Debates between Leibniz and the Jesuit Missionaries on the Meaning of Confucianism Open Access

Xing, Yang (2017)

Permanent URL:


In this thesis I discuss how Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz understands Chinese philosophy by comparing his interpretation to that of the two Jesuit missionaries, Matteo Ricci and Nicholas Longobardi. Their main areas of debate are: whether the Chinese have any concepts similar to the Christian idea of God; whether the Chinese have any understanding of spirits separated from matters; and, whether the Chinese have any understanding of the immortality of the human souls and rewards and punishments after death. Matteo Ricci is the inventor the approach "accommodationism", and he believes that missionaries in China could adapt to its people by reinterpreting Confucian Classics and absorbing Confucian moral values. Longobardi, however, denies such an approach and argues for the fundamental incongruences of the two civilizations. Leibniz finds similarities in the philosophy of the Chinese and his own, and thus supports the accommodationist position and criticizes Longobardi's opinions. He is also interested in the Chinese civilization in general and, especially, China's "practical philosophy"--how its society is organized using Confucian moral values.

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Matteo Ricci's Accommodationism
2.1 Introduction and the Sources
2.2 The First Principles in Chinese Traditions

2.3 The Spirits in Chinese Civilization
2.4 The Souls in Chinese Civilization
2.5 Ricci's Other Ideas

2.5.1 Ricci's Criticism of "Wan Wu Yi Ti"

2.5.2 Ricci's Attack on San Ji Jiao

2.6 Summary of Ricci's Points

3 Nicholas Longobardi and His Anti-Accommodationism

3.1 Introduction and the Sources
3.2 Longobardi's General Understanding of Confucianism

3.2.1 Exoteric and Esoteric Doctrines

3.2.2 Xian Tian Xue and Hou Tian Xue
3.3 Longobardi's Theoretical Criticism of Accommodationism

3.4 Longobardi's Practical Criticism of Accommodationism

3.5 Summary of Longobardi's Points

4 Leibniz's Position
4.1 Leibniz's Writings on China
4.2 Leibniz's Understanding of Religions in General

4.2.1 Love at the Center of Religions Leibniz's Definition of Love Love as the Foundation of a "Natural Society"

4.2.2 A Rationalist Approach to Religions

4.2.3 God and the Individual Spirits God Individual Spirits
4.3 Leibniz's Understanding of "Chinese Philosophy" in Particular

4.3.1 Leibniz and His Discourse
4.3.2 The First Principle in "Chinese Philosophy" Leibniz's Discussion on Li Leibniz's Responses to Longobardi Three Equivalences of Li

4.3.3 The Spirits in "Chinese Philosophy"

4.3.4 The Souls and The Afterlife in "Chinese Philosophy"

4.4 Summary of Leibniz's Points

5 Conclusion
5.1 Accommodationism in General

5.2 Ricci and Longobardi
5.3 Leibniz

5.3.1 Leibniz and the Jesuits
5.3.2 Leibniz's Concerns for the Humanity

About this Honors Thesis

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files