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Last Updated on July 14, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 978

Gottfried Leibniz originally penned 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”) in 1710. The title of the only book-length essay by Leibniz would eventually be shortened to Théodicée (“Theodicy”) and was written as a response to the growing skepticism among the educated class and, more specifically, Pierre Bayle’s philosophical arguments against the goodness, wisdom, and power of God. Bayle contended that because God allowed evil to exist, God himself was either the author of evil or not powerful enough to stop it, and because evil exists in the world, this is not the best world possible.

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In section 8, Leibniz states,

Now this supreme wisdom [i.e., God], united to a goodness that is no less infinite, cannot but have chosen the best. For as a lesser evil is a kind of good, even so a lesser good is a kind of evil if it stands in the way of a greater good; and there would be something to correct in the actions of God if it were possible to do better. . . . So it may be said likewise in respect of perfect wisdom, which is no less orderly than mathematics, that if there were not the best (optimum) among all possible worlds, God would not have produced any. I call “World” the whole succession and the whole agglomeration of all existent things . . . as one Universe. . . . There is an infinitude of possible worlds among which God must needs have chosen the best, since he does nothing without acting in accordance with supreme reason.

In other words, God, in his infinite wisdom, considered all the possible worlds he could have created and chose to create this one. Why? Because God, being perfect, was morally required by that perfection to create the best world possible, which is the one we inhabit. So, sin and evil exist in a state of lesser good in order to achieve the greater good. If, for instance, all the evil in the world was removed, a greater evil could come and take its place; therefore the world existing as it is is the best possible world when held to God’s standard of goodness, which differs from our own.

Regarding free will, Leibniz postulates in section 119,

Such is God’s gift of reason to those who make ill use thereof. It is always a good in itself; but the combination of this good with the evils that proceed from its abuse is not a good with regard to those who in consequence thereof become unhappy. Yet it comes to be by concomitance, because it serves a greater good in relation to the universe. And it is doubtless that which prompted God to give reason to those who have made it an instrument of their unhappiness. Or, to put it more precisely, in accordance with my system God, having found among the possible beings some rational creatures who misuse their reason, gave existence to those who are included in the best possible plan of the universe. Thus nothing prevents us from admitting that God grants goods which turn into evil by the fault of men, this often happening to men in just punishment of the misuse they had made of God’s grace.

But to say that God should not give a good which he knows an evil will abuse, when the general plan of things demands that he give it; or again to say that he should give certain means for preventing it, contrary to this same general order: that is to wish (as I have observed already) that God himself become blameworthy in order to prevent man from being so. . . . Thus one can esteem fittingly the good things done by God only when one considers their whole extent by relating them to the entire universe. . . . Must God spoil his system; must there be less beauty, perfection and reason in the universe, because there are people who misuse reason?

By Leibniz’s reasoning, then, we must conclude that by giving us a free will, God did a very good thing and is therefore not responsible for those who misuse his gift of free will for evil purposes.

Leibniz goes on to talk about our inability to see the big picture of God’s whole creation in sections 146 and 147:

Every time we see such a work of God, we find it so perfect that we must wonder at the contrivance and the beauty thereof: but when we do not see an entire work, when we only look upon scraps and fragments, it is no wonder if the good order is not evident there. But the human kind, so far as it is known to us, is only a fragment, only a small portion of the City of God or of the republic of Spirits, which has an extent too great for us, and whereof we know too little, to be able to observe the wonderful order therein.

Thus the apparent deformities of our little worlds combine to become beauties in the great world, and have nothing in them which is opposed to the oneness of an infinitely perfect universal principle: on the contrary, they increase our wonder at the wisdom of him who makes evil serve the greater good.

In other words, we only see a very limited part of God’s total creation, while God sees it in its entirety. So, even though we see sin and evil in our world, God sees sin and evil as events leading toward a greater good and perfection. In Theodicy, Leibniz compares the world to a painting and states that while not every square inch of the painting is beautiful, every inch adds to the beauty of the complete painting.

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