By the time of his stay in Paris (1672-1676) Leibniz had already developed the main characteristics of his moral philosophy. His ethics is thus of early origin. Ethics has a very central, not to say central, part in Leibniz's thought. Values are to him a central way of reflecting universal harmony besides theoretical knowledge. Leibniz's moral philosophy stayed relatively unchanged through his life while his other doctrines changed considerably by time.
Leibniz sought to systematize moral philosophy, to analyze it to the most simple principles. Grotius, Hobbes and Spinoza proclaimed that ethics should employ the geometric method where the scientific knowledge is based on axioms. Hobbes used both Galileian method of analysis and synthesis and the axiomatic system in his works. Leibniz, in much the same way as in other sciences, analyzed concepts. For example :
the permissible = everything possible to a good man
the obligatory = everything necessary to a good man
the good man = he who loves everybody
According to Ernst Cassirer, Leibniz's ethics is a pure science of reason, independent from anthropology or theology. This view is shared by Nicholas Rescher : "Leibniz's ethics is of a strictly proto-utilitarian character, and is, despite its apparently theocentric origins, wholly secular in orientation." Leibniz himself could not, of course, admit that God has no place in his moral philosophy.
Leibniz can also be regarded as a precursor to Kant since he tried to find a common ground for moral instead of reducing it to private spheres as many empiricists did. Kant’s ethics is very different, however, in many respects than Leibniz’s; for example : Kant leans on to voluntarism while Leibniz is strictly critical of voluntarism.
Leibniz thought that will (an inner desire or desire to do something) is central in human action. In Leibniz's doctrine will means active striving to some goal (endeavor or conatus), which follows the subject's conceptions (opinio) of good and evil. This goal is the apparent good to the subject in question. And the apparent good is dependent on knowledge. As we know more, our judgment will refine and we can recognize greater goods.
"To will is nothing but the striving arising from thought, or to strive for something which our thinking recognizes as good."
Conatus (which differs significantly from the concept of the same name in Hobbes and in Spinoza) equals appetition : in other words it is a mental desire (will) that drives a subject towards the goal that he or she finds good. A right decision leads always to right results.
Goodness is the goal of decisions. Good is that which leads to pleasure. Good things are divided into two classes :
a) the ones, which produce pleasure by themselves
b) the ones by which one can get pleasure
According to Leibniz, we get pleasure out of realizing that we do virtuous deeds and at the same time promote universal perfection. That which serves to the perfection of intelligent substances will also contribute to their pleasure. In other words, the deeds that promote more perfection in the world will also produce greater pleasure. Things, which produce good in themselves, will satisfy only the temporary needs while the deeds which will, in time, result to bigger amounts of perfection, will produce more lasting pleasures. In Leibniz's moral theory psychological egoism is reconciled with the possibility of altruism.
"Goodness is simply the inclination to do good to everyone, and to arrest evil, at least when it is not necessary for a greater good or to arrest a greater evil."
It is also vital to have knowledge of the good and evil. Therefore we should get as much right knowledge as we can in order to recognize good as we see it. When we are enlightened enough, we are able to see what action brings about the most perfection. For this need Leibniz was interested in logic and reasoning. He dreamed of an universal language, which would greatly facilitate our reasoning and help us to make right decisions.
In addition to previous divisions, Leibniz distinguishes in his letter to Bayle three kinds of goodness :
1) metaphysical goodness is a general process of perfection
2) physical goodness - pure pleasure as such - no relation to the general process of perfection
3) moral goodness is virtuous action which includes pleasure (and physical goodness)
"...The end of everything is to practice virtue for the common good, or (which is the same thing) for the glory of God."
In here we find again that Leibniz’s analysis of value is strictly connected to the process of perfection. There is also metaphysical goodness in lifeless creatures. The physical goodness concerns mostly intellectual beings and moral goodness concerns the good and bad actions of these beings. So, virtuous action consists of promoting the metaphysical goodness, which produces physical goodness.
The best possible world is the most harmonious one, the one that satisfies the variety/simplicity-criterion, the one with the most reality or essence and the one which includes most beauty and happiness. And on practical level, social order, government and law, morality and the vision of God are all perspectives of the universal harmony and worth promoting. We see here that Leibniz's practical program, to which we shall continue shortly is based essentially on the metaphysical harmony, which requires right action and right decisions.
According to John Hostler, there are five central propositions in Leibniz's theory of the good :
1) Good is that which produces pleasure
2) Pleasure is produced when we perceive that the amount of perfection
3) Volition is desire, which is controlled by judgment
4) Judgment applies only to perceivable good
5) Desire is always for the best of the self
The points 4) and 5) are extremely important in order to understand Leibniz's ethics properly. Our judgment applies only to the apparent good - in another words : we can judge only things that are within our reach. If we understand the right philosophy, Leibniz's philosophy, we act for the perfection of the world. This way we get pleasure and act for the best of the self, as point 5) states. In other words, we should get right knowledge about God and the metaphysical process of perfection in order to recognize the best way to promote universal perfection, which will bring pleasure to ourselves.
Our decisions are influenced by taste. We might choose a bad thing like smoking because our taste may favor it or our social environment may favor it. Matters of taste are often formed by experiences. Leibniz holds as important the minute perceptions, which are unconscious but which still influence our mind and decisions in a major way. For example : as we toss a coin we know without thinking which side is heads and which side is tails, because we have learned it before. These minute perceptions might influence our decisions and blur the judgments based on knowledge. If our ideas are clear and distinct enough, however, the minute perceptions will affect less on our judgment.
In a moral life charity (the maintenance of other's well-being) is an end in itself. Why does Leibniz hold this altruistic principle? Because it leads to the increasing amount of perfection. The perfection is, as we saw, a source of pleasure to all rational souls. To help others brings us pleasure. We have reached one of Leibniz's favorite moral concepts : love. Love is pleasure of other's happiness - it is one's own happiness and the other's happiness combined together. When one does good to someone else, he or she senses the increase of perfection in the world and gets pleasure of the other persons happiness - this pleasure is love and consequently, he or she loves the other person.
In addition to this, the good deeds are an advantage in the life after death. Love is action, not only a feeling. When the concept of love is combined to the concept of wisdom, a concept of justice emerges.
Leibniz defines justice as the habit of loving as long as it is in accordance with wisdom. Put otherwise : Caritas sapientas, charity or love practiced by a wise man. In another context Leibniz defines justice as constant will to act, so far as possible, in such a way that no one can complain of us, if we would not complain of others in a similar case.
Rescher says that the close connection between moral and justice mirrors not only Leibniz's legal education but also his love of mathematical order. This is undoubtedly true, but I find an important motive also in the state of Germany in Leibniz's time. Although Leibniz was no democrat, he seems to have been interested in "enlightened" jurisprudence. Cassirer sees Leibniz's conception of justice as an early form of Kantian categorical imperative , but I find this argument ungrounded, since Leibniz's end in all action was the perfection of the world and the increase of God's glory whereas Kant's ends are much more voluntarist, based on self-governance of men. To Leibniz the maintenance of other people's well-being is just a medium for the perfection, not an end in itself.
Leibniz makes a division between natural law and universal justice. The universal justice includes charity towards all living things and is used by God. Leibniz speaks about God's justice rather than Divine compassion. The Universal Justice happens for the best of all and is consequently tightly connected to the principle of perfection and the dilemma of theodicy. In fact, Gaston Grua and Patrick Riley argue - reasonably, I think - that Leibniz's whole moral philosophy and metaphysics can be seen as philosophy of justice, since everything is based ultimately on God's jurisprudence.
The natural law applies to moral conduct of rational beings. The difference between them is only a difference of degree : the same jurisprudence applies in principle both to man and God. In this respect Leibniz view's are in contrast with the Cartesians whose voluntarist views stated that moral truths depend on God. This view gave, so to speak, weapons to the hands of libertines who could claim that God governs men randomly and arbitrarily. In his views of natural law Leibniz's closest influence was Hugo Grotius, who was very careful to argue that God’s actions are not arbitrary.
Leibniz constructed a legal system, the basic characteristics of which he took from Justinianus' institutions. Leibniz seems to think that the standard of God's actions is the Roman law. Since good deeds are not always useful to ourselves, Leibniz has to rely on two metaphysical principles : the immortality of the soul and the existence of God.
"...The existence of God, however, ensures that every good act will be beneficial, and every bad one harmful, to the agent. So that not even a man who endures torture and death for the public good can be regarded as an idiot."
In order to eliminate the "happy sinner" Leibniz postulates : God as the King of the Kingdom of Grace maintains harmony. If this harmony is broken, a punishment must be ordered to receive compensation. Divine vengeance is a threat which should alone prevent men to do evil. In addition to this, Leibniz conceived laws which would encourage men to act for the best of others. This leads to the conclusion that the ones who do not have enough knowledge and understanding of the world and God, will more easily commit crimes and bad deeds because of the lack of knowledge. Leibniz seems to need a kind of threat, a sermon, which would be preached to the simple people (as Hobbes would have the Christian golden rule preached in churches). And here its is.
Leibniz’s doctrine of Divine punishment does not seem very convincing. It is evident that although Leibniz promoted common schools and public education, there would be just an elite which can follow his moral philosophy. As we shall see later, Leibniz was not a democrat - it may just be that Leibniz had the rulers, theologians and councilors in mind here. His City of God would be a lot similar like Plato’s Republic - apart from the pedagogical aspects.
The third precept of the presentation "Live righteously" has a much more theological content than the original Justinianus' version - it speaks of honesty. Leibniz uses the term pietas in the same meaning. Honesty, righteous conduct refers in Leibniz to the concept of virtue and virtuous life, which he defined as a habit or disposition of acting easily in the manner prescribed by reason.
We can see from this definition that the principle of perfection is
at work here (in New Essays Leibniz defines pleasure as a sense of perfection
and pain as a sense of imperfection ) in addition to the principle of reward
and punishment after death presented in the preceding page. From this fragment
and the one in New Essays we can conclude that happiness is, as perfection,
a process. Leibniz wrote in The Principles of Nature and Grace, Based on
”Thus our happiness will never consist, and must never consist, in complete joy, in which nothing is left to desire, and which would dull our mind, but must consist in a perpetual progress to new pleasures and new perfections.”
It seems unlikely that the desire for happiness would prevent men to act wrongly. This question was debated actively within the tradition of natural law thinking. Grotius thought that a desire for society, appetitus societatis, would make men prefer the good of the society instead their own short-term interests. Hobbes, on the other hand, thought that all society is either for gain, or for glory; that is, not so much for love of our fellows, as for the love of ourselves.
Leibniz thought that these two opinions were easily reconciled. He used the golden rule as a standpoint and broadened it to include charity to fellow men also. Leibniz tried to show that there is reason for complaint not only when one is harmed by another, but also when one is not helped to obtain a great good by another who could do so without significant loss to himself. This would mean that charity or to be exact, the promotion of perfection becomes a duty.
Wisdom, justice and love form the main basic structure of Leibniz's ethics, which is clearly visible in Leibniz's following scheme :
"Who has wisdom, loves everybody. Who has wisdom, looks for the useful of all. Who has wisdom, gains a lot. Who has wisdom is a friend of God. God's friend has happiness. In the same way the most wisest is happy...Who has wisdom, is righteous. Who is righteous, has happiness."
As an anti-voluntarist and against Hobbes and Pufendorf, Leibniz included God into his discussion of actions. God practices universal justice and no deed is left without a reward or punishment, as we saw before. Still, Leibniz likes to present his moral philosophy in the positive way (as in the scheme above). Pleasure or the sense of perfection is the motive by which a wise man acts.
But even the sense of perfection or the knowledge of Divine punishment is not enough in all cases. This brings us to the old problem of Akrasia. Akrasia (or weakness of the will) is an Aristotelian term which refers to one of the moral states to be avoided. An acratic person knows the best possible alternative, but chooses a worse alternative. The subject acts intentionally, counter to his own best judgment.
Aristotle divides Akrasia into two types : 1) a case where there is something wrong with the premises of a practical syllogism , which, in turn, prohibits the conclusion from being properly reached (“weak Akrasia”) 2) the conclusion is reached properly - Akrasia is a temporary and conscious ignorance of that conclusion (“impetuous Akrasia”, “clear-eyed Akrasia”). Acratic behavior is common amongst men. The problem of Akrasia poses a problem for Leibniz - an akratic person understands in principle the requirements of virtuous life but chooses otherwise.
The problem of Akrasia was reformulated by the medieval philosophers. In the medieval model the person’s will is a self-determining (or autonomous) unit in the sense that it chooses, or consents to, or prefers the action which is suggested by reason.
The theory of will as an autonomous unit originated from Augustine, but it was formulated in different ways by his successors. The “Aristotelians” (who saw knowledge as a main factor in rational decision-making) Albert the Great (1200-80) and Walter Burley (1275-1346) were followed by the “Augustinians” Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) and John Buridan (1300-58) , among others, who adopted Albert the Great’s theory of probable moral judgments, but replaced the Aristotelian desirous reason by free will.
The voluntarist theory of Duns Scotus stated that the will does not necessarily have to follow the order of preferences set by the reason. The alternative chosen by the reason may change to another chosen by the will at the moment of decision because the valuation of the situation or state of things have changed. The will is directed to another object and the reason becomes aware of this. Scotus' theory and the modal thinking of William Ockham gave new objectives to moral thinking. Morality was seen either as a system of duties or as a jungle of individual ends (ethical egoism).
Leibniz's discussion of the problem of Akrasia can be found in New Essays,
where he opposes Locke. Locke finds that virtuous objectives are not enough
to motivate man to act according to them. He takes as an example a drunkard
who cannot stop drinking although his health is in ruins.
"Let a man be ever so well persuaded of the advantage of virtue, that it is necessary to a man who has any great aims in this world, or hopes in the next, as food to life : yet, till he hungers after righteousness, till he feels an uneasiness in the want of it, his will will not be determined to any action in pursuit of this confessed greater good; but any other uneasiness he feels in himself shall take the place, and carry his will to other actions."
The state of uncertainty is a painful state for Locke. Taking action reduces pain and is usually directed to short-term objectives. For example, a drunkard may drink wine to his hangover although he is aware of the fact that by not drinking any more wine his hangover will not return the following day. A person is bound to choose the worse alternative instead of the better one which will be profitable in the remote future. Akrasia seems to be the normal state of man and prudent action an exeption. Locke denies the common view that will is in principle directed towards the good and seems to support individual ethical egoism where only harsh control by some authoritative would prevent the drunkard from drinking.
Locke notes that that it is unlikely that we will ever be totally free
of some kind of uneasiness - in other words, we will almost never reach
happiness. As a partial solution to the problem Locke adopts a method
developed by John Buridan, where the agent postpones his volition to judge
the matter carefully. If it seems that the conclusion in question does
not seem to lead to right action, the agent may choose to refuse
to accept the conclusion and ponder the matter until he or she finds some
other conclusion or finds further evidence in favor of the
conclusion reached. According to Locke, experience shows us that
we can win our uneasiness in most cases.
Leibniz argues in New Essays that uneasiness is not always a bad thing and that the removal of that uneasiness does not always produce satisfaction or pleasure. Leibniz’s argument is based on his theory of minute perceptions, i.e. unconscious perceptions which we are not aware of, but which nevertheless affect our judgment and behavior. “What usually drives us are those minute insensible perceptions which could be called sufferings that we cannot become aware of, if the notion of suffering did not involve awareness.” The minute perceptions blur our judgments and make us believe that a wrong course of action is right in a given situation.
In his critique of Locke’s theory of uneasiness Leibniz at first says that “I would not want...to encourage people to believe they should give up the old axioms that the will pursues the greatest good, and flees the greatest evil, of which it is sensible.” The will is always directed to the good. The good is not present as the object of the will, but as symbols. Leibniz calls this kind of thoughts related to symbols “blind thoughts” (cogitationes caecae). Blind thinking is clear thinking, which operates on symbols, names or images, whereas “normal” thinking is always confused by minute perceptions. The clearer we can think, the less power the minute perceptions have over our judgment.
According to Leibniz, if we prefer worse it is because we have a sense of the good it contains, but not of the evil it contains or the good which exists on the opposite side (ref. the minute perceptions). The main emphasis is on knowledge rather than on feelings or affections as in Locke - in this respect Leibniz is very Aristotelian. Leibniz maintains that the struggle between flesh and spirit is nothing but the conflict between two different kinds of endeavors - those that come from confused thoughts and those that come from distinct ones.
The idea of blind thought, or unfinished analysis, is essential here, since “Confused thoughts often make themselves vividly sensed, whereas distinct ones are usually only potentially vivid : they could be actually so, if we would only apply ourselves to getting through to the senses of the words or symbols; but since we do not do that, through lack of care or lack of time, what we oppose lively sentiments with are bare words or at best images which are too faint.”
We should learn to distinguish the two kinds of thoughts from each other. This is possible by enlightenment. The first step would be education. Man should make himself laws and rules for the future and carry them out strictly and avoid situations which are capable of corrupting him. As useful activities Leibniz recommends farming, gardening, collecting curiosities, making experiments and inquiries, conversation or reading. Idleness is to be avoided.
Both philosophers agree about the methods. Thus, : “...wait till you have the findings of reason and from then on follow them, even if they are ordinarily retained only as “blind thoughts” devoid of sensible charms. We need this rule so as finally to gain control both of our passions and of our insensible inclinations, or disquiets, by acquiring that custom of acting in conformity with reason which makes virtue a pleasure and second nature to us.”
Unlike Locke, Leibniz considers happiness a process and not a state. Desire is an inevitable companion in this process, but he regards desire a stimulus and talks about it as “healthy man’s appetite”. He also talks about a series of “little triumphs” : “...nature’s accumulation of continual little triumphs, in which it puts itself more and more at ease - drawing closer to the good and enjoying the image of it, or reducing the feeling of suffering - is itself a considerable pleasure, often better than the actual enjoyment of the good.” The greatest pleasure is not possible. The good can increase eternally - and happiness is a lasting pleasure, which cannot occur without a continual progress to new pleasures. The appetite leads to new pleasures, which is the sense of perfection in the world, but reason and will lead to happiness.
Leibniz tries to present the idea of deliberate wrong-doing as a much less serious problem than Locke. Leibniz does not, however, try to deny the problem of Akrasia. The acrates must be cured by reducing the power of those unconscious minute perceptions, which as such are a much less severe than Locke’s concept of uneasiness, i. e. violent state of pain, which drives man to foolish actions.
By developing clearer and more distinct ideas the minute perceptions have less power over our decisions. This can be achieved by self-perfection, by increasing one’s knowledge of the world and its creator and by learning to distinguish the true goals from the mere temporary ones. We will never reach the absolutely best conclusion, as this is possible only to God, but the problem of Akrasia is less serious to the ones with adequate knowledge and clear understanding.
One should weight the bad appetites with the good and reach a conclusion, which seems always to be a compromise of the competing options. Leibniz’s model seems to be similar to the ones he used in discussing forces in philosophy of nature. The different appetites are regarded as forces, which incline to different goals.This view is related to medieval discussions of moral probabilism (moral philosophy as probabilistic reasoning), but is not based on any authority (as in the medieval philosophy the standard of the reasoning was the doctrines of the Church). On the contrary, Leibniz’s model is based on the (finite) understanding of the agent himself. Leibniz's model of human action is different from Locke’s, who thought it mainly along the Aristotelian vein, where action is caused by deliberation if there is no hindrance of it. According to Leibniz, an agent's action is not related to a practical syllogism, but the resultant of a number of vector-like forces pulling the agent in different directions. The agent judges the different options and gives them different values, which are set at different positions in the “map” of the situation in question. An illustration of the model is presented in 5.3., where Leibniz’s view of the reunion of the churches is discussed.
In a fragment “Ad Stateram juris de gradibus probationum et probabilitatum Godefridi Veranii Lublinensis” Leibniz discusses (adapting a pseudonym Gottfried the Truthdul of Lublin) of methods of jurisprudence and maintains that “just as the mathematicians have excelled in the practice of logic, i. e. the art of reason, in necessary matters, so too the jurists have practiced it better than anybody else in contingent (matters).” Leibniz’s theory of rational decision-making seems to have been strongly influenced by practical jurisprudence.
The freedom of the will is also a central question in Leibniz’s discussion of Akrasia. His famous phrase “incline without necessitating” is applicable in akratic situations : the akrates can choose a worse alternative, but the good (present as blind thoughts) persuades him or her to choose the best alternative (which promotes the universal perfection as much as possible), if he is educated enough. The more adequate knowledge the agent has, the more freedom (real alternatives to choose) his will has.
The possibility of free will is much more difficult when Leibniz discusses
of God’s choice of the best of the possible worlds. Leibniz could not allow
God to act as an akrates, but he had to secure God His free choice.
That is why he had to attribute moral necessity to God, which differs from
metaphysical necessity and inclines without necessitating. According to
Jaakko Hintikka, a lot of Leibniz's opponents based on the conception of
Akrasia when criticizing Leibniz's notion of the best of the possible worlds.
God cannot act as an akrates (choose against His better judgment) and hence
is necessitated to choose the best of the possible worlds. Leibniz denied
this argument. His God is persuaded by the good and this is Leibniz's last
word on the matter. On the other hand, Leibniz could not allow God the
possibility of akratic behavior, either.
The City of God
The monads are divided into two classes as shown before. The Kingdom of Nature includes all non-rational monads whereas the Kingdom of Grace includes all rational souls. This division is of early origin and it appears both in Augustine and Malebranche.
"This society, or universal Republic of Spirits under their sovereign Monarch, is the most noble part of the universe. It is composed of lesser Gods beneath the Great God, for one can say that the created spirits differ From God only in degree, as finite from infinite. It is certainly true, besides, that the universe as a whole has been created simply to add to the glory and happiness of this divine city."
God practices universal right for the best of all. The goal of Universal well-being is manifested in the Kingdom of Grace, where the administrative is God and subjects are the souls.
The ultimate rule in God’s justice is not the desire of God but his wisdom. In Leibniz's system God is both immanent (working under the principles of justice) and transcendent (the principles are dependent of Him). What makes these principles logically necessary? They are rooted in the being which has the moral attributes of love and wisdom. That is why God has to act under them - His nature makes Him to obey these principles. In other words : we are talking about the moral necessity of God.
God is persuaded to act for the best by good and his intellect (moral necessity), although the moral necessity in Him does not incline him to act for the best. God’s will is the key point here. If God does not will to act for the best, he does not have to. He can choose otherwise. But He acts for the best because His intellect is persuaded by the good and He thus finds a sufficient reason to act for the best. The end of justice, the promotion of common good, does not apply only to the social well-being of men, but also to the perfection of the universe and the promotion of God's glory.
As we saw before, moral necessity leads God to choose the best of available possible worlds. The creation of this world must not be logically necessary but should be grounded on some argument or the creation would be arbitrary. In the world He has chosen, in this world there is a maximum amount of phenomena which are governed by the simplest and smallest amount of laws. In this world there is unity in plurality. These qualities form the sufficient reason, which is behind God's decision to choose just this world to create. The view of the best possible world, presented above, is the traditional view among commentators, but there has recently been a lot of different views on the matter, as discussed before.
The maximum amount of phenomena combined with the smallest amount of
simple laws give also rise to harmony. Leibniz's idea of harmony has strong
aesthetical attributes. The world-order has aesthetical values in itself.
Harmony is also a different thing than the pre-established harmony. Harmony
is a premise to argument, which says that the world is good.
According to Leibniz, the creation of the world guarantees a maximum amount
of happiness to all. This follows from the reflection of the best possible
world by the rational souls, which produces pleasure. Leibniz says that
the perfections of God can best be meditated through the necessary truths
and the harmony of the world. When a maximum amount of perfection
is realized, the maximum amount of pleasure is gained. Perfection is a
criterion of essence : the one which has more essence is also more perfect
than the other one which has it less.
"Infinite goodness having guided the creator in the production of the world, all the characteristics of knowledge, skill, power, and greatness that are displayed in his work are destined for the happiness of intelligent creatures. He wished to show forth his perfections only to the end that creatures of this kind should find their felicity in the knowledge, the admiration and the love of the supreme being."
Another argument for the goodness of the world is based on moral virtue and the kingdom of Grace. When you realize goodness in your life, you receive joy and happiness. Happiness has also other, metaphysical dimensions in Leibniz's philosophy. God as a monarch of the Kingdom of Grace is set to secure the happiness of all rational souls.
The essence of harmony is the criterion of happiness of all spirits,
which can act intellectually. Since happiness consists of spirit's awareness
of harmony a world containing most harmony is the most potential world
for them provided that this world contains enough spirits who love God
and are deserving of happiness. Consequently, the most harmonious
world contains the greatest amount of happiness. Leibniz evidently subscribes
to an Augustinian doctrine, which says that the subjects of the City of
God are in a way egoistic - they serve God for their own satisfaction since
God does not really need them (He is self-sufficient).
In Essais de Théodicée (1710), which was written to an answer to Bayle's article of Leibniz (Rorarius) in Dictionnaire historique et critique (1697), Leibniz discusses two problems which appear already in the writings of Church fathers Augustine and Origenes. The other was the problem of Akrasia or weakness of the will already discussed and the other problem concerned of how it is possible that there is sin and evil in the world, when God is good by nature. Why are not men created perfect? Why is there imperfect things and states in the best of all possible worlds?
Leibniz approaches the problem by showing that it was impossible for
God to create a totally perfect world. The creation is a realization of
a thing in God's understanding and the evil lies in just this condition.
The idea of a possible world is comprised of a set of logically coherent
entities whose inner properties are not defined by God Himself but by their
logical compossibility. This leads to the evident fact that this world
contains some inner imperfections which will necessary realize in creation.
"Every relation, every proportion, every analogy, every proportionality stems from the nature of God, not his will, or what is the same thing, from the idea of things."
The solution resembles a lot the solutions of Plotinus and Augustine. Plotinus thought that since God's emanation is perfect, evil cannot exist independently in the world. In another words it is an illusion. Christianity could not accept this theory and as an alternative theory there emerged the theory which stated that God's perfectness requires an imperfect world which inhabitants can marvel God's perfect world and gain consolations from it. The influence of Hugo Grotius, Malebranche and the opposition of Cartesian voluntarism are also visible in Leibniz's doctrine, where God is comprehensible and subject to the laws of nature.
The inhabitants of the Kingdom of Grace just have to get used to this
perfection. Evil is not an illusion, it is unavoidable - all other possibilities
are even worse. Leibniz regards evil systematically as a necessary condition
to a greater good. One has only to understand this fact in order
to became happy and content. Leibniz says :
"I do not believe that that which is best and most regular is always convenient at the same time for all creatures."
"...Those who are not satisfied with what He does seem to me
like discontented subjects whose intentions are not very different
from those of rebels."
Punishment has a moral element. It is not just human officials or fellowmen who demand satisfaction and compensation - its is the harmony of things that demands it.
"They imagine despotism in God, and demand that man be convinced, without reason, of the absolute certainty of his election, a course that is liable to have dangerous consequences. But all those who acknowledge that God produces the best plan, having chosen it from among all possible ideas of the universe; that he there finds man inclined by the original imperfection of creatures to misuse his free will and to plunge into misery; that God prevents the sin and the misery in so far as the perfection of the universe, which is an emanation from his, may permit it: those, I say, show forth more clearly that God's intention is the one most right and holy in the world; that the creature alone is guilty, that his original limitation or imperfection is the source of his wickedness, that his evil will is the sole cause of his misery; that one cannot be destined to salvation without also being destined to the holiness of the children of God..."
Even though the evil is necessary in Leibniz's theodicy, it has no ontological status in Leibniz's system. It is only the lack of goodness. Leibniz divides evil into three classes : 1) metaphysical evil (imperfection) 2) physical evil (suffering) 3) moral evil (sin). The physical and moral evils can be reduced to the metaphysical evil.
Leibniz's metaphysical optimism is based on the belief of God's goodness. God acts for the best of men in the limits of logic. God chooses the best world although He did not have to. As we have seen, the best of all possible worlds is not necessarily an absolute perfect world. I feel that the view expressed by Jaakko Hintikka, "Leibniz's thesis of our world's being the best of all is therefore not an optimistic one at all in its true implications, but one of the darkest views anyone has ever taken of the prospects of the human race" is accurate.
Leibniz dissociated himself from two radical solutions which had been given earlier. Averroists wanted to make God responsible for all man's actions and socianists denied God's ability to foresee things. Leibniz tried to find a middle way between these two views and received in his solution a lot of influences from two scholastics, a Portuguese Jesuit Luis de Molina (1535-1600) and another scholastic, Francisco Suárez.
The Progress towards Perfection
How can the evil of the world be relieved? The pious person demonstrates his knowledge and love of God by executing to his fullest ability what he understands to be God's plan for the best of all possible worlds : a plan in which the greatest possible perfection is achieved through the progressive enlightenment of minds, and their continued growth in knowledge, happiness, and virtue. His motto is theoria cum praxi - theory with practice. God has no use for the comfort-chair philosophers, theoretical works and academic speculations. We must proceed to happiness, which is, as we saw, progress to perfection.
A few questions arise. How can a man with his limited ability of perception
know God's plans? How is he able to decide what to do in a given situation?
Although we have partly answered this question (A subject does what seems
best to him), the problem persists. We can only act towards perfection
as we understand it. How can a finite being approach perfection, then?
That is simple : God is a perfect being and therefore knowledge of God
produces happiness. We must therefore increase our knowledge of the world
and through study of nature we can gain knowledge about God and His creation.
Gradually we learn to distinguish the ways by which the greatest amount
of perfection can be achieved. The wiser the man, the happier he is, since
the more perfection one promotes, the more pleasure of it he gets.
"For happiness is to persons what perfection is to beings. And if the highest principle ruling the existence of the physical world is the degree which gives it greatest perfection possible, the highest purpose in the moral world, or the city of God which is the noblest part of the universe, should be to spread in it the greatest possible happiness."
We saw before that perfection is defined as unity within variety. But is perfection a state of things or a process which never ends? Clearly the latter answer seems more correct by the light what we have already said. Leibniz seems to think that the process is in itself perfect but the goal of this progress is not in sight :
"Though the state of the world could never be absolutely perfect at any particular instant whatever...nevertheless the whole actual sequence would always be the most perfect of all possible sequences".
This is an instance, of course, of the complete individual notion. The sequence is binded by other developments so that the whole is compossible, in other words : the whole of the process is the most harmonious, or perfect of all possible processes (worlds). This means that perfection is at the same time a state and a process.
This is probably the best answer to the difficult question posed by Reinhardt Koselleck - if we take it for granted that Leibniz thought that the best of the possible worlds is the best only if it never stops developing, could we say that Leibniz had a modern conception of time which can be regarded as pioneering the views of Enlightenment? Leibniz's view of the process of perfection is not dynamic in this sense - it is a never-ending story, which has been written a long, long time ago. In other words the development to perfection is the increase of essence of the world regulated by the simple laws of pre-established harmony - and this is hardly the modern linear concept of time. We have also seen that Leibniz thought time to be just a convenient way of thinking dynamically - in fact time does not exist in reality, it is only a well-grounded phenoma.
The happiness which follows from the process of perfection is constant because the perception of such perfection is infinite. The perception produces same kind of aesthetic satisfaction as watching a work of art or hearing music. Leibniz's view resembles the views of Plato and Aristotle who thought that when reason is actualized, man begins to see a standing order in the external world. Leibniz compares the Kingdom of Grace to a monarchy, whose prince contains the best characteristics of Queens Elizabeth, Anne and Sophie Charlotte of Prussia.
Catherine Wilson even sees in Leibniz a fourth good, aesthetic good
which means the order and regularity of the world. This fourth good cannot
be reduced to metaphysical good ; the fourth good is at its maximum in
a perfect world. This same line is carried on by George Gale who goes even
so far as to say that only mathematicians can think of this world as perfect.
But this is a little far-fetched. As we saw before, the beauty and happiness
are brought about by the knowledge and meditation of God's essence and
One cannot love God without loving one's fellowman. The practice of justice and religiousness leads to moral virtue. Although moral virtue is its own reward, a religious unification would help the progress towards perfection. Leibniz wrote that Christian virtues consist not only in talking and in thinking, but in thinking practically, that is, in acting. And to this we shall turn next.
It all comes down to perfection. Perfection is the key concept in Leibniz's Kingdom of Grace, in the form of clearer perceptions of monads in the Kingdom of Nature, and, as we will shortly find out, combined with the concept of justice, also in his practical action. The principle of perfection is the key that combines the two Kingdoms of Nature and Grace. Leibniz is in pains to show the importance of the principle of perfection, but fails to give clear any definition to his principle. As with the principle of sufficient reason, he seems to take it as a self-evident thing. Otherwise, Leibniz's ethics and theology are fairly valid as a system. As E. M. Huggard says : "His system is, if nothing else, a miracle of ingenuity, and there are moments when we are in danger of believing it."
Leibniz seems to maintain that the perfection is a process which follows from the structure of the world in general. The pre-established harmony, the identity of indiscernibles, the principle of sufficient reason and the monadological scheme of the universe are a counterpart of the Kingdom of Nature for the principle of perfection, which is realized in both of the Kingdoms of Nature and Grace. One should not forget, however, that the principles of the Kingdom of Grace are working also in the Kingdom of Nature.
We have said that Leibniz could never prove his conception of perfection. How could he? Perfection is to Leibniz a property, which follows straight from the essence of God whose intellect consists in the maximum amount of perfection. In another words, perfection is realized partly in the creation. And, as he had shown, God exists. The Kingdom of Grace is always more important than the Kingdom of Nature and the reasons are primarily ethical. If Leibniz had not hold on to his ethical ideals, his system would have been more coherent. In Leibniz's philosophy, metaphysics is usually superseded by ethics.