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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 897

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.

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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 pantheism (the view that God and the world are one), it follows that the world created by God must be an imperfect world, one containing metaphysical evil.

Explaining why the world must contain some evil does not yet explain why this, the best of all possible worlds, should contain such a vast amount and variety of evil. It might be suggested, for example, that God could have created a world with no suffering and sin by creating a world without sentient creatures. While God could have created such a world, Leibniz insists it would not have been a better world than the actual world. His criterion for ranking possible worlds involves two factors: variety (or diversity of phenomena) and order (or simplicity and elegance of its laws of nature). The best world, then, is one that exhibits the maximum variety and diversity while at the same time being governed by the simplest laws. Leibniz argues that an orderly world governed by simple laws of nature inevitably involves the suffering of sentient creatures. If God were to miraculously intervene any time a creature was about to suffer, this would not be an orderly world describable by simple causal laws. If humans were incapable of sin because...

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