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.

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).

Organised by Shixiang Jin and Nicola Polloni, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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