This need to put theological clothing upon philosophical nudities led Leibniz to write the book that drew the ire and wit of Voltaire, and almost lost a really profound thinker in the caricature of Professor Pangloss defending the best of all possible worlds. The only complete philosophical work published by Leibniz in his lifetime was called Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l’homme, et l’origine du mal (1710)—almost as comforting a promissory note as Descartes’ Principles of First Philosophy, in Which are Demonstrated the Existence of God and the Immortality of the Soul (1641). “Theodicy,” of course, meant the justice, or justification, of God.
This book, like the others, had an occasional origin. In an article (“Hieronymus Rorarius”) in the Dictionnaire historique et critique Bayle, while expressing great admiration for Leibniz, questioned the philosopher’s view that faith can be reconciled with reason, or man’s freedom with God’s omnipotence, or earthly evil with divine goodness and power. We had better, said Bayle, give up the idea of proving religious creeds; it merely brings the difficulties into clearer light. Leibniz replied in an essay (1698) contributed to Jacques Basnage’s journal, Histoire des ouvrages des savants. In the second edition of his Dictionary Bayle added to the article on Rorarius a substantial note again hailing Leibniz as “that great philosopher,” but pointing out further obscurities, especially in the theory of preestablished harmony. Leibniz sent (1702) his rejoinder directly to Bayle, but did not print it. In that same year he wrote again to the Rotterdam scholar, complimenting him on his “striking reflections” and “boundless researches.” 65 Few episodes in the history of philosophy are so pleasant as the mutual courtesy in this exchange of ideas. Sophia Charlotte, Queen of Prussia, expressed her desire to know Leibniz’ answers to Bayle’s doubts. He was preparing such a statement when news came to him that Bayle had died. He revised and extended his replies, and published them as the Théodicée. He was now sixty-four years old, felt the nearness of the “Great Perhaps,” and may have longed to believe in the justice of God to man. How had it come about that a world created by an omnipotent and benevolent deity had been sullied with such martial massacres, political corruption, human cruelty and suffering, earthquakes, famines, poverty, and disease?
The “preliminary dissertation on the confronting of faith with reason” described reason and the Bible as being both of them divine revelations, and therefore unlikely to contradict each other. Bayle had wondered how a good God, presumably foreseeing all “the fruit thereof,” could have allowed the temptation of Eve; Leibniz answered that to make man capable of morality God had to give him free will, and therefore freedom to sin. It is true that free will seems incompatible with both science and theology: science sees everywhere the rule of invariable law, and human freedom seems lost in God’s foreknowledge and predestination of all events. But (said Leibniz) we are obstinately and directly conscious that we are free. Though we cannot prove this freedom, we must accept it as a prerequisite to any sense of moral responsibility, and as the only alternative to viewing man as a ridiculously helpless physiological machine.
As to the existence of God, Leibniz is content with traditional Scholastic arguments. We conceive a perfect being, and since existence is a necessary element in perfection, a perfect being must exist. There must be a necessary and uncaused being behind all proximate causes and contingent events. It is inconceivable that the grandeur and order of nature should have any other source than a Supreme Intelligence. The Creator must contain in Himself, in an infinite degree, the power, knowledge, and will discoverable in His creatures. Divine design and cosmic mechanism are not contradictory: Providence uses mechanism its wonders to perform; and God can interrupt the world machine now and then to work a miracle or two. 66
Of course the soul is immortal. Death, like birth, is only a change of form in an assemblage of monads; the inherent soul and energy remain. Soul, except in God, is always attached to body, and body to soul; but there will be a resurrection of the body as well as of the soul. 67 (Leibniz is here a good Catholic.) Below man the immortality of the soul is impersonal [merely a redistribution of energy?]; only the rational soul of man will enjoy a conscious immortality.
Good and evil are human terms, defined according to our pleasure and pain; these terms cannot be applied to the universe without presuming for man an omniscience possible only to God. “Imperfection in the part may be required for a greater perfection in the whole” 68; so sin is an evil, but is a result of free will, which is a good; and even the sin of Adam and Eve was in some sense a felix culpa, a happy fault, since it resulted in the coming of Christ. 69 “There is in the universe . . . no chaos, no confusion, save in appearance.” 70 The afflictions of men “contribute to the greater good of those who suffer them.” 71 Even
holding . . . to the established doctrine that the number of men damned eternally will be incomparably greater than that of the saved, we must say that the evil could not but seem to be almost as nothing in comparison with the good, when one contemplates the true vastness of the City of God. . . . Since the proportion of that part of the universe which we know is almost lost in nothing compared with that which is unknown, . . . it may be that all evils are almost nothingness in comparison with the good things which are in the universe. 72 . . . One need not even agree that there is more evil than good in the human kind. For it is possible, and even a very reasonable thing, that the glory and perfection of the blessed may be incomparably greater than the misery and imperfection of the damned. 73
Imperfect as it may seem to our selfish sight, this world is the best that God could have created so long as He left men human and free. If a better world had been possible, we may be sure God would have created it.
It follows from the supreme perfection of God that in producing the universe He chose the best possible plan, containing the greatest variety, together with the greatest order; the best-arranged situation, place, and time; the greatest effect produced by the simplest means; the most power, the most knowledge, the most happiness and goodness in created things, of which the universe admitted. For as all possible things have a claim to existence in the understanding of God in proportion to their perfections, the result of all these claims must be the most perfect actual world which is possible. 74
We cannot recommend any further reading of Leibniz’ Theodicy today, except to those who would appreciate to the full the bitter laughter of Candide.