Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Telling It Like It Wasn'tThe Counterfactual Imagination in History and Fiction$
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content.

Catherine Gallagher

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226512389

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226512556.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 27 May 2022

The History of Counterfactual History from Leibniz to Clausewitz

The History of Counterfactual History from Leibniz to Clausewitz

(p.16) Chapter One The History of Counterfactual History from Leibniz to Clausewitz
Telling It Like It Wasn't

Catherine Gallagher

University of Chicago Press

This chapter focusses on the use of historical counterfactuals in eighteenth-century Europe, concentrating on their increasing employment in two areas of thought: religious controversy and military science. It examines the influence of philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, who claimed that God chooses among contingent historical possibilities in order to fashion the best among alternative possible worlds. Thus although our history was chosen by God, it nevertheless exists as only one among an infinity of other possibilities. Leibniz’s view that God controls the random play of historical contingencies was soon challenged by other enlightenment thinkers, who nevertheless used his method of imagining alternatives to demonstrate that ours is not the best of all possible worlds. Hence, historical counterfactualism was practiced on all sides of the debate over providence in history. In the late eighteenth century, writers who called themselves “critical” military historians were the first to apply counterfactual tests to determine the causes and degree of battlefield success, asking, “What else might have happened?” and “Was the strategy adequate not only to the conditions that prevailed but also to other conceivable conditions?” Clausewitz was the most famous of these writers, who established historical counterfactualism as an accepted mode of thought in military analysis.

Keywords:   Carl von Clausewitz, Gottfried Leibniz, military history, possible worlds, Theodicy

Chicago Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.

Please, subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.

To troubleshoot, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.