Source:

Sämtliche schriften und briefe series I, volume 22
Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften (ed)
pp 332-333



Date: 7 April 1703

Translated from the French



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LEIBNIZ TO JEAN-PAUL BIGNON


[A I 22, p332]

     Sir                                                                                Berlin, 7 April 1703

     I have waited for a good reason to write to you so as not to abuse the honour you have given me to respond. A letter from China provided me with it.1 I communicated to Reverend Father Bouvet my way of calculating by 0 and 1.2 And he responded by saying that he has first discovered that it is precisely the meaning of the figures of Fohi, Chinese king and philosopher thought to have lived more than 4,000 years ago.3 It is the oldest known monument of science; the Chinese having lost its true explanation and having offered a great deal of chimerical ones, and yet now here we are, its deciphering by means of Europeans. This confluence is curious and could be of consequence for that country. I put it all in the attached paper to be inserted in the Memoires of the Academy that are printed from time to time,4 if it is deemed appropriate. This is instead of the earlier paper I sent about this same arithmetic, which is not so appropriate to be printed.5

[A I 22, p333]

     I am with respect
     Sir                                                                                                 your L.





NOTES:

1. Namely, a letter from Joachim Bouvet to Leibniz of 4 November 1701 (see below, note 3).
2. See Leibniz's letter to Bouvet of 15 February 1701; A I 19, 401-415. An English translation by Alan Berkowitz and Daniel J. Cook is available here.
3. Bouvet had suggested - erroneously as it happens - that Leibniz's discovery of binary arithmetic was the key to understanding the mysterious hexagrams of the I-Ching. See Bouvet's letter to Leibniz of 4 November 1701, A I 20, 533-555. An English translation by Alan Berkowitz and Daniel J. Cook is available here.
4. This is Leibniz's "Explanation of binary arithmetic," published in Memoires de l'Academie Royale des Sciences. English translation available here.
5. Leibniz is referring here to his "Essay d'une nouvelle science des nombres" (1701). See Hans J. Zacher, Die Hauptschriften zur Dyadik von G. W. Leibniz (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1973), 250-261.


© Lloyd Strickland 2020