Sunday, April 11, 2010

Love it at Leibniz

""""This year marks the 300th anniversary of Gottfried Leibniz's "Theodicy," which remains one of the grandest attempts to prove the goodness and justice of a God who created an evil-soaked cosmos like ours. Most affecting was his claim that our world is, in fact, the best world that God could have made (so don't complain!), which sounds either crudely optimistic or despairingly pessimistic.

Half a century later, however, the Lisbon earthquake seemed to many to constitute clear proof that Leibniz was dead wrong. "Candide," Voltaire's lampooning reply to Leibnizianism, seemed especially compelling after the quake: "Candide, stunned, stupefied, despairing, bleeding, trembling, said to himself—If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others like?" A century later, Schopenhauer suggested that provoking Voltaire's derision was Leibniz's greatest contribution to European culture, adding: "In this way, of course, Leibniz's oft-repeated and lame excuse for the evil of the world, namely that the bad sometimes produces the good, obtained proof that for him was unexpected."

As international scholars gather to debate the significance and impact of Leibniz's theodicy during this anniversary year, I hope none will agree with Schopenhauer's glum assessment of Leibniz's relevance. For Leibniz also broke with earlier Christian tradition and claimed that natural evils like earthquakes are not intended to be punishments. Nonetheless, Leibniz insists, God had a justified and discernible reason for creating a universe with life-sustaining, but tectonically unstable planets. Leibniz argues that a world with simple, regular natural laws that yielded a rich diversity of effects—including rational creatures—was better than alternative worlds with different laws and creatures, even if the alternatives were free from natural disasters.""""

Some there are who may be tempted to agree with "Schopenhauer's glum assessment of Leibniz's relevance". ....

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