The Apokatastasis Essays in Context: Leibniz and Thomas Burnet on the Kingdom of Grace and the Stoic/Platonic Revolutions

In Wenchao Li (ed.), Für unser Glück oder das Glück anderer. G. Olms. pp. Bd. IV, 125-137 (2016)
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One of Leibniz’s more unusual philosophical projects is his presentation (in a series of unpublished drafts) of an argument for the conclusion that a time will necessarily come when “nothing would happen that had not happened before." Leibniz’s presentations of the argument for such a cyclical cosmology are all too brief, and his discussion of its implications is obscure. Moreover, the conclusion itself seems to be at odds with the main thrust of Leibniz’s own metaphysics. Despite this, we can discern a serious and important point to Leibniz’s consideration of the doctrine, namely in what it suggests about the proper boundary between metaphysics and theology, on the one hand, and ordinary history (whether human or natural), on the other. And we can get a better sense of Leibniz purpose in the essays by considering them in the context of Leibniz's response to Thomas Burnet's "Telluris theoria sacra" (1681-89). Leibniz praises Burnet's history of earth for presenting a harmony between the principles of nature and grace, a harmony absent in the cosmogonies of Descartes and the Newtonians. But Leibniz also complains that Burnet misconceives the boundary between natural explanation and reflections on divine wisdom. And Leibniz's essays on cyclical cosmology suggest the alternative to Burnet's account: a natural history of the earth and its inhabitants should be radically autonomous from, even if ultimately harmonious with, theological principles.
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