Lettres et opuscles inédits de Leibniz
Louis-Alexandre Foucher de Careil (ed)
pp 173-175

Date: 1702

Translated from the French

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[FC p173]

     Mr Bayle, in the article 'Origen',1 brings in some excellent arguments from the Parrhasiana. 'The physical and moral evils of the human race are of a duration which is so short in comparison with eternity that they cannot prevent God being considered benevolent and a lover of virtue. There is an infinitely less proportion between the time that this earth has to last as there is between a minute and hundreds of millions of years. Among men, those who treat a child with some illness, and who cure it with a bitter medicine, only laugh at the moans that they cause by this unpleasantness since they know that in a short time the child will no longer feel it, and that the medicine will do it good. There are infinitely more proportions between God and the most enlightened men than there are between them and the [FC p174] simplest children. Thus we cannot be reasonably surprised that God considers the evils we suffer as almost nothing, he alone who has a complete idea of eternity and who looks upon the beginning and end of our sufferings as infinitely nearer than the beginning and end of one minute. We ought to reason likewise about vices and virtuous actions, which with regard to God do not last long, and which ultimately change nothing in the universe. If a clockmaker made a clock which, once assembled, functions well for a whole year, except in one or two seconds which would not be equal when it would begin working, could one say that this craftsman would not pride himself on his skillfulness or on the precision in his works?'2
     Mr Bayle replies to the Origenist on behalf of the Manichean that God's goodness must be perfect, and vice and misery, for a time which can be long enough, is contrary to him.
     For my part, I think that [the author of] Parrhasiana was right to point out that evil is not so great as is thought. But Mr Bayle is also right to be surprised that there be some, however small or great the amount might be. What must end the difficulty is that this small amount of evil actually increases the good.

[FC p175]

     This maxim, non facienda sunt mala, ut eveniant bona3 requires limitation. The fact is that men are usually lacking in application. For example, someone believes that he would do right if he committed a poisoning to establish the true religion. But that is not allowed. The consequences of the permission for the poisoning are greater than the good he intends, which is not certain, and even if it was, it is not certain that it could not be obtained by a better way.
     Father Doucin thinks that Origen is attributed with the view that creatures would ultimately lose themselves in the ocean of the divinity.
     (But Mr Petersen4 is of a different view with regard to Origen.)


1. Origen, one of the early Church Fathers, argued that all evils were medicinal, i.e. ultimately for the good of the sufferer, and for that reason were not in vain. See, for example, Origen, Contra Celsus VI.56.
2. This passage is a quotation from Jean Le Clerc's Parrhasiana (Amsterdam, 1699), pp307-12. It is quoted by Bayle on p542 of his Dictionary, article 'Origen' note E. An English translation of Le Clerc's book was published as Parrhasiana: or, Thoughts upon Several Subjects (London, 1700). The passage quoted by Bayle and Leibniz is on pp222-3.
3. 'evils are not to be done in order to bring about good'.
4. Johann Wilhelm Petersen (1649-1727), one-time superintendent of the churches of Lüneburg.

© Lloyd Strickland 2007