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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l'homme et l'origine du mal (“Essays of Theodicy on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil”) was written by Gottfried Leibniz in 1710. He would eventually shorten the title and coin the term Théodicée (“Theodicy”) from the Greek words theós (God) and díkē (justice).

In the book, Leibniz presents his argument that because God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, God could have chosen to create a different world or even none at all. But because of his infallibility, God created this existing world; it must therefore be the greatest world that could have been created.

Section 10 states,

It is true that one may imagine possible worlds without sin and without unhappiness, and one could make some like Utopian . . . romances: but these same worlds again would be very inferior to ours in goodness. I cannot show you this in detail. For can I know and can I present infinities to you and compare them together? But you must judge with me ab effectu, since God has chosen this world as it is. We know, moreover, that often an evil brings forth a good where to one would not have attained without that evil. Often indeed two evils have made one great good.

Leibniz then goes on to support his theory that evil is a necessary component of good—a “lesser good,” because it always serves some sort of a purpose for a greater good. This reasoning dovetails nicely with his Principle of Sufficient Reason, which states that “in the case of any positive truth, there is some reason for it, i.e. there is some sort of explanation, known or unknown, for everything.” Therefore, even in a perfect world, evil can exist because there are sufficient reasons to make it necessary, and the reason God created this world was because it was the best world possible.

Leibniz argues that in order for the “will” to be truly free, there need to be many choices available, including evil. Again, if free will is to be truly free, then to be generous, there must be genuine need for that generosity; if we are to forgive, then we must have been truly wronged; if we are to be courageous, there must be situations involving tragic consequences. Consequently, for there to be good characteristics we can choose, there must be evil ones available as well. So evil actually serves as a stimulant for good.

Sections 11 and 12 confirm this reasoning:

11. The apostle, they say (Rom. iii. 8), is right to disapprove of the doing of evil that good may come, but one cannot disapprove that God, through his exceeding power, derive from the permitting of sins greater goods than such as occurred before the sins. It is not that we ought to take pleasure in sin, God forbid! but that we believe the same apostle when he says (Rom. v. 20) that where sin abounded, grace did much more abound; and we remember that we have gained Jesus Christ himself by reason of sin. Thus we see that the opinion of these prelates tends to maintain that a sequence of things where sin enters in may have been and has been, in effect, better than another sequence without sin. . . .

12. And is it not most often necessary that a little evil render the good more discernible, that is to say, greater?

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