This site is dedicated to the Memory of Alan Berkowitz (1950-2015), co-editor.

Yi jing diagram from 4 Nov. 1701

Yi jing hexagrams, Bouvet to Leibniz 4 November 1701

The German polymath G. W. Leibniz (1646-1716) and the French Jesuit and mathématicien du roi Joachim Bouvet, S.J. (1656-1730), in service for more than four decades at the court of the Chinese emperor Kangxi, exchanged at least fifteen letters between 1697-1707. While the letters cover a wide and deep range of subject matter, they are best known for the convergence of two aspects of the then contemporary forays into East-West comparative culture. The first concerns the zealous revelation by the correspondents of a seeming identity between Leibniz’s newly formulated binary calculus (i.e., base two) and the sixty-four hexagrams (sextilinear figures) of one of China’s most revered ancient books, the Yi jing 易經, Classic of Changes. The other concerns the exposition of what has come to be known as “Figurism,” scholarly attempts to find in ancient Chinese texts vestiges and even precursors of Christian dogma and mysticism.

This site primarily serves to present English translation of the letters between Leibniz and Bouvet, accompanied with copious contextual and analytical annotations to each letter. The site is the work of Alan Berkowitz and Daniel J. Cook. Berkowitz is Susan W. Lippincott Professor of Modern and Classical Languages and Professor of Chinese at Swarthmore College. Cook is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Brooklyn College, CUNY. The correspondence (in French) was transcribed and translated by Berkowitz in the 1970s from photographic copies of the original letters held in the Leibniz archives in Hannover, Germany, kindly provided by Gerald Swanson. More recently, the transcription has been thoroughly re-checked against the originals, and the translation has been carefully revised, benefitting also from the attentive emendations of Cook. Cook has taken primary responsibility for the annotations of a great part of the letters and other explanatory work, especially concerning Leibniz and Europe and excepting primarily Sinological matters. The full scholarly project concerning the Leibniz-Bouvet correspondence is ongoing, but it was deemed best at this point to release to the public our draft translation and draft annotations of the fifteen extant letters. These drafts contain a number of passages that were crossed out in the manuscript letters, as well as a few of our own unfinished internal discussions in the notes; these will be dealt with in revisions. And, N.B., many of the annotations were completed some years ago and are now being revised. As these annotations are updated, the letter files will be updated incrementally to include the revised annotations. Additional materials will be posted as work progresses.
Please let us know of infelicities, so that we can improve the final work.