Sämtliche schriften und briefe series II, volume 1
Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften (ed)
pp 186-187

Date: May 1671

Translated from the Latin

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[A II 1, p186]

     Fate is the decree of God or the necessity of events. Fated things are those that will necessarily happen. God either does not decree about all things, or if he does decree about all things then he is the author of absolutely everything. Either way there are difficulties. For if God decrees about all things and things conflict with his decree, he will not be omnipotent. But if he does not decree about all things, it seems to follow that he is not omniscient. For it seems impossible that an omniscient being suspends his judgement about anything. That we often suspend judgements happens because of our ignorance. Hence it follows that God can never be considered purely permissive. It also follows that there is no decree of God that is in fact not absolute. For we suspend our judgements because of situations and alternatives, because we have insufficiently explored the circumstances of things. But isn't this harsh? I admit that. What then? Consider Pilate, who is damned. Why? Because he lacks faith. Why does he lack it? Because he lacked the will to be attentive. Why does he lack this? Because he did not understand the necessity of the matter, the usefulness of being attentive. Why did he not understand? Beause the causes of understanding were lacking. For it is necessary that all things are referred back to some reason, and we cannot stop until we reach a primary reason, otherwise it has to be admitted that something can exist without a sufficient reason for existing, which destroys the demonstration of God's existence and many other philosophical theorems. What, then, is the ultimate reason for the divine will? The divine intellect. For God wills those things he understands to be the best and most harmonious, and he selects them, as it were, from the infinite number of all possibles. What, then, is the ultimate reason for the divine intellect? The harmony of things. What is the ultimate reason for the harmony of things? Nothing. For example, the fact that the ratio of 2 to 4 is the same as that of 4 to 8 - no reason can be given for this, not even from the divine will. This depends on the essence itself, i.e. the idea of things. For the essences of things are like numbers, and they contain the very possibility of beings; God does not bring about their possibility, as he does their existence, since these very possibilities, i.e. the ideas of things, coincide rather with God himself. Moreover, since God is the most perfect mind, it is impossible that he is not affected by the most perfect harmony, and thus he is necessitated to do the best by the very ideality of things, though this does not detract from freedom. For it is the highest form of freedom to be forced to the best by right reason. Whoever desires any other freedom is a fool. From this it follows that whatever has happened, is happening, or will happen is the best, and hence [A II 1, p187] necessary, though as I said, with a necessity that takes nothing away from freedom because it takes nothing away from the will and the use of reason. It is in no one's power to will what he wills, although sometimes he can do what he wills. Indeed, no one desires for himself this freedom of willing what he wills, but rather the freedom of willing the best. Why then do we invent for God something we ourselves do not want? From this it is evident that some kind of absolute will, not dependent on the goodness of things, is a monstrosity. There is, on the contrary, no permissive will in an omniscient being, except insofar as God conforms himself to the ideality or "bestness" of things. Therefore, nothing is to be reckoned absolutely evil, otherwise God will not be either supremely wise with regard to comprehending it or supremely powerful with regard to eliminating it. I have no doubt that this was Augustine's view. Sins are evil, not absolutely, not to the world, and not to God - otherwise he would not permit them - but to the sinner. God hates sins, not in the sense that he cannot bear the sight of them, as we recoil at the sight of what we detest, otherwise he would eliminate them; but he hates them because he punishes them. Sins are good, that is, harmonious, when taken together with punishment or atonement. For there is no harmony except through contraries. But these remarks are just for you; indeed I do not wish them getting out. For not even the most proper remarks are understood by everyone.1


1. Some time afterwards, Leibniz added here: "I later corrected this, for it is one thing for sins to happen infallibly, another for them to happen necessarily."

© Lloyd Strickland 2009