Ancient Greek and Chinese Cosmologies Compared

Visiting Scholar Talks

May 9, 2024 | 11:30 AM - 1:00 PM

Common Room (#136), 2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA,


Weimo Liu | Associate Professor, Institute of Philosophy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; HYI Visiting Scholar, 2023-24


Shigehisa Kuriyama | Reischauer Institute Professor of Cultural History, Harvard University

Co-sponsored by the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

Greek and Chinese cosmologies have long been considered fundamentally different, with distinctions such as geometric versus arithmetic, hierarchically structured by natural elements versus an organic whole permeated by qi. While these comparisons capture certain aspects of each cosmological tradition, they oversimplify and ignore some other essential aspects.

To initiate more productive research on comparative cosmologies, I suggest that we consider cosmology as a mode of human reasoning that allows us to move beyond simplistic dichotomies. From this point of view, we can identify basic “cosmological types,” e.g., mathematical cosmology, elementary cosmology, and figure out their theoretical tasks, each of which has its own way of explaining the orderliness of the world. Moreover, from some similar cognitive tendencies, such as the connection between music/harmonics and cosmology, we can better understand what is truly culturally peculiar, e.g., why the Greeks preferred the spherical models, what contributed to the formation of “correlative thinking” in China? In this talk we will select some cases to illustrate this.