningful patterns, causes, and links able to explain the behaviour of natural phenomena: why they work the way they do and how they can be turned to human advance. A specific aspect of such historical query has been the study of the ontological structure of the natural world. Most philosophical traditions have postulated the existence of a physical or metaphysical substrate of the natural world: a subject over or into which physical change happens.

Organised by Nicola Polloni (濮若一) and Shixiang Jin (晋世翔), Materia, 气/Qì, and Their Epistemes is first Leuven-Beijing workshop in the history of premodern natural philosophy. The result of a promising collaboration between KU Leuven and the University of Science and Technology of Beijing, the workshop will be held on Zoom on 10-11 December 2021, freely accessible by anyone interested in the topic. Our first Leuven-Beijing workshop in the history of premodern philosophy of nature focuses on such obscure substrate and the historical constructions aimed at unveiling it in the European and Chinese traditions. In later medieval Europe, natural philosophy was based on the Aristotelian claim that the physical universe has a hylomorphic constitution: it is made of matter and form. Approximately during the same period, Chinese thinkers elaborated a refined philosophy of nature whose physical and metaphysical foundation was grounded on the intertwining dynamic between 气 (qì) and  理 (lǐ): the universe is made of chunks of 气 in which理 are instantiated. In both traditions, the “material” principle – materia and 气 – underwent an epistemic fragmentation into a plurality of disciplinary epistemes following the effort to grasp how such principle was supposed to work in theoretical and practical contexts (from metaphysics to alchemy, pharmacy, weather forecast, and so on).

The workshop delves into a series of ground-breaking questions about materia and 气 at different levels of the ongoing research in both Europe and China. Some of these questions indulge in the possibility itself of comparative history of philosophy. Is a syncretic analysis of Scholastic hylomorphism and Neoconfucian theories of 气 and 理 philosophically valuable and even feasible? What hidden stakes and unspoken misconceptions may arise from such philosophical venture? Other questions are instead grounded on the historical study of practitioners and their speculative context. How was the plurality of epistemes of materia and 气 linked to the ongoing debate on the ontological foundations of natural philosophy in Europe and China, respectively? And how was the philosophical debate influenced by practical sciences, if it was? By discussing relevant case-studies from the history of both philosophy and science, the workshop will examine how different instantiations of problems concerning the materiality of the world faced similar puzzles while attempting a plurality of solutions in premodern Europe and China.

Zoom links will be made available on this website and on the dedicated websites at KU Leuven and USTB. Registration is required: to register, you can send an email to the organisers.

Kasra Abdavi Azar
KU Leuven

Vincenzo Carlotta
University of Bologna

Giulia De Cesaris
KU Leuven

Feng Du/杜锋
Southwest University

Qinyong Fan/樊沁永
Yangzhou University

Russell Friedman
KU Leuven

Che Jiang/蒋澈
Tsinghua University

Shixiang Jin/晋世翔
University of Science and Technology Beijing

Nicola Polloni/濮若一
KU Leuven

Thanasis Rinotas
KU Leuven

Sylvain Roudaut
University of Stockholm

Shenmi Song/宋神秘
Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Guozhu Sun/孙国柱
China University of Political Science and Law

Mengmeng Sun/孙萌萌
University of Chinese Academy of Sciences

Zita Toth
KU Leuven

Linwei Wang/王林伟
Wuhan University

Roberto Zambiasi
University of Turin

Donglin Zhang/张东林
Guangxi University for Nationalities

The workshop aims to start a promising dialogue among scholars working on different fields and traditions and will be followed by an international conference that will take place in 2022. To this end, speakers are asked to give a short talk (10-13 minutes) followed by 10 minutes of q/a in which similarities in questions, methods, and solutions will be discussed. As a whole, both talks and discussions are like seeds sown on a fertile cross-disciplinary and comparative soil that will grow into promising flowers through the collaborations following the workshop and leading to the 2022 conference.


10 DECEMBER 2021

12:00-12:10 pm Leuven ~ 7:00-7:10 pm Beijing
Welcome and opening of the workshop | 欢迎

SESSION 1 | 会议一
12:10-1:10 pm Leuven ~ 7:10-8:10 pm Beijing

Giulia De Cesaris, Problems of (Im)materiality
Linwei Wang/王林伟, The Twofoldness of Nature in Wang Fuzhi’s Thought
Kasra Abdavi Azar, Aristotle’s Hylomorphism Revisited: Why Forms Can Exist Apart From Matter

SESSION 2 | 会议二
1:20-2:20 pm Leuven ~ 8:20-9:20 pm Beijing

Nicola Polloni/濮若一, Roger Bacon on Matter, Elements, and Mixtures
Guozhu Sun/孙国柱, On the Humanistic Value Dimension of Chinese Traditional Physics View: Centered on Fang Yizhi’s Qi Theory
Thanasis Rinotas, Aristotle and Medieval alchemy in the 13th and Early 14th century: De ‘generatione’ et ‘corruptione’ alchemiae

SESSION 3 | 会议三
2:30-3:30 pm Leuven ~ 9:30-10:30 pm Beijing

Mengmeng Sun/孙萌萌, Understanding the seasonal movements of Qi: Correlative Cosmology in an Annotation to Yueling (Monthly Ordinances) in the 12th century
Zita Toth, Bodies without Matter? Peter Auriol and John of Jandun on Planets and Stars
Donglin Zhang/张东林, Qi and Hou at Fingertips: the Pursuit of Harmony in Xishan Qinkuang, a 17th-century Essay on Qin Music

11 DECEMBER 2021

SESSION 4 | 会议四
12:00-01:00 pm Leuven ~ 7:00-8:00 pm Beijing

Feng Du/杜锋, On the Image of Wind in the Traditional Chinese Medicine: The case of Discourse on Wind of Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen
Vincenzo Carlotta, Alchemical Matter: Ingredients, Elements and Their Substrate in Greco-Egyptian and Byzantine Alchemy
Shenmi Song/宋神秘, “Spirit (shen, 神), Human-qi(renqi, 人气), Human-spirit(renshen, 人神)” in the Time-Contraindication of Acupuncture and Moxibustion from Han to Tang Dynasties

SESSION 5 | 会议五
1:10-2:10 pm Leuven ~ 8:10-9:10 pm Beijing

Shixiang Jin/晋世翔, The Classification and Knowledge of Qi in Shen Kuo’s Mengxi Bitan: A Preliminary Sketching on the Concept of Nature in Premodern China
Roberto Zambiasi, The Potential Infinite Divisibility of Matter as Logical Incompossibility
Che Jiang/蒋澈, The Use of Qi in Lu Dian’s Piya: Preliminary Observations

SESSION 6 | 会议六
2.20-3:20 pm Leuven ~ 9:20-10:20 pm Beijing

Russell Friedman, The Plurality of Forms Debate in Brief: John of Jandun
Qinyong Fan/樊沁永, Spirit and Qi in The Book of Universality: A Supplement to The Book of Changes
Sylvain Roudaut, John Buridan on the Status and Properties of Matter

3.20-3.30 pm Leuven ~ 10:20-10:30 pm Beijing
Closing of the Workshop | 闭幕

Video recordings of the whole event are available (as individual videos) on a dedicated playlist of the Potestas Essendi YouTube Channel.


Speakers: Giulia De Cesaris, Linwei Wang/王林伟, Kasra Abdavi Azar.


Speakers: Nicola Polloni/濮若一, Guozhu Sun/孙国柱, Thanasis Rinotas.


Speakers: Mengmeng Sun/孙萌萌, Zita Toth, Donglin Zhang/张东林.
Recordings: SUN | TOTH | ZHANG


Speakers: Feng Du/杜锋, Vincenzo Carlotta, Shenmi Song/宋神秘.
Recordings: DU | CARLOTTA | SONG


Speakers: Shixiang Jin/晋世翔, Roberto Zambiasi, Che Jiang/蒋澈.
Recordings: JIN | ZAMBIASI | JIANG


Speakers: Russell Friedman, Qinyong Fan/樊沁永, Sylvain Roudaut.