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The phrase "the best of all possible worlds" (Template:Lang-fr; Template:Lang-de) was coined by the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz in his 1710 work Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l'homme et l'origine du mal (Essays on Theodicy, concerning the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil). It is the central argument in Leibniz's theodicy, or his attempt to solve the problem of evil.

The problem of evilEdit

Among his many philosophical interests and concerns, Leibniz took on this question of theodicy: If God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent and omniscient, how do we account for the suffering and injustice that exist in the world? Historically, attempts to answer the question have been made using various arguments, for example, by explaining away evil or reconciling evil with good.[1]

Free will versus determinismEdit

For Leibniz, an additional central concern is the matter of reconciling human freedom (indeed, God's own freedom) with the determinism inherent in his own theory of the universe.[2]

Leibniz' solution casts God as a kind of "optimizer" of the collection of all original possibilities: Since He is good and omnipotent, and since He chose this world out of all possibilities, this world must be good—in fact, this world is the best of all possible worlds.[3]

On the one hand, this view might help us rationalize some of what we experience: Imagine that all the world is made of good and evil. The best possible world would have the most good and the least evil. Courage is better than no courage. It might be observed, then, that without evil to challenge us, there can be no courage. Since evil brings out the best aspects of humanity, evil is regarded as necessary. So in creating this world God made some evil to make the best of all possible worlds. On the other hand, the theory explains evil not by denying it or even rationalizing it—but simply by declaring it to be part of the optimum combination of elements that comprise the best possible Godly choice. Leibniz thus does not claim that the world is overall very good, but that because of the necessary interconnections of goods and evils, God, though omnipotent, could not improve it in one way without making it worse in some other way.[4]

CriticismEdit

Critics of Leibniz's postulate argue that the world contains an amount of suffering too great to justify optimism. While Leibniz argued that suffering is good because it incites human will; critics argue that the degree of suffering is too severe to justify belief that God has created the "best of all possible worlds." Leibniz also addresses this concern by considering what God desires to occur (his antecedent will) and what God allows to occur (his consequent will).[5]

Voltaire satirized optimism in his novel Candide, in which the eternally optimistic character Dr. Pangloss remains optimistic, even when his situation is so dire that his optimism appears irrational.

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

  1. The problem of evil as Leibniz discusses it is not--as it appears to be, e.g., for David Hume--an argument for God's non-existence. God's existence and primacy are assumed; rather, evil is something that cries out for philosophical explanation.
  2. Leibniz struggles with this issue: if God is constrained to choose the best, in what sense does God exercise free will? The general problem is to somehow reconcile the physics of Leibniz' day with human freedom, the necessity of God's decision-making, and human moral responsibility.
  3. In addition to being morally best, according to Leibniz, God's selection of this world also implies that it contains the best arrangement of natural laws, amount of matter, etc.
  4. J. Franklin, Leibniz's solution to the problem of evil, Think 5 (2003), 97-101.
  5. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Peter Remnant, Jonathan Francis Bennett (1996). New Essays on Human Understanding. Cambridge University Press. pp. 182-190 ISBN 0521576601, 9780521576604.

External linksEdit

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