- Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Briefe über China (1694-1716): Die Korrespondenz mit Barthélemy Des Bosses S.J. und anderen Mitgliedern des Ordens ed. by Rita Widmaier and Malte-Ludolf Babin
Rita Widmaier and Malte-Ludolf Babin have done a valuable scholarly service for studies of the early modern European reception of China in collecting letters from Leibniz's extensive correspondence concerning China and translating them from the original Latin and French into German. This multi-lingual and chronologically organized edition gathers letters to and from Leibniz as well as supplementary texts composed between the years 1694 and 1716. It incorporates helpful clarificatory notes as well as an informative and lucid introduction.
This edition focuses on the exchanges between Leibniz and the Jesuit theologian and philosopher Barthélemy Des Bosses S.J. (1668-1738) and other Jesuits in Europe who were in contact with their colleagues in Asia.1 Leibniz's two primary interlocutors in this volume are Des Bosses (selections from forty-seven documents are included) and the Bavarian Jesuit philosopher and theologian Ferdinand Orban S.J. (1655-1732) (twenty-seven letters). Des Bosses and Orban function as significant figures in the European transmission of information about China. Leibniz's less frequent direct correspondents included here are Theobald Isensehe S.J., Giovanni Battista Tolomei S.J., and René-Joseph de Tournemine S.J.
This volume should be considered a second in a series. It expands on Rita Widmaier's previous 2006 volume of Leibniz's correspondence regarding China, Der Briefwechsel mit den Jesuiten in China (1689-1714), that primarily concerns the period until 1707.2 It testifies to the continuing importance of China in Leibniz's thought that in this new volume only the first nine letters were composed prior to 1708. The subsequent ninety-nine documents are dated between 1708 and, the year of Leibniz's death, 1716. These two volumes together provide the core of Leibniz's exchanges concerning Chinese philosophy, politics, religion, science, technology as well as reports on and controversies over Christian missionary activities in China. They are not limited to letters to and from Leibniz. There are, in addition, useful supplementary [End Page 1] materials such as missionary accounts and reports on the Chinese rites controversy that were discussed in the original correspondence. Copies of letters and reports from China as well as Leibniz's own writings about China were circulated among European intellectual networks through which the development of the early modern European reception of China can be traced.
It is challenging to encapsulate the entire correspondence in a book review. This review will consequently outline a few of its major threads.
2. Leibniz and Intercultural Philosophy
There is an on-going intensification of interest in non-Western philosophy in the West and an intercultural turn in how—at least some—philosophers are practicing philosophy. There is furthermore a reevaluation of ethnocentric and anti-ethnocentric tendencies within the history of modern Western philosophy that offers an alternative understanding of its movements and figures. Leibniz has been seen as a crucial figure in this history not only due to his prestige as a philosopher and his evident enthusiasm for China but due to his sustained endeavors during the last decades of his life to sincerely engage with and interpret Chinese discourses and practices. The extent of Leibniz's interest and engagement is remarkable given that he never left Europe and did not know the Chinese language: one thread in the correspondence concerns his efforts to figure out the titles and contents of sixteen Chinese books that Joachim Bouvet (1656-1730), his earlier and most significant interlocutor in China, had sent to him.3 Leibniz articulated the need for an "exchange of light" between Europe and China. Leibniz's efforts in this regard might appear to offer an exemplary instance of East-West philosophical interaction given the subsequent history of indifference and outright...