Theodicy Summary

Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s Theodicy was published six years before his death and has the distinction of being his only book-length philosophical work published during his lifetime. Leibniz coined the term “theodicy,” which means “vindication of the justice of God.” For Leibniz, a product of the French Enlightenment, the proper way of vindicating the justice and goodness of God in the face of evil was through reason, not faith. The overarching theme of the Theodicy is that at least some religious doctrines can be rationally demonstrated and need not be taken as articles of faith.

The problem of evil involves the apparent inconsistency of the existence of a morally perfect and omnipotent God and the existence of evil. If God were morally perfect, it seems that God would want to eliminate all evil, and if God were omnipotent, then it would be within God’s power to eliminate evil. Thus it seems that evil could not exist if God does. However, since evil obviously does exist, it appears that God either does not exist or is not both morally perfect and omnipotent. Leibniz, who wanted to retain the orthodox conception of God as a morally perfect and omnipotent being, thus needed to explain why God allows evil. In the context of Leibniz’s philosophy and his fundamental theological principle that God always chooses the best, the challenge thus became one of explaining how the actual world, with all of its evil, is nevertheless the “best of all possible worlds,” to use Leibniz’s phrase.

Leibniz begins by distinguishing three types of evil: metaphysical evil (the evil involved in the existence of any finite and imperfect thing), physical evil (pain and suffering), and moral evil (sin resulting from human free will). Metaphysical evil is a problem for theism because it may seem that a perfect God would create a perfect world, and so the fact that this world is not perfect shows that such a perfect being does not exist. Leibniz’s response is that while God can do anything that is logically possible, it is not logically possible for God to create a perfect world because such a world would be indistinguishable from God. Thus, to avoid the heresy of...

(The entire section is 897 words.)