Leibniz's "best of all possible worlds"

I have decided to bump this topic up on these forums for the sake of inquiry. This is a topic that has been prevalent within my mind for quite some time now and I’d like to discuss it a bit more extensively.
I have been engaging in some studies on Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in recent months. As you all should know, Leibniz was a strong defendant of the theory that this world is “the best of all possible worlds,” and was one of its main advocates. When I first read about this notion, my initial reaction was to refute it immediately. Consider this:

In an essay written by Leibniz entitled “On Freedom” (1689?), Leibniz states:
“For if there are certain possibilities that never exist, then the things that exist, at any rate, are not always necessary, for otherwise it would be impossible for others to exist in their place, and thus, everything that never exists would be impossible.”

From “Theodicy” (1710):
“If there were no best among all possible worlds, God would not have created one.”

From “Letter to Bourguet” (late 1712):
“I do not believe that a world without evil, preferable in order to ours, is possible; otherwise it would have been preferred. It is necessary to believe that the mixture of evil has produced the greatest possible good: otherwise the evil would not have been permitted.
The combination of all the tendencies to the good has produced the best; but as there are goods that are incompatible together, this combination and this result can introduce the destruction of some good, and as a result some evil.”

In order to fully understand the proposition I wish to assert, please note that I do acknowledge the fact that Heaven does not seem to be taken into consideration for Leibniz, he seems to focus strictly on earth. I do not wish to concentrate solely on this, however, because it should also be understood that Leibniz’s intentions were to refute contentious claims such as ones along the lines of: “if God is good, then why did x happen?”
It is also important to note that Leibniz did not choose to accept the Cartesian view that this is the “only” possible world because he said that it took away from the beauty of our world as we know it. His reasoning essentially outlines the idea that if we cannot imagine another possible world where things would have occurred differently than the way they have on this earth, we would be taking away from the beauty of the present world.
But, I insist:
Who is to say that these other things can possibly exist in the first place? Who is to say that everything that never exists contains within it an indisputable candidature for what can possibly exist? Just because we can imagine something happening in another’s place does not, by any means, entail that it could have possibly happened. We could very much hold the claim that if something is not in accordance with God’s perfect plan, it is impossible for it to have ever occurred. From this, we can eliminate it entirely from the category of “what could have possibly existed.”
i.e: Let us say some event happens. We will call this event, “event A.” Now, the simple fact that we can imagine an “event B” happening in place of “event A” in spite of “event A’s” clear occurrence gives us no ground to classify it as an alternate option to what could possibly exist.

Here’s a breakdown containing another form of reasoning which is similar to what I’ve stated above:

  1. God always acts with the mark of perfection & wisdom.
  2. The only possible world is the one in which God retains this quality (i.e. our world).
  3. All other events except for “event A” are not in accordance with God acting with the mark of perfection or wisdom, and thus their occurrence would entail a contradiction to His nature.
  4. Therefore, it is impossible for any other events except for “event A” to exist as possibilities.

Why can’t this be considered plausible?
Any comments on this? I keep thinking about this and it’s been bothering me for quite some time now. Any feedback would be appreciated.
What would be the Catholic response to this?

“The best of all possible worlds” should be interpreted as “The best of all possible worlds which serves the same purposes as this world”!

A spiritual world, for example, would not contain physical evil. Other physical worlds could have different laws of nature with their own advantages and disadvantages which make it impossible to judge whether they are superior or inferior…

Thanks for the response, tonyrey.
In regards to the spiritual world, you have a point. However, as I stated earlier, perhaps rather vaguely, my intentions are not to focus on the notion of Heaven being compared to this world, because we can obviously all come to the general consensus that Heaven is immeasurably greater than our world, and that spiritual worlds are on a general scale incomparable to corporeal worlds. When we consider other physical worlds, however, we run into our first real tensions. What I wish to stress is that, given any human imagination of any other world (with alternative laws of nature, for example) who is to say that this imagined world is thence given an indisputable candidature for what could “possibly exist.” We are, after all, finite human beings, and we are in no place to determine what God has considered “possible” or “not possible” among His contemplations when devising His perfect plans for the world. Why does this not, then, defeat Leibniz’s “best of all possible worlds” argument?

Our knowledge and understanding are certainly limited but there is equally no valid reason to suppose this is not the best of all possible worlds (which serve the same purposes as this world). The immense value of life in this world taken in conjunction with our inability to design and create a demonstrably better world is a powerful reason in favour of its primacy.

Ironically the so-called Problem of Evil presupposes the Reality of Goodness! Otherwise evil would be an illusion! It also presupposes the Reality of Purpose - as the term “dysteleological” makes quite clear. What is the point of criticizing a “demonstrably” absurd, pointless and meaningless universe? :slight_smile:

My point is not to criticize it, but to assert that we are not capacitated to presuppose its existence in the realm of other “possible” worlds. These are all humanly-constructed conceptions. Our world is the ONLY possible world! Because God created it. :tiphat:

This is the best possible world, not absolutely but relatively. This is not absolutely the best possible world because the world is finite. Being a finite (i.e.,limited in perfection) world, there is always room for improvement. HOWEVER, this is the best possible world relatively. That means, this is the best possible world relative to the purpose that God had in mind when He created it, and in view of the kind of people who would be in it.

I wasn’t referring to you but to those who regard evil as evidence against the existence of God!

If this is “the ONLY possible world” God’s creative power is strictly limited…

:thumbsup: Otherwise God’s power or goodness is limited.

No, you got that wrong, man is strictly limited by his ability to be in God’s Presence in the world. Jesus the Son of God, God’s Presence in the world via the flesh, was a “no judgement of persons event”. Why? Because if it where a “Creator and Judge” event, no flesh would survive the Presence of God in the world. Demonstrated in Noah’s day where Noah found Grace in the Lord God’s sight, and its apparent that no one else did. Even Moses told the Children of Israel that no one has survived the Presence of the Lord God like they did, but they where also under Grace via the promise to their fathers Abraham Isaac and Jacob. Mankind can not survive the Presence of God in the world without God’s Grace through faith. And as all know the Lord Jesus is coming to Jerusalem, which would be the Presence of God in the world via His Beloved Son. Which is the original plain.

Luke:3:38: Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.

I think there might be a different use of the word possible here. I’m not actually sure which use anyone is using, but a couple ideas I’ve picked up from what I’ve read:

-In one sense, “this is the only possible world” could mean that that God didn’t have the sheer creative power to make different worlds, that there is some sort of external limitation on God preventing him from doing so. I do not think this is what is meant.

-You could say that this is the only possible world, because it is not possible that there be a world that God does not create, and God created this one. It may be possible to say that God could have created other worlds in that God has the sheer power to, but in that case you could say that

-God always does what is most fitting, so despite the fact that ignoring the “most fitting” thing, God could have created any world He so chose, the fact that He created this one shows that it is most fitting that the world be as it is. So in this sense this is the only possible world not because no other could be imagined, not because God’s power is limited by any sort of external thing, but because in some sense for God there isn’t much difference between what He can do and what He wills do or what He would do. That is, this is the world that God created, God does not will to do things and not do them, so God does not will to create the world otherwise, and the only sense where it even makes sense to talk about what God can do is equivalent to what God wills to do, as God can do anything He wills to do. So in that sense, God “couldn’t” create any other world. With quotes around it, because “couldn’t” does not mean for God what it does for us, in so far as it means anything at all.

Perhaps, though, the idea could be rephrased “this is the best of all possible worlds that it would be good to create?” This may actually mean the same thing, for God, but may be a bit more clear.

I’m sorry but I don’t see how this is relevant…

Yet there is no reason to suppose this is the only world God has created. :slight_smile:

:thumbsup: “The best possible world” need not imply it is perfect. Only God is perfect in every respect!

Iron Donkey, you may have gotten somewhat close to what I’m trying to get at. His capacity to create does not entail that He had thought about these other options.

That is true, but Leibniz would like to differ slightly in saying that there are certain degrees or extents of perfections apparent within our world which differentiate it from the other options that we can imagine God choosing when He contemplated upon creating the world at the beginning of time.

I will quote Leibniz from his “Monadology” so you guys can try considering it another way:

“Now, as there is an infinity of possible universes in the Ideas of God, and as only one of them can exist, there must be a sufficient reason for God’s choice, which determines him toward one rather than another. And this reason can be found only in the fitness, or the degrees of perfection, that these worlds contain, since each possible thing has the right to claim existence in proportion to the perfection it involves.”

What seems to puzzle me is that Leibniz seems to assume that there is this “infinity of possible universes in the Ideas of God” unqualifiedly. True, we can undoubtedly assure ourselves that God is capable of having inifinite processes of thought in only one stroke of mind, but who is to say that these processes of thought have any sort of resemblance to ours?

It would be presumptuous but our ignorance doesn’t exclude the existence - let alone the possibility - of other universes. The beauty and richness of nature suggest that divine creativity is not restricted to this world.

To which we can add the astounding achievements of the human race in so many different aspects of life. Even the destructive record of mankind is evidence of supernatural power at its worst:

“The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones”.

But you could say that the word “world” encompasses all that He created, whether it is accessible to us or not. It would just be that the world includes (almost) completely separate pieces. In this case we would know that it is most fitting that such separate pieces exist.