Leibniz on the Problem of Evil
First published Sun Jan 4, 1998; substantive revision Wed Mar 16, 2005Without question, the problem of evil vexed Leibniz as much as anyphilosophical problem during his career. This is obvious from the factthat the first and the last book-length works that he authored, thePhilosopher's Confession (written at age 26 in 1672) andthe Theodicy (written in 1709, seven years before his death)were both devoted to this problem. It is, as well, equally strikingthat this latter work was the only book-length treatise Leibniz sawfit to publish during his life. In this entry we will examine the twomain species of the problem of evil which Leibniz addresses. Thefirst, “the underachiver problem,” is the one raised bythe critic who argues that the existence of evil in our worldindicates that God cannot be as knowledgeable, powerful, or good, astraditional monotheists have claimed. The second, “the holinessproblem,” is one raised by a critic who argues that God'sintimate causal entanglements with the world make God the cause ofevil. God is thereby implicated in the evil at the expense of hisholiness.
- 1. The Variety of Problems of Evil in Leibniz
- 2. The Underachiever Problem
- 3. The Holiness Problem
- Other Internet Resources
- Related Entries
Before we take a closer look at Leibniz's views on the problem ofevil, we will need to do some stage-setting to help us understand justwhat sort of problem Leibniz thought evil presented. Open anycontemporary introductory textbook of philosophy and it becomes clearthat the problem of evil in contemporary philosophy is thought of as anargument for atheism. Since, the atheist contends, God and evil areincompatible, and evil clearly exists, there is no God. Some, thinkingthat the claimed incompatibility in the above argument is too strong,argue that even if the existence of God and the existence of evil provecompatible, the existence (or duration, or amount, or distribution) ofevil provides us with at least strong evidence that God does notexist.
Framed in this way, the “atheistic problem of evil” invites certainsorts of responses. In particular, it invites the theist to explain howa being that is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good can allow evilto exist. And thus, contemporary responses to the problem of evil focuslargely on presenting “theodicies”, that is, reasons why a perfect beingdoes or might allow evils of the sort (or duration, or amount, ordistribution) we find in our world.
When we turn back, however, to the works of those medievalphilosophers who treat the problem of evil, the “atheistic problem” isnot to be found. Since these figures believed that the arguments ofnatural theology demonstrated overwhelmingly the existence of God, theproblem that evil presented was quite different. For them, the problemwas how the existence of evil was compatible with divine moral purityor holiness. Since, they argued, God is the author of everything thatexists, and evil is one of the things that exists, God is thereby theauthor of evil. And if someone is an “author of evil,” they are therebyimplicated in the evil and thus cannot be morally pure or holy. Thus,God cannot be morally pure nor holy. Let's call this problem of evilthe “holiness problem.”
Because traditional theists held that God is the “author” or causeof everything in the cosmos in at least three different respects,discussions of the holiness problem often branch off into threecorrespondingly different directions. First, God is regarded as thecreative cause of everything in the cosmos. Everything whichexists contingently is caused to come into being by the creativeactivity of God. Second, God is the conserving cause ofeverything that exists. This means that God not only brings intoexistence every contingent thing that exists, but that every contingentthing which remains in existence does so by God's continuouslymaintaining it in existence. Third, every action by a createdsubstance requires direct divine activity as concurrent cause.Thus, every whack of the hammer, every hit of my fingertip on thekeyboard, every tug of a magnet on a piece of iron requires not merelythat a created substance act, but also that the creator actconcurrently with the substance to bring about the particular effect.[For a classic exposition of these various modes of divine causalinvolvement see St. Thomas Aquinas, Disputationes de PotentiaDei , Q.3, a.7, resp.]
Of course, since this traditional picture had God so intimatelyconnected with the workings of the cosmos, the holiness problem seemedall the more intractable. In light of these intimate connections theproblem is not just that God created a world in which evil happens tooccur, but that God seems to be causally (and thus morally) implicatedin, for example, every particular act of murder, every earthquake, andevery death caused by plague. As a result, responses to the holinessproblem sought to explain not only how God could remain holy in lightof having created a world such as ours, but also how he couldremain holy in light of conserving it in existence andcooperating in all the events that occur in it.
Since Leibniz lived in between these two eras, eras in which evilwas taken to present quite different problems for the monotheisticphilosopher, we are immediately led to wonder which sort of problem hesought to address. Without a doubt Leibniz expends a great deal ofeffort attempting to solve the holiness problem. But he also frequentlytakes up something much like the atheistic problem. It would besomewhat deceptive, however, to call it the atheistic problem at thisstage in the history of ideas however, since, when raised in this way,evil was seen more an argument for an unorthodox form of theism, thanan argument for atheism. Thus, for example, a group of thinkerscollectively known as “Socinians” held, among other things, that theexistence of evil was not incompatible with God's existence,but that it was incompatible with the existence of a God who isall-knowing. Thus, Socinians held that God must not beall-knowing, lacking at least knowledge of the future. [For Leibniz'sview on the Socinians see Theodicy 364 (H343; G VI 318) et passim. Moredetails on Socinianism can be found in Jolley, c.2, andMaclachlan.]
We might then characterize the problem raised by atheists in our owncentury and by Socinians, to cite just one example, in the seventeenthcentury, in more broad terms as what I will call the “underachieverproblem.” According to the underachiever problem, if there were thesort of being that traditional monotheism describes as God, theexistence of this world would represent a vast underachievement on hispart; thus there is no such being as this. Atheists take thisconclusion to show that there is no God, Socinians take it to show thatGod is not the sort of being the traditionalist supposes.
Without a doubt, Leibniz is concerned about the underachieverproblem, though it is the Socinian, and not the atheist, version of theproblem that occupies his attention. The winds of atheism simply hadnot reached the gale force proportions that it would in succeedingcenturies. As a result, this stronger conclusion was not yet taken as aserious, or at least the main, threat presented by evil.
It is important to distinguish these various problems of evil sincewe cannot understand Leibniz's treatment of evil in a given text untilwe know what problem it is that he is addressing. Having set the stagein this way, we can know turn to look at Leibniz's solutions to theseproblems of evil, beginning with the underachiever problem, thenturning to the holiness problem.
Leibniz's reasoning to his conclusion does not, however, follow thisstraightforward path since, among other things, it is not clearlycogent as it stands. A number of seventeenth century figures recognizedthat God would not be obliged to create the best if there were no bestworld. There might be no such best world if the series of possibleworlds formed a continuum of increasingly good worlds ad infinitum. Andif there were no such best world, we cannot fault God for failing tocreate the best since to do so is as impossible as, say, naming thehighest number. There is no such number of course, and likewise no suchworld. Thus, while God may obliged to create a world which has at leastsome measure of goodness, he could not be obliged, on this view, tocreate the best. Thus, God simply chose arbitrarily to bring about oneamong the range of morally acceptable worlds. [This line of argumentwas common among certain Jesuit scholastics of the period. Fordiscussions of this see, for example, Ruiz de Montoya, Commentariaac Disputationes in primam partem Summae Thologicae S. Thomae. Devoluntate Dei et propiis actibus eius , Lyon 1630, disp. 9 and 10,and Diego Granado, Diego Granado, Comentarii in primam partemSummae Theologicae S. Thomae , Pont-a-Mousson, 1624,pp.420-433.]
Leibniz was aware of this argument which denied God's obligation tocreate the best, but he was firmly committed to rejecting it. Thereason for this is that a central principle of Leibniz's system, thePrinciple of Sufficient Reason, forced him to reject it. According tothis principle, any state of affairs must have a reason sufficientwhich explains why it and not some other state of affairs obtains. Whenit comes to our world, then, there must be some reason which explainswhy it, and not some other world, obtains. Clearly, however, there canbe no such reason on the view that the goodness of worlds increases adinfinitum. Thus, Leibniz held, there must be no such infinitecontinuum.
One might be tempted to resist Leibniz's argument here by sayingthat even on the “infinite continuum of good worlds” view there issomething which can play the role of sufficient reason for the factthat this world is actual, namely, God's decree that this world beactual . But this, as Leibniz notes, would just push the problemback one step further, since the Principle of Sufficient Reason appliesto free choices as much as any other event. Thus, we would have toprovide a sufficient reason for God choosing this world over some otheron the continuum. And it looks like providing such a sufficient reasonis the very thing we cannot do on the infinite continuum of good worldsview. Notice that the sufficient reason cannot be provided by somefeature or fact about the world actually chosen. For this would raisethe obvious question: why did this feature provide thesufficient reason for God's choice? The only possible answers, itappears, would be: (a) because God arbitrarily selected that feature asthe one he would favor in deciding which world to create, or (b) becausethat feature made that world better than the competitors. But noticethat neither of these answers are acceptable. The first is inconsistentwith the Principle of Sufficient Reason. The second is incompatiblewith the hypothesis we are trying to defend here: that there is no“best world.”
One might think that declaring this world to be the best possibleworld is hardly a response to the underachiever problem. In fact, onemight think it just provides ammunition for a new underachieverargument along the following lines:
- If God were all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good,then this world would be the best possible world.
- But surely this world is not the best possible world.
- Thus, God is not all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good.
What reason, Leibniz asks, does the critic have for thinking that (2)is true? When Leibniz addresses this issue, he usually has the criticsaying something along the following lines:
Surely this world is not the best possible world since wecan easily conceive of possible worlds that are better. Take some tokeninstance of suffering: the tragic bombing of the Oklahoma City federalbuilding. Surely a world without that event would be better than theactual world. And there is no reason why God couldn't have created theworld without that event. Thus, this is not the best possible world.[See Theodicy 118-119 (H 188-191; G VI 168-172)Leibniz's response to this sort of criticism comes in two stages.First, Leibniz says that while we can think of certain token featuresof the world that might be better than they are taken individually, wedon't know whether or not it is possible to create a better worldwithout those features, since we are never sure of what the connectionsbetween the token events and other events in the world might be. If wecould improve the token event without otherwise changing the world, wemay well have a better world. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowingif changing the token would leave the world otherwise unchanged, ormight instead make things, on balance, worse. [See Theodicy 211-214(H260-2; G VI 244-7) and Gr, p.64f., for examples]
Second, examples such as these are deceptive because they presumethat God utilizes standards of world goodness that he does not use. Forexample, it might presume that a world is only good if each part takenin isolation is good (a standard we have seen Leibniz argues against).Or, it might presume that a world is good only if earthly humans enjoyhappiness.
Leibniz argued repeatedly that it was surely too parochial to thinkthat the standard by which the goodness of worlds is to be judged isearthly human happiness. A more reasonable standard, says Leibniz,would be the happiness of all sentient beings. But once we admit this,it may turn out that the amount of unhappiness in the created realm isquite small since for all we know, the sentient beings on the earthmight represent a very small percentage of the sentient beings God hascreated. Here he includes not only preternatural beings such as angels,but the possibility of extra-terrestrial rational beings as well[Theodicy 19 (H134-5; G VI 113-4)].
Leibniz scholars differ about which standard Leibniz thought wasapplicable in judging the goodness of worlds. Various scholars havedefended one or more of the following:
- The best world is the one which maximizes happiness(i.e., virtue) of rational beings.
- The best world is the one which maximizes the “quantity ofessence.”
- The best world is the one which yields the greatest variety ofphenomena governed by the simplest set of laws.
the author is still presupposing that false maxim …stating that the happiness of rational creatures is the sole aim of God[Theodicy 120 (H192; G VI 172)]In part, the dispute over this standard hangs on whether or not (1) iscompatible with the more metaphysical standards embodied in (2) and (3),since it is these more metaphysical standards that Leibniz seems toendorse most consistently. In some cases, Leibniz writes as if thestandard of happiness is fully compatible with the more metaphysicalcriteria For example, within a single work, the Discourse onMetaphysics , Leibniz entitled section 5 “What the rules of theperfection of divine conduct consist in, and that the simplicity of theways is in balance with the richness of effects,” and entitled section36: “God is the monarch of the most perfect republic, composed of allminds, and the happiness of this city of God is his principle purpose.”Here Leibniz seems to advance both standards (1) and (3) in the same work[For another example, see R p.105 (K X pp.9-10)]. In other placeshowever, he writes as if they compete with one another [See Theodicy124 (H197-8;G VI 178-9)].
Whatever position one comes to hold on this matter, Leibniz oftenpoints to the more metaphysical standards as the ones God utilizes inassessing world goodness. But there is further controversy over exactlywhich metaphysical standard, (2) or (3), Leibniz endorses. In general,Leibniz holds that God creates the world in order to share his goodnesswith created things in the most perfect manner possible [Gr 355-6].Since limited created things can only mirror the divine goodness inlimited respects, God creates a variety of things, each of which has anessence that reflects different facets of divine perfection in uniqueways. Since this is God's goal in creating, it would be reasonable tothink that maximizing the mirroring of divine goodness in creation isthe goal that God seeks in creating. And this in fact is one of thestandards Leibniz seems to endorse. We might call this the“maximization of essence” standard. Leibniz seemed convinced that theactual world met this standard and that we could therefore findcreatures which mirrored the divine perfections in all the sorts ofways that creatures could do this. Thus, there are creatures withbodies and creatures without, creatures with freedom and intelligenceand creatures without, creatures with sentience and creatures without,etc. [See, for example, MP pp.75-6 and 138 (G VII 303-4 and 310)].
In some texts, however, Leibniz frames the standard of goodness inwhat some have taken to be a third distinct way. In these places heargues that the goodness of a world is measured by the ratio of thevariety of phenomena a world contains to the simplicity of the lawswhich govern it. Here Leibniz emphasizes the fact that the perfectionof a world which maximizes the variety of phenomena it contains isenhanced by the simplicity of its laws since this displays theintelligence of the creator who created it.
Various scholars have made the case that one or the other of thesetwo more metaphysical standards represents Leibniz's settled view onthe true standard of goodness [Gale, for example]. Others have arguedthat, in the end, the two standards are not exclusive of one another.[See Rutherford, cc.2-3 and Rescher, c.1 for two very different ways ofharmonizing (2) and (3).]
Whichever might be the case, if these are the standards by which onethinks God judges the world's goodness, it becomes much more difficultto defend the claim that this is not the best possible world. We canuse standard (3) to illustrate. If God were to eliminate the OklahomaCity bombing, what would be required to do so? There are presumably anumber of ways in which this might be done. The most obvious wouldinvolve miraculous intervention somewhere in the chain of eventsleading up to the explosion. God might miraculously prevent theexplosives from detonating, or might make the entire truck and itscontents vanish. But any sort of miraculous intervention will involvemaking the laws governing the phenomena more complex. As a result,Leibniz, and others who share this view of what world goodness consistsin, such as Malebranche, think that miraculous intervention isgenerally repugnant and would require vastly outweighing goods in orderfor them to be permissible. [See Theodicy 129 (H192-3; G VI 182)].
In any case, Leibniz holds that we are simply unable to know howchanging certain events would change the worlds capacity to meet thestandards of goodness described in (2) and (3). As a result, we cannever, with any confidence, make the claim that this world is not asgood, all things considered, as some other world we might try toimagine. According to Leibniz, then, the underachiever problem cannotget off the ground unless the critic is able to defend the claim thatthis world is not the best possible world. While we might think such adefense would be easy to mount, our inability to know how changingcertain events in the world would affect other events, and ourinability to know how such changes would affect the true overallgoodness of the world makes such a defense impossible for us.
The standard solution adopted by medieval thinkers was to denysomething the above argument affirms, namely, that evil is a“something.” Evil, they claimed was not a positive reality, but a“privation” or “lack.” As a result, evil has no more reality than thehole in the center of a donut. Making a donut does not require puttingtogether two components, the cake and the hole. Instead, the cake isall that there is to the donut. The hole is just “privation of cake.”Thus, it would be silly to say that making the donut requires somethingto cause the cake, and then something to cause the hole. Causing thecake causes the hole as a “by-product.” Thus, we need not assume anyadditional cause for the hole beyond that assumed for the causing ofthe cake.
The upshot of our pastry analogy is simply this: since evil, likethe hole, is merely a privation, it needs no cause on its own (or asthe medievals, and Leibniz, liked to say, it needs no “cause perse”). Thus, God is not a “knowing causal contributor to evil”since evil per se has no cause at all. But since God does notcontribute to evil, God cannot be implicated in the evil. Thus, theholiness problem evaporates.
Early in his career Leibniz, like many seventeenth century figures,scoffed at this solution. In a short piece entitled “The Author ofSin,” Leibniz explains why he thinks the privation response to theholiness problem fails. Since, Leibniz argues, God is the author of allthat is real and positive in the world, God is, by extension, “author”of all of its privations, “It is a manifest illusion to hold that Godis not the author of sin because there is no such thing as an author ofa privation, even though he can be called the author of everythingwhich is real and positive in the sinful act.” [A.6.3.150]
The reason, says Leibniz, can be gleaned from an example. Consider apainter who creates two paintings, one a small scale version of theother. The details of the pictures are identical in every respect, onlythe scale is different. It would be absurd, Leibniz remarks,
… to say that the painter is the author of all that isreal in the two paintings, without however being the author of what islacking or the disproportion between the larger and the smallerpainting… . In effect, what is lacking is nothing more than asimple result of an infallible consequence of that which is positive,without any need for a distinct author [of that which is lacking][A.6.3.151]Thus, even if it is true that evil is a privation, this does not haveas a consequence that God is not the author of sin. Since what ispositively willed by God is a sufficient condition for the evil stateof affairs obtaining, willing what is positive makes God the author ofthat which is privative as well [A similar early critique is found atA.6.3.544].
Thus, in his early years Leibniz looks to develop a differentstrategy. In the Philosopher's Confession , his mostsignificant treatise on evil aside for the Theodicy , Leibnizclaims that God wills everything in the world, though his will withrespect to goods in the world is decretory , while his willrespect to evils is merely permissive . Further, Leibnizargues, permissive willing of evils is morally permissible as long asthe permitting the evil is a necessary condition for meeting one'soutweighing obligations.
It is important to note here that Leibniz does not think that thepermission of evil is morally permissible because allowing the evilbrings about a greater good not otherwise attainable . To putthe matter this way leaves God, according to Leibniz, in the positionof violating the Biblical injunction “not to do evil that good maycome” [Causa Dei 36 (S 121; G VI 444)]. Thus, Leibniz casts permissionin such a way that the resultant evil is a necessary consequence ofGod's performing his duty (namely, to create the best world). As aresult, Leibniz characterizes (morally permissible) permission asfollows:
P permits E iff:This, Leibniz believes, resolves any holiness problem that might arisein so far as God is considered as creator of the cosmos. However, fromthe time that Leibniz composed the Philosopher's Confessionuntil at least the mid-1680's, Leibniz grew increasingly concerned thata tension might arise in his account when applied to the holinessproblem considered as a problem for concurrence . Recall thattraditional theists held that God was not only creator and conserver ofall created things, but that in addition God acted as concurrent causeof every act of a created substance.
[This account is distilled from A.6.3.129-131]
- P fails to will that E
- P fails to will that not-E
- P brings it about that state of affairs S obtains by willing that Sobtains
- If S obtains then E obtains
- P knows that 4)
- P believes that it is P's duty to will S and that the good ofperforming one's duty outweighs the evil entailed by E's obtaining
There were heated debates in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuriesconcerning the nature of divine concurrence. And much of the disputefocused on the way in which God concurred with the free acts ofcreatures. This was an especially pressing problem for the obviousreason that positing too close of a connection between God and thecreature in cases where moral evils are committed runs the risk ofimplicating God in the evil, thus raising the holiness problem all overagain. This debate often focused on a certain type of proposition andon what made this type of proposition true. The type of proposition inquestion are called “conditional future contingents” and they arepropositions of the form:
If agent, S, were in circumstances, C, and time, t, S wouldfreely chose to f.These propositions were particularly important in discussions ofphilosophical theology in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuriesbecause God's having knowledge of token propositions of this type wasregarded as essential for God exercising providential control over theactivities of free beings in creation. In order to be able toprovidentially superintend the activities of free beings in the createdworld, God must know how each such being will choose to act in eachcircumstance in which they will be found. If God did not know what Evewould choose when confronted by the serpent, or what I would choosewhen confronted with the tuna sandwich, God could not know, in advance,how the order of events would unfold in the universe he deigns tocreate.
But how does God know whether or not a token proposition ofthis type is true? Speaking generally, disputants in this period heldthat there were only two answers. God either knows that a tokenproposition of this type is true because God wills it to be true, orbecause something independent of God's will makes it true, and God,being omniscient, thereby knows it. In keeping with recent tradition,we will call the first view the “postvolitional view” (since the truthof the proposition is determined only “after” God wills it) and thelatter view the “prevolitional” view (since the propositions has truthindependently of what God wills). In his early years, Leibniz seemedinclined to adopt the postvolitional answer. So, take the tokenproposition:
If Peter were accused of consorting with Christ immediatelyafter the crucifixion, Peter would deny Christ.The early Leibniz would have held that this proposition, and others ofthis type, is true because God decrees that it is, that is, he decreesthat Peter will deny under these circumstances [See C 26-7 and Gr312-3]. Furthermore, those who held this view generally held that itwas through divine concurrence that God makes the proposition true inthe actual world. So, by causally influencing Peter at the moment ofdecision, God brings it about that Peter denies in these circumstances.
This view obviously faces a number of difficulties. For ourpurposes, the most pressing one is that it seems to undercut Leibniz'ssolution to the holiness problem based on permission. For if the aboveproposition is true because God wills that it is, then it appears thatGod wills that Peter sin, and if he wills that Peter sin, he cannotmerely permit it, in light of condition (1) of the definition ofpermission. As a result, it appears that Leibniz must surrender hisinitial answer to the question “what makes conditional futurecontingents true?” and adopt the alternative answer.
There are troubles here as well, however. What does it mean to saythat the truth of the proposition is determined independently of God'swill? Defenders of this view usually held that the human will wasentirely free from any determining cause whatsoever. In choosing onealternative over another, nothing could be regarded as “determining” or“causing” the choice, else it would not be free. Thus, for those whodefended this view, the answer to the question “what makes conditionalfuture contingents true?” must be “nothing.” For if somethingmade it true, then that thing would be determiningthe choice, and the choice could then not be free.
In light of his commitment to the Principle of Sufficient Reason,however, Leibniz could not support such a view. Does Leibniz, then,have answer to this question that will rescue him from the holinessproblem? Scholars disagree about this. Some have held that Leibniz isobliged to hold the postvolitional view in spite of the troubles itraises for him [See Davidson, Sleigh (1995)(1996)]. Others have heldthat Leibniz tried to forge a third alternative in order to avoid thisseemingly intractable dilemma [See Murray (2005); for an alternative toMurray (2005) see Cover and Hawthorne (2000)]. I will close with a lookat this latter suggestion.
According to Leibniz, free choice in humans is brought about throughthe activity of the human intellect and the human will working inconcert with one another. The intellect deliberates about alternativesand selects the one that it perceives to be the best all thingsconsidered. The intellect then represents this alternative to the willas the one that is best to pursue. The will, which for Leibniz is afaculty characterized by “appetite for the good,” then chooses thatalternative which is represented to it as containing the most good.[Theodicy , 311 (H314; G VI 300-1).]
On this picture, it appears that there are two ways in which I mightexercise “control” over my acts of will. First, I might be able tocontrol what appears to me to be the best all things considered. Thatis, I might control the process of deliberation. Second, I might beable to control the will's choosing that alternative which is presentedto it by the intellect as representing the greatest good at that time.There are places where Leibniz seems to accept each of thesepossibilities. In some passages he argues that by engaging in moraltherapy of certain sorts I can control which things appear to me good,and thus control the outcome of my deliberations. In other passages, heseems to say that while the will does “infallibly” choose that whichthe intellect deems to be best, the will retains the power to resistsince the intellect does not “cause” the will to choose as it does.[Concerning the first strategy see, for example, Reflections onHobbes , 5 (H396-7; G VI 391-1). For more on this aspect ofLeibniz's view of freedom see Seidler (1985). Concerning the secondstrategy see, for example Theodicy 282 (H298-300; G VI284-5).]
Difficulties arise in following through on either suggestion.Consider the first. How might I go about engaging in “moral therapy”?First, I would have to choose to do something to begin to bring about achange in how I see things. But of course, I can only make a choice todo this if I first deliberate about it and see that making this changeis the best thing to be done. So, did I have control over this processof “coming to see that a change is the best thing to be done”? It looksas if I have control here only if I have control over the actions thatled to my coming to see things this way in the first place. Do I havecontrol over these actions? If the answer is yes, it is only because Ihad control over my prior deliberations, and it looks as if this willlead us back in the chain of explanation to certain very earlyformative stages of my moral and intellectual life, stages over whichit is hard to believe I had any control. Thus, this route seems hard tosustain.
Let us consider the second alternative then, according to which Ihave control because the will is never “causally determined” to choosethat which the intellect deems to be best in those circumstances.Leibniz held that the will was not causally determined in the act ofchoice but merely “morally necessitated.” Scholars disagree aboutexactly how we should understand this phrase. Some think it just means“causally necessitated.” But if this is right, it appears that God, whoestablishes the laws of nature, determines how creatures act, and thisleads us back to the suggestion that Leibniz was a postvolitionalist inthese matters. As we noted above, this is a troubling position forLeibniz to adopt since it seems to undermine his response to theholiness problem. [For various positions on the nature of “moralnecessity” see Adams, pp.21-2, Sleigh (2000), Murray (1995), pp.95-102,and (1996), esp. Section IV].
Others have held that moral necessity is a philosophical novelty,invented to explain the unique relationship between intellect and will.On this view, the will infallibly follows the outcome of deliberation,without being causally necessitated by it. Leibniz sometimes hints atthis reading such as in the following example he borrows from PierreNicole:
It is considered impossible that a wise and seriousmagistrate, who has not taken leave of his senses, should publiclycommit some outrageous action, as it would be, for instance, to runabout the streets in order to make people laugh [Theodicy 282(H299; G VI 284)]Here, the wise magistrate is not causally determined to refrain fromstreaking to make people laugh. Instead, he just considers it sounseemly that “he can't bring himself to do it.” Something about hispsychological constitution prevents him from seeing this as a liveoption for him, even though there is surely some sense in which hecould do it nonetheless.
If we allow Leibniz to locate control over actions in the fact thatthe will is only morally necessitated by the intellect, is there a wayfor him to avoid the postvolitional/ prevolitional dilemma discussedearlier? It is not clear. One would have to say that the willinfallibly choosing in accordance with the deliverances of deliberationis a fact, the truth of which is independent of God's will ,while also saying that the deliverances of deliberation provide asufficient reason for the wills choice. If this can be done,Leibniz may have a way of avoiding the difficulty posed by conditionalfuture contingents.
However we might think these questions should be resolved, Leibnizhimself seemed to think that the prevolitional route is the one totake. This seems relatively clear in light of the fact that from themid-1680's onward, Leibniz consistently uses language which impliesthat God merely “discovers” how free human beings would act if created.[See, for example, Gr 227, 232, AG 32, and C 23-4]. It is notsomething that God makes so. In these later works, Leibniz speaks ofthese truths about how human beings will act as “limitations” whichprevent God from making them, and the world that contains them, moreperfect. In the end, it is these limitations, Leibniz argues, whichprevents there being a better world than the actual one [On the notionof “limitations” see AG 60-2, 11,Theodicy 20 (H86-7; G VI114-5), Causa Dei 69-71 (S 128-30; 457-8)]. If this is right,then we might think that the permission strategy will work as asolution to the holiness problem both when it comes to considering Godas creator and as concurrent cause of all effects in the cosmos.
It is interesting to note that, for reasons still not clear, Leibnizcomes to favor, in later life, the scholastic “privation” view herejected in his youth. [See, for example, Theodicy 20, 30, 153(respectively, H86-7, 91-2, 219-20; G VI 114-5, 119-20, 201]. The rolethat this revived position is supposed to play for Leibniz in his laterwritings awaits further scholarly investigation.
The issues that arise in thinking about Leibniz's views on theproblem of evil are vigorously discussed among contemporary Leibnizscholars and philosophers of religion. It is clear that his thinkingabout evil impacts, and is impacted by, some of the most centrallyimportant components of his philosophical and theological system.Because of this, scholars have found inquiry into this feature ofLeibniz's philosophy a particularly rewarding route for discoveringsome of the deeper motivations standing behind some of Leibniz's morepuzzling philosophical views. Yet because this topic represents such anactive area of current Leibniz scholarship, it is clear that anyconclusions we might draw on his views are, for now, preliminary andsubject to revision.
|[A]||Sämtliche Schriften und Briefe .Darmstadt and Berlin: Berlin Academy, 1923-. Cited by series, volume,and page.|
|[AG]||Philosophical Essays. Roger Ariew and DanielGarber (eds. and trans.), Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989.|
|[C]||Louis Couturat (ed.), Opuscules et FragmentsInédits de Leibniz. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1966.|
|[G]||Die Philosophischen Schriften von GottfriedWilhelm Leibniz. Edited by C.I. Gerhardt. Berlin: Weidman,1875-1890. Cited by volume and page.|
|[Gr]||Textes Inédits. Edited by Gaston Grua.Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1948.|
|[H]||Theodicy. Edited by Austin Farrer andtranslated by E.M. Huggard. New Haven: Yale UP, 1952.|
|[MP]||Mary Morris and G.H.R. Parkinson (eds. and trans.),Leibniz-Philosophical Writings, London: J.M. Dent and Sons,1973.|
|[R]||G.W. Leibniz, Political Writings. Patrick Riley(ed. and trans.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.|
|[S]||Paul Schrecker and Anne Martin Schrecker (eds. andtrans.), Leibniz: Monadology and Other Philosophical Essays, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965.|
- Adams, Robert, 1995, Leibniz: Determinist, Theist,Idealist . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
- Blumenfeld, David, 1994, “Perfection and Happiness in theBest Possible World.” In The Cambridge Companion to Leibniz,Nicholas Jolley (ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Brown, Gregory, 1988, “Leibniz's Theodicy and the Confluenceof Worldly Goods.” Journal of the History of Philosophy26:571-91.
- Cover, J. and Hawthorne, J., 2000, “Leibnizian ModalityAgain: A Reply to Murray”The Leibniz Review (December), pp.87-103.
- Davidson, Jack, 1996, “Untying the Knot: Leibniz's on God'sKnowledge of Future Free Contingents,” History of PhilosophyQuarterly, 13: 89-116.
- Gale, George, 1976, “On What God Chose: Perfection and God'sFreedom.” Studia Leibnitiana, 8:69-87.
- Jolley, Nicholas, 1984, Leibniz and Locke: A Study of the NewEssays in Human Understanding . Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Klopp, Onno (ed.), 1864-84, Die Werke von Leibniz.Reihe I: Historisch-politische und staatswissenschaftlicheSchriften. Hannover: Klindworth.
- MacLachlan, H.J., 1951, Socinianism in Seventeenth-centuryEngland. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Murray, Michael J., 1995, “Leibniz on Divine Knowledgeof Conditional Future Contingents and Human Freedom,” Philosophyand Phenomenological Research, 55: 75-108.
- –––, 1996, “Intellect, Will, and Freedom:Leibniz and His Precursors,” The Leibniz SocietyReview, 6: 25-60.
- –––, 2005, “Spontaneity and Freedom inLeibniz,” Nature and Freedom. Donald Rutherford and JanCover (editors), New York: Oxford University Press, 2005,pp.194-216.
- Rescher, Nicholas, 1981, Leibniz's Metaphysics ofNature . Dordrecht: D. Reidel.
- Rutherford, Donald, 1995, Leibniz and the Rational Orderof Nature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Sleigh, Robert C., 1995, “Leibniz on DivineForeknowledge.” Faith and Philosophy, 11/4: 547-571.
- –––, 1996, “Leibniz's FirstTheodicy.” Noûs (Supplement), 481-499.
- –––, 2000, “Determinism and HumanFreedom” in The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-CenturyPhilosophy: Two Volumes, Garber, Daniel ed. New York: CambridgeUniversity Press.
- Leibnitiana, maintained by Gregory Brown (University of Houston)
- Web-only Leibniz translations, maintained by Lloyd Strickland