Abstract of a paper to be presented at Bifröst University, Iceland, May 4, 2013.
In an important recent article, Antonio Nunziante has shown the importance of Cyrano de Bergerac's 1655 satirical work, Les états et empires du soleil, for some of G. W. Leibniz's philosophical reflections, in particular for his mature conceptions of corporeal substance and of nested individuality. In the Nouveaux essais sur l'entendement humain of 1704, Leibniz explicitly invokes Cyrano's story of the composite man who inhabits the surface of the sun as a model and inspiration for his own idea of the relations of domination and subordination in nested corporeal substances. What has not been emphasized as much, however, is that proto-science-fiction rêveries such as Cyrano's --alongside which we may also include Johannes Kepler's Somnium, Margaret Cavendish's Blazing World, and Gabriel Daniel's Voyage du Monde de Descartes-- themselves are rooted in a much older tradition of utopian writing, which reaches back to Thomas More's genre-defining work at the beginning of the 16th century and includes, e.g., Bacon's New Atlantis, and Campanella's City of the Sun. Cyrano, Kepler, and the others use science fiction in order to work through thought experiments about humanity's place in nature and the cosmos. These experiments could very well be seen as radical or heretical if they were not safely projected beyond the sphere of ordinary human reality and into outer space, and in this respect the authors continue the utopian tradition of couching innovative social and political thought in the guise of fiction. In this talk, I would first of all like to sketch out the important respects in which what I am calling 'proto-science fiction' should be seen as a further branching of the tradition of utopian thinking. Second, I would like to show how the continuity of tradition between these two genres helps us to make new sense both of Leibniz's debt to Cyrano in his mature metaphysics, as well of the continuity within Leibniz's own thought, between his mature metaphysics and many of his earlier, more recognizably utopian political writings, notably the Consilium Aegyptiacum of 1671.