October 21, 2010

A Lame Response to the Problem of Evil

I very rarely say anything negative about Leibniz, especially when it comes to philosophy of religion and philosophical theology. This, however, is just ridiculous:

[T]he world is not only the most wonderful machine, but also in regard to minds it is the best commonwealth, by whose means there is bestowed on minds the greatest possible amount of felicity or joyfulness; and it is in this that their physical perfection consists.

But, you will say, we find in the world the very opposite of this. Often the worst sufferings fall upon the best men; the innocent (I speak not only of the brutes, but of men also) are afflicted, and are slain even with tortures; indeed the world, especially if we look at the government of the human race, seems rather a confused chaos than an affair ordained by some supreme wisdom. So it appears at first sight, I allow: but on deeper examination it must be agreed that the opposite is the case. It is evident a priori from those every principles which I have adduced that without doubt there is secured in the world the highest perfection that there could possibly be of all things, and therefore of minds. (Leibniz, "On the Ultimate Origination of Things" (Nov. 23, 1697), in Morris and Parkinson, p. 141)


One is tempted to respond with Hume (speaking in the person of Epicurus):
Allowing, therefore, the gods to be the authors of the existence or order of the universe; it follows, that they possess that precise degree of power, intelligence, and benevolence, which appears in their workmanship; but nothing farther can ever be proved, except we call in the assistance of exaggeration and flattery to supply the defects of argument and reasoning. So far as the traces of any attributes, at present, appear, so far may we conclude these attributes to exist. The supposition of farther attributes is mere hypothesis, much more the supposition, that, in distant regions of space or periods of time, there has been, or will be, a more magnificent display of these attributes, and a scheme of administration more suitable to such imaginary virtues. We can never be allowed to mount up from the universe, the effect, to Jupiter, the cause; and then descend downwards, to infer any new effect from that cause; as if the present effects alone were not entirely worthy of the glorious attributes, which we ascribe to the deity. The knowledge of the cause being derived solely from the effect, they must be exactly adjusted to each other; and the one can never refer to any thing farther, or be the foundation of new inference and conclusion. (Hume, Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, sect. 11, para. 14)

In Leibniz's defense, he is not relying primarily on teleological considerations, and so Hume's criticisms are not fully applicable. If Leibniz is right that ontological and cosmological arguments show the existence of an infinite being (infinity being construed as Leibniz construes it), then we do have warrant to suppose that things must be better than they appear. Leibniz goes on to give some 'skeptical theist' considerations meant to show that our experience is inconclusive. So in the end Leibniz's case may not be so bad. However, I could not help finding it shocking that we could have, in such close proximity, such a lovely statement of Leibnizian optimism, such a compelling presentation of the problem of evil, and such a curt dismissal of said problem.

Posted by Kenny at October 21, 2010 9:53 AM
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