Mémoires pour l'histoire des sciences & des beaux-arts (July 1713)
pp 1178-1199

Date: July 1713

Translated from the French

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ESSAIS DE THEODICÉE sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l'homme, l'origine du mal. A Amsterdam, chez. Isaac Troyel Libraire, 1710, in 8º. Pages 810.

     Special reasons have persuaded Baron Leibniz to refute Mr Bayle. The second wife of the late King of Prussia,1 a Princess of distinguished ability, took pleasure [p1179] in reading the Critical Dictionary;2 Mr Leibniz, whom this Princess knew and held in high regard, and with whom she loved to discuss the most difficult subjects, informed her that he had views very much at odds with those of Mr Bayle on several points which concern religion; she urged him to put them in writing.
     The illustrious author has had other opportunities to go further into these difficulties; these opportunities have finally resulted in the book he gives us. It contains a curious preface, a preliminary discourse on the conformity of faith and reason, essays on the goodness of God, the freedom of man, and the origin of evil, divided into three parts, an abridgement of the controversy reduced to syllogistic form, reflections on the dispute between Hobbes and the Bishop of Derry about freedom, necessity, and chance, and remarks on the book about the origin of evil, whose author is Lord King, Archbishop of Dublin.
     In the preliminary discourse, the illustrious author gives us a [p1180] very detailed history of the disputes about the opposition of reason and faith, and about the use that can be made of reason in matters of religion. A sect of Italian Philosophers, cleaving to the impious sentiments of Averroes, maintained that what appeared to be false to reason could be true according to faith. With this distinction they sought to shield their dangerous opinions about the mortality of the soul and the eternity of the world. Protestant theologians have spoken like these philosophers about reason and faith, with the aim of decrying the philosophy of the School.3 In this discourse, Mr Leibniz has designs only on those who oppose reason to faith in order to render faith suspect. He declares that by "reason" he understands only the linking together of truths;4 other meanings can and are given to this word, but he says it should be understood as he understands it if we want to remove the ambiguities of which the present question is full. He maintains that there cannot be any real and solid opposition between faith and reason taken in this sense, that [p1181] the opposition between them can only be apparent, and that false appearances intrude upon the human mind only when it does not use all of its powers. Moreover, he does not believe that one is obliged to examine all possible objections and to retain some fear of being mistaken until one has exhausted all the difficulties of an opinion; sure of the demonstration that we have well understood, we must despise false subtleties, such as are the difficulties that are laid against the truths of religion.5 Neither Mr Bayle nor the most incredulous have so far dared to present them as insoluble demonstrations; a little attention easily reveals the weakness, the equivocations and arbitrary suppositions on which they are founded, and to which it is easy to reduce them.6
     Mr Leibniz' analyses of Mr Bayles reasonings will doubtless please the connoisseurs; they make entirely clear the superiority of a just mind over a subtle mind. Mr Bayle [p1182] has proposed nothing more confidently than this axiom: the truths of faith are above reason. He concludes that reason cannot attain them; but 'if it could furnish answers to the objections against the dogmas of the Trinity and the hypostatic union it would attain to those two mysteries, it would subjugate them and submit them to the final comparison with its first principles' (these are Mr Bayle's words); 'it would do what exceeds her powers, which cannot happen; it must therefore be said that it cannot answer its own objections'.7
     'I do not find', says our illustrious author, 'that there is any force in this reasoning. We can attain what is above us not by penetrating it but by supporting it... It is not necessary that to answer the objections we subjugate the mysteries and submit them to a comparison with the first principles that spring from common notions. For if he who answers the objections had to go so far, he [p1183] who proposes the objection would have to do it first. It is for the objection to open up the subject; he who responds can - even without drawing a distinction [or] by criticizing the form - deny the universality of some proposition, and can do it without penetrating beyond the objection';8 this is up to he who proves that the penetration of the mystery would be necessary for combating it; it is not up to he who responds.
     In the preliminary discourse there is a curious digression into the passive and active understanding of the Peripaticians, and into the so-called soul of the world.9 The Malebranchists will learn that Aristotle, or rather Averroes, his commentator, first imagined a universal reason that acts on our particular reasons. Will they not be sick of this opinion when they find out it is not new?
     Let us also say before leaving this discourse that we have read with sorrow Mr Leibniz' approval of Luther's answer to Erasmus on free will; [p1184] the single passage he cites from it ought to have averted him from this approval. 'It is the height of love', says Luther, 'to love God, who seems so unlovable, so harsh, so quick to damn'.10 Is it the height of love to love an object more because it seems more worthy of hatred?

Extract from the first part of the Essays

     The illustrious author first explains, without concealing anything, the strongest objections against the freedom of man drawn from the determination of future contingencies, from prescience, decrees, the concourse of God, the necessity of grace, and from the strength of the inclinations. He relates with the same precision all the contradictions that impiety tries to identify between the goodness of God and his conduct towards men, and he undertakes to resolve all these objections and make God appear supremely lovable.11
     'God', he says, 'is the first reason of things, for those which are [p1185] limited are contingent, and have nothing in them that makes their existence necessary... Therefore, the reason for the existence of the world must be sought in the substance which contains within it the reason for its existence, and which is consequently necessary and eternal. Also, this cause must be intelligent, for as this world is contingent and as an infinity of other worlds are equally possible and equally lay claim to existence, so to speak, the cause of the world must have determined one of them to exist.'12 It must be that this cause had the ideas of all the possible worlds, that it wanted to produce one rather than the others, and that its will was efficacious; its understanding, will, and power extend to all that is possible and are therefore infinite, and as everything is connected, there is only one cause; this is the proof of an infinitely perfect God and the origin of all things.13
     Mr Leibniz concludes from this demonstration that God always chooses the best, but without necessity. He is able to do nothing, but if he decides to do something, [p1186] he will do the best he can do. He therefore chose from all the possible worlds the one which, all things considered, was the most perfect.14 If accepted, this principle would cut the knot of the difficulty, but a great number of theologians will not accept it, and they will say that God does not have need of anything, that he is perfectly and supremely free, that just as he was able to create nothing he was able to create beings less perfect than the other ones he did not create, that he is not determined to the best, that even in his regard there is no best, that he is sufficient unto himself. However, these theologians admit that God consults his wisdom, even when he acts most freely, that he has reasons to act and to act in one way worthy of him rather than another, and this principle, which cannot be contested, has the same advantages as Mr Leibniz'. This great philosopher excludes all absolute necessity from the infallible choice of the best to which he subjects God, but if this infallibility of choice comes from the nature of [p1187] God, a natural determination to always choose the best, can it be compatible with freedom?
     Let us not impute consequences to the illustrious author that he disavows. If everything he says about the infallible choice of the best is collected up, we will see that he says nothing which should frighten theologians keen to preserve free will. He claims that the will is not determined without motive, that the will of an infinitely wise God always follows the motives most in conformity with his infinite wisdom; that the miser acts like a miser, the liberal man as a liberal man, unless they change their inclination. And he repeats a hundred times that the will is not necessitated to follow the inclination it follows, that it can always resist it, destroy it, and change it; it is not driven by the inclination, it gives itself to it very freely; the prevailing inclination is the motive which causes it to act, but it is the will itself, it is its entirely free choice that makes this inclination prevail over all [p1188] the others. If there is in this determination some necessity, it is consequent; the author gives it this name.15 He also calls it 'moral necessity', but in calling it 'consequent', he sufficiently distinguishes it from the moral necessity of Protestants and Jansenists. Mr Leibniz admits that it is difficult to prove in detail how the existing world prevails over the possible worlds.16 He reveals its perfections only in a few remarks. The system of an astronomical theology that he inserted among these remarks, without naming its author, and about which he makes fun, is apt to put an end to the astonishment into which the oddity of the visions of ancient heretics sometimes throws us.17 We will not follow the illustrious author in the refutation of the objections he proposed at the beginning of this part [of the book]; the superiority of his mind and his erudition is apparent everywhere; we admire it even when we do not approve of some principles upon which he supports three or [p1189] four of his responses, or which he indicates in passing. His ingenious system of pre-established harmony is not of this number; if we do not entirely accept it, we are at least convinced that it is very favourable to freedom. This part [of the book] ends with a reflection worthy of the author. All these attempts to find reasons, he says, where there is no need to settle entirely, serve only to make us conceive that there are a thousand ways to justify God's conduct, and that all the disadvantages we see, all the obstacles we encounter, all the difficulties that can be raised, do not prevent us from being able to believe reasonably - even if we do not know demonstratively - that there is nothing so exalted as God's wisdom, nothing so vast as his goodness, nothing so just as his judgements, and nothing so pure as his holiness.18
     Let us not forget that Mr Leibniz has acknowledged, with this noble frankness common to great men, that he had misunderstood the [p1190] thought of the late German Jesuit Father Friedrich Spee, a man of extraordinary piety and knowledge, and that this Father grants only to charity based on true supernatural faith the power to justify by itself.19 We have in hand Mr Leibniz's letter to the Jesuit Father des Bosses, where he makes this confession, confirming the just praises he has given to Father Spee.20

Extract from the second part of the Essays, on the origin of moral evil

     Mr Leibniz here attacks Mr Bayle head-on. The nineteen maxims into which the latter concentrated all the force of his objections, and which come from chapter CXIVIV of the third volume of his Réponses au Provincial,21 are considered. To show their weakness is to be entirely victorious over him; we cannot refuse the glory of victory to our illustrious author. He relates these maxims, then makes an analysis of them capable of disabusing Mr Bayle himself, if he were still alive.
     His general remark on these nineteen maxims contains the substance of [p1191] his responses, and of this second part [of the book]:
God wants to save all men:22 that means that he would save them if they did not prevent it, and did not refuse to receive his grace. And he is not obliged or led by his wisdom23 to always overcome their evil will. Yet sometimes he does so, when his wisdom demands.24 He gives aids to everyone in order that they might be converted, and persevere... God offers25 remedies even when he knows they will be rejected ... but the acts of grace which do not help one may help another, and indeed they always contribute to the integrity of God's plan, which is the best it is possible to conceive... Shall God prevent the Sun from shining26 ... because there are places it will dry up to the point of burning them?27 ... All the comparisons Mr Bayle gives of a doctor,28 a father, a tutor,29 a minister of state, and a prince, are not suitable,30 because we know their duties, and everything that can and should be the object of their cares: they scarcely have more than the one concern... [p1192] God's object has something of infinity...; we know almost nothing of that, yet we want to assess his wisdom and his goodness by what we know? What temerity, or rather, what absurdity! The objections presume what is false; it is ridiculous to pass a legal judgement when one does not know the facts. To say with St Paul, O altitudo!31 O depth of God's wisdom and knowledge is not to renounce reason, it is to help ourselves to what it enables us to know, for it reveals this immensity of God,32 about which the Apostle speaks. But it is to admit our ignorance of the facts, of the relations, of the duties which result from this immensity;33 ... it is to acknowledge ... that God makes everything the best possible... We have before our eyes proofs and tests of this, when we consider among God's works something in its entirety, some whole complete in itself, and isolated, so to speak, like a plant, an animal, a man... We cannot admire enough the beauty and the artifice of [p1193] its structure. But when we see some broken bone, ... some sprig of a plant, there appears to be nothing but disorder, unless an excellent anatomist considers it, and even he would not recognise anything in it if he had not seen beforehand similar parts in the whole that they compose. It is the same with God's government: what we are able to see of it ... is not a part extensive enough to discern the beauty and order of the whole... The very nature of things implies that this order of the City of God, which we do not yet see here on earth, should be the object of our faith and of our hope... If there are some who think otherwise, so much the worse for them: they are malcontents in the state of the greatest and the best of all monarchs, and they are wrong not to make the most of the examples he offers them of his wisdom and his infinite goodness in order to reveal himself as being not only admirable, but also worthy of love beyond all things.34
     The author was not satisfied with [p1194] the examination of these nineteen maxims; he chose in the works of Mr Bayle what struck him as stronger, or rather more dazzling, in order to refute it and put God's cause beyond harm's reach.
     We do not dwell on the ingenious conjecture, supported with a great deal of erudition, on the good and bad God of the Persians, Hormazd and Ahriman, whom the Author suspects to have been two Princes; Hormazd, King of part of Asia, a just and peaceful Prince; Ahriman, or Hermann, conqueror from Germany by Sarmatia, adored ever since by the Germans under the name of Irmin.35 We also pass over, albeit reluctantly, what the author says about the difference between the future and the necessary,36 about the fate of the Mahometans,37 about that of the Stoics,38 about the error of Diodorus, Abelard, Wyclif, Hobbes, and Spinoza, who believed that nothing was possible except that which was bound to exist: our author reveals the ruinous foundations of this error.39 It is with no less force that he refutes those who deny that there are [p1195] necessary truths, and who make the rules of justice depend on an arbitrary decree of God. He notes and replies to Mr Bayle's inconsistencies on this point and on many others that are just as important; he also notes that Mr Descartes never explained himself well on freedom, and that he had a rather extraordinary notion of it.40 Mr. Bayle's appeals against the moral necessity of choosing the best will be found to be cogent and sensible. Mr Leibniz defends himself skilfully, but he avoids being defeated only by considerably softening this sentiment; fortunately the cause of God does not depend on this particular opinion.

Extract from the third part of the Essays, on the origin of physical evil

     Mr Leibniz warns at the beginning of this third part that the cause of physical evil is found when the cause of moral evil has been found, and that the objections drawn from physical evil [p1196] will not detain him. Physical evil is either a natural defect that God allows in his work or punishment for sin;41 also, there are fewer evils than we think, it being our false ideas which magnify their number.42 The author devotes several pages to reforming these false ideas; he also spends as long on the state of the damned and proves that the eternity of their pains is just.43 He then comes back to defend man's freedom against Mr Bayle, and argues against him on the subtle question of whether conservation is a continuous creation. The false reasonings of some authors on this matter collapse when it is pointed out that continuous creation is not a new creation and that God continues to create the substance but does not create its actions.44 This part [of the book] ends with an ingenious dialogue taken partly from Valla, and continued on his model, in which prescience and providence are reconciled with freedom, and providence is justified.45
     Then there is an abbreviation of the whole of this famous controversy [p1197] reduced to formal arguments. This is where the author explains himself more clearly than elsewhere on moral necessity. The necessity contrary to morality, he says, which would make punishment unjust, is an insuperable necessity, which renders all opposition useless; the determination to the best is not a necessitation; it is certain to he who knows everything that the effect will follow this inclination, but this effect does not follow from it by a necessary consequence; grace and temptation are never irresistible. Suppose the greatest possible passion; the soul can find some reason to resist it, even if it were only that of showing its power. He says, moreover, that this moral determination is called necessity because, among the wise, what is necessary and what is owing are equivalent things, and that it always has its effect in the perfect sage, that is, in God.46
     Three separate pieces complete the whole work. [The first] concerns reflections on the dispute between Mr Hobbes and Dr Bramhall.47 In it, Hobbes appears what he in fact was, [p1198] namely a precursor of Spinoza, who thought all was material and necessary but who could not render his views plausible and who boldly pronounces and proves nothing.
     The second addition contains remarks on the book on the origin of the evil by Mr King, Archbishop of Dublin.48 Mr Leibniz does justice to this excellent book; he corrects only what the Archbishop says about the essence of freedom consisting in the indifference of equilibrium. Mr Leibniz attacks this sentiment with great passion, but in the end it would not be difficult to reconcile him with Mr King. Mr Leibniz, as we have seen, excludes all necessity, and he fights only vague indifference; he claims that the will is not determined without motive and without reason to act. Mr King does not deny that the will, when it acts, has a motive to act, that it consults reason, but he claims that it always remain master of its action, even after having consulted reason, even in the most [p1199] lively movement of inclination, that in a word its choice comes from itself and is truly free. Mr Leibniz does not deny this.
     The third addition is a very methodical Latin abridgement of the whole book entitled Causa dei asserta.


1. That is, Queen Sophie Charlotte of Prussia (1668-1705).
2. That is, Bayle's Dictionnaire historique et critique [Historical and Critical Dictionary].
3. See Leibniz, Theodicy, 'Preliminary discourse', §§7 and 11-14.
4. See Leibniz, Theodicy, 'Preliminary discourse', §23.
5. See Leibniz, Theodicy, 'Preliminary discourse', §26.
6. See Leibniz, Theodicy, 'Preliminary discourse', §27.
7. See Leibniz, Theodicy, 'Preliminary discourse', §72.
8. Leibniz, Theodicy, 'Preliminary discourse', §72. The reviewer's quotation is a little loose.
9. See Leibniz, Theodicy, 'Preliminary discourse', §§7-10.
10. See Leibniz, Theodicy, 'Preliminary discourse', §45.
11. See Leibniz, Theodicy, §§1-5.
12. See Leibniz, Theodicy, §7. Again, the reviewer's quotation is a little loose.
13. This summarizes the remainder of Leibniz, Theodicy, §7.
14. Leibniz, Theodicy, §8.
15. See Leibniz, Theodicy, 'Reflexions on the work that Mr. Hobbes published in English on "Freedom, Necessity and Chance"', §6.
16. See Leibniz, Theodicy, §10.
17. See Leibniz, Theodicy, §18.
18. This sentence is a near quotation of §106 of Leibniz's Theodicy.
19. See Leibniz, Theodicy, §96.
20. This may refer to Leibniz's letter of mid-October 1708 (LDB, 115) or 25 April 1711 (LDB, 211).
21. Namely, Pierre Bayle, Réponse aux Questions d'un Provincial, 3 vols. (Rotterdam, 1706).
22. An allusion to 1 Timothy 2.3-4.
23. Leibniz actually wrote 'by reason'.
24. Leibniz actually wrote 'when higher reasons allow it, and when his consequent and decretory will, which results from all his reasons, resolves him to the election of a certain number of men.'
25. Leibniz actually wrote 'God cannot refrain from offering'.
26. Leibniz actually wrote 'Shall the sun not shine'.
27. Leibniz actually wrote 'places which will be too dried up as a result?'
28. Leibniz actually wrote 'All the comparisons spoken of in these maxims that Mr Bayle has just given, of a doctor'.
29. Leibniz actually wrote 'a benefactor' rather than 'a father, a tutor'.
30. Leibniz actually wrote 'fall a long way short'.
31. 'Oh, the depth of riches and wisdom'. A slight misquoting of Romans 11.33.
32. Leibniz actually wrote 'rather to employ the reasons that we know, for they teach us the immensity of God'.
33. 'of the relations, of the duties which result from this immensity' is not present in the Theodicy itself.
34. This is intended as a quotation from Leibniz, Theodicy, §134, but the reviewer often changes Leibniz's words, often removes words or even whole sentences without indicating it, and sometimes even adds words. In the notes above I have indicated the most significant differences between what Leibniz actually wrote in §134 and the reviewer's rather loose quotation of it.
35. See Leibniz, Theodicy, §§139-141.
36. See Leibniz, Theodicy, §§36, 71, and 170.
37. See Leibniz, Theodicy, §§51, 55, and 167.
38. See Leibniz, Theodicy, §170.
39. See Leibniz, Theodicy, §§171-173.
40. See Leibniz, Theodicy, §§164-165.
41. See Leibniz, Theodicy, §241.
42. See Leibniz, Theodicy, §§251 and 259.
43. See Leibniz, Theodicy, §§266-271.
44. See Leibniz, Theodicy, §§383-388.
45. See Leibniz, Theodicy, §§405-417.
46. See Leibniz, Theodicy, 'Summary of the controversy reduced to formal arguments', objections III and VIII.
47. See Leibniz, Theodicy, 'Reflexions on the work that Mr. Hobbes published in English on "Freedom, Necessity and Chance"'.
48. See Leibniz, Theodicy, 'Observations on the book concerning "The Origin of Evil" published recently in London'.

© Lloyd Strickland 2018