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Ge Hong's principal attitude towards science

Evgueni A. Tortchinov (St. Petersburg State University, Russia)

This paper is dedicated to the avaluation of Ge Hong's principal attitude towards science. It is well known that Ge Hong was a representative of the so called tradition of the Southern Chinese occultism, i.e. the tradition of the Writings of Three August Ones (san huang wen).

His "Baopuzi nei pian" which may be considered to be one of the most well-known sources in Chinese traditional science bears remarkable (to the mind of a contemporary Westerner, of course) contradiction between science and magic. From one side, Ge Hong declares and defends such "mystical" ideas as physical immortality and possibilities to obtain different supernatural powers, and from another side he ardently criticizes the common people (su ren, shi ren) and their "common sense" for superstitious beliefs and negative attitude towards "real knowledge" of natural phenomena (including medicine and alchemy). He likes not only Daoist "Canons of immortals" (xian jing) but sceptical statements of Wang Chong as well.

To my mind, Ge Hong was not a mystic or a seeker of intuitive insights but an investigator, researcher of nature with pragmatic attitude (the obtaining of physical immortality), and experimental and sceptical thinker. The abundance of magic in his writings was a result of an essential character of the traditional science which included in itself magic and magical attitudes (e.g. the idea of the universal sympathies, Chinese "tong lei") not only in China but throughout the world until the time of Newton, Galileo Galilei and Descartes.


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