Some Remarks on the 1923 “Controversy Over Science and Metaphysics”

Ciaudo, Joseph

Controversies are often seen as important events that contribute to the march of intellectual history. Some can even be considered historical landmarks. The controversy over science and metaphysics that took place in China in 1923 is no exception. It had a lasting impact on the Chinese intellectual scene of the twentieth century. But what happens if, instead of thinking of ideas confronting each other in a mental realm, we regard this debate as one of concrete people speaking in conference halls, taking notes, writing, reading, and exchanging opinions? And could our understanding of this debate be altered by the discovery of a document located at the very core of the debate, but which had remained unknown up to now because another version of the same text had been in circulation? Would we regard the controversy over science and metaphysics differently if the inaugural text of the conference was not the one we had been reading so far?