Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz on the Problem of Evil

Leibniz’s Problem of Evil is a consequential treatise that has risen from his philosophical discussions on the problem of freedom, sin and evil. This would be our concern since the problem of evil was derived from the previous premises of the existence of God and its hold on the concepts of freedom and sin. It may essentially be referred to as a salient discourse which under certain circumspections, the problem of evil is a problem of the reality of the concept of God.  He had provided sufficient explanations on this matter. Hence the discourse could invite theistic method of response since at the first place, the problem was portrayed as the opposite of the all powerful being that we know as God. This paper would present the concepts in his works and clarify some of the philosophical questions that Leibniz has posed.

            The dilemma that this notion asserts is that if a supreme being really exists that is capable of doing everything then it could also be responsible for the occurrence of goodness and evil in this material world. The issue that this philosophical question posits would always lead a theist to the fundamental questions of the veracity of God’s wisdom and truthfulness of his supposedly imposed doctrine.  Here we would base our discussion on the concepts of freedom and sin in order to limit our discussion to the very essence of the topic.

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            Freedom, as the philosopher said, is quite problematic with regards to the concept of God. If man was chosen to live in the earth by a supreme being that has created this domain and had the eternal knowledge of what was and is to come, directs the course of history and affects the actions of all creatures found herein, then would there be freedom in its very essence? Freedom is defined as the absence of any predictable consequence, one which is not bound with limited choices. Hence the freedom to sin and not to sin also comes with this discourse.  Sin would then become an absurd concept since there has already been a doubtful perception of freedom. The question arising is this: if there really is no freedom, as provided by the predetermined chronology of human actuations, what then would qualify as sin? Would an (un)free commission of sin be considered as sin? Such debatable conceptions were presented by Leibniz in order to stir our inquisitive minds on the reasons behind the concept of God and its universal relevance to human society.

            Leibniz tried to present the evidential problem of evil to be able to know the factual existence of God and in the end use that very same concept to disprove the existence of a supreme being. He started with the assertion that if the world was created by an all knowing, all present, and powerful god, hence the world he created has not represented his godly attributes of goodness because of the presence of evil.

            The logical problem of evil was derived from the belief that a perfect God would permit evil to exist if he really was a God that is capable only of doing good then why doesn’t God do something to finally stop evil. Based on orthodox theism, this being holds the greatest power and knowledge to create and destroy anything. It was from him that the world came into reality, and with that goodness and evil. Surely any good man would not stand to see evil doings with doing anything about it. God was also portrayed as a moral being, one which does not condone injustice and suffering among men. Thus the contradiction between the supposed characteristics of God and the existence of evil is logical basis for doubting the logic of God’s existence. Hence every causal relationship in the planet was in total command of this god. Good and evil in the contrary are somewhat difficult to define and would only lead to arguments and counter arguments which would not be able to settle an acceptable end to the opposite minds.

            With those basic assertions on the traits of God the parallelism of the existence of evil comes into play. Evil is further categorized into moral evil and natural evil. Moral evil is a deed committed by man and the natural evil could be a phenomenon or an event that caused suffering to humanity. The other category is the horrendous evil which is far worse than the moral and natural evil based on the reason that it has caused much suffering on an unbearable severity. Evil, then, is connected to the issue of ethics.

            Hence the problem of evil causes difficulties in maintaining belief to an all loving and gracious god because of the presence of evil in the society. This dilemma provided by the questions of God condoning or tolerating the presence of evil leads us to pose a point of inquiry. It was argued that God tolerates evil to roam and tempt man so that God could choose who among these men are worthy of his glory, but the question is why would God test man of his goodness if in the first place God could have just created man as perfectly incapable of falling into temptation and committing evil deeds? He did create angels that are holy and reside with him in eternity. An incompatibility was therefore presented to make this assertions clarified. It states that God is a perfectly good entity that would not let evil any happen, knows how evil would be possible so it has the capability to preempt the occurrence of evil.

            That being said, Leibniz presented his solution to the problem of evil which could be found on his Theodicy. The arguments were written in a syllogistic form or in simple terminology, question and answer. Through question as objections, he raised the concerns on the concept of evil, its origin and purpose, and the consequences of its existence to man. Hence it would be an essential part of this discourse to quote pertinent sections of the text and provide explanations and adaptations of the argument at length.

            The first objection was that if one does not choose the best then it is lacking in power, in knowledge, or in goodness (Leibniz). Arguing that God could have made the world without evil but still he created one with such, therefore God did not chose the best. Leibniz answered this with a strong statement saying that:

” the best plan is not always that which seeks to avoid evil, since it may happen that the evil is accompanied by a greater good… permitting of evil tends to the good of the universe… God allowed to certain creatures the opportunity of exercising their liberty, even when he foresaw that they would turn to evil, but which he could so well rectify; because it was not fitting that, in order to hinder sin, God should always act in an extraordinary manner (Leibniz, 1998).”

The second objection which states that if there is evil in the most intelligent creations of God then there is more evil than good (Davidson, 1996, p. 116). The question pertaining essentially to human conduct, since we are the only creatures who had the capacity to know what is good and what is evil but we still commit evil. Leibniz answered this with “God is infinite, and the devil is limited; the good may and does go to infinity, while evil has its bounds.” The boundary of evil, the degree of evil in human race is far leaser than the degree of goodness. Such was what Leibniz argued in order to provide the answers to the problem of evil.

            If we would settle in a theist context and accept this explanation, then it had already given us ample answer on the question of the existence of evil. That situation has given man the opportunity to experience life. Without evil and suffering then it would not be possible for man to develop, decide and do things for his own good and use his faculty of reason. The reality of evil also gives man the chance to maximize his faculties, to see the bad things in order to appreciate what is good, to suffer and be saddened in order to value happiness. For humanity to appreciate the presence of light, darkness should be felt. This is the “unity of the opposites” (Adams, 1995,). The opposite needs to be presented in order to assess the value of the other. This discourse is more than the debate on the existence of God and the reality of evil. Though it may seem that everything on earth is predestined, we could still derive that humanity still had the choice.

            The evil in society exists also through mysterious ways. It was easy for us to blame evil on a certain person, an event, or phenomena, but we have not seen that the cause of all this evil is not evil at its purest form. One example of this evil is an economic policy. Some economic policies may cause suffering to an individual, a moral evil, such as displacing people from their homes because of tolerance of unregulated mining, causing death because of hunger due to imbalanced food production and distribution of wealth or sudden raise in prices of medicine because of market driven health services. It could also be a natural evil caused by uncontrolled logging, mining, depletion of natural resources, greenhouse gas emissions. These environmental degradations all originate from economic policies of various governments hence disasters were felt all over the world, especially with the advent of Global Warming.

            He ended his argument with a very important phrase which would greatly affect our understanding of the existence of evil and aid our preponderance of human nature. He said that “a thing is possible so long as its impossibility is not proved.” Hence, it would be pointless to debate on the validity of God’s existence since no one has proven that God really exists and on the other side, no one has also been able to prove that God does not exist – a pointless debate actually. The realization of these passages is greatly connected with the human society.  Leibniz’s contribution through his philosophical work on the problem of evil not only had its effect on the theological issues of human societies. The application of this treatise has also been well fitted to the current situations in global economic, political and environmental concerns.

References

ADAMS, R. (1995) Leibniz: Determinist, Theist, Idealist, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

BROWN, G. (1988) Leibniz’s Theodicy and the Confluence of Worldly Goods. Journal of the History of Philosophy, 26, 91.

DAVIDSON, J. (1996) Untying the Knot: Leibniz’s on God’s Knowledge of Future Free Contingents. History of Philosophy Quarterly, 13, 116.

LEIBNIZ, G. W. A Solution To The Problem of Evil.

LEIBNIZ, G. W. (1998) Leibniz on the Problem of Evil. Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy.

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Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz on the Problem of Evil. (2016, Dec 24). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/gottfried-wilhelm-leibniz-on-the-problem-of-evil/