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Remembering by Heart: Giulio Aleni on the Heart, Brain, and Soul

Abstract

Unlike similar works, Xingxue Cushu 性學觕述 (General Introduction to the Learning on [Human] Nature) by the Italian Jesuit missionary Giulio Aleni (1582–1649) sought to deliver the Christian doctrine into China by introducing Western medicine. The conflict between the Christian concept of the soul and the traditional psychic concept in China made the task difficult. Scholasticism rejects the idea that an individual’s soul may be physically divided or localized, whereas the Chinese tradition largely assumes the contrary and regards the heart as the center of one’s psychic powers or vitality. Aleni addressed this conflict by reducing the mind to the function of the brain for sensitive memory. Chinese physicians accepted Aleni’s concept of brain-related memory. However, his claim of an immaterial soul was ignored, and the Western connection between brain and memory was misinterpreted and subjected to Chinese cardiocentrism; thus, the physically centered psychic concept that underlies Chinese philosophy persisted.

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Acknowledgments

The author would thank Nicolas Standaert for his invaluable support. The author also extends thanks to Thierry Meynard for always being there. This research was funded by the National Social Science Foundation of China (NSSFC) (grant no. 14ZDB015 and grant no. 15ZDB005) and the MOE (Ministry of Education in China) Project of Humanities and Social Sciences Project (grant no. 19YJC720023).

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Correspondence to Dawei Pan.

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Pan, D. Remembering by Heart: Giulio Aleni on the Heart, Brain, and Soul. Dao (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11712-019-09705-z

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Keywords

  • Soul
  • Giulio Aleni
  • Jesuits
  • China
  • Brain
  • Heart