Leibniz and Bayle on Divine Permission

In Christian Leduc, Paul Rateau & Jean-Luc Solère (eds.), Leibniz et Bayle: confrontation et dialogue. Stuttgart, Germany: Franz Steiner Verlag. pp. 383-396 (2015)
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Abstract

In popular opinion, Leibniz’s work on the problem of evil is thought to begin and end with the claim that this is the best of all possible worlds, as if this were all that Leibniz needed to defend the justice of God. In many places, however, Leibniz is concerned to remove from God the actual agency for the evils in the world. By examining Leibniz’s uses of the concept of divine permission, one might find a Leibniz for whom the best-possible-world thesis answers only some of the difficulties regarding God’s relationship to the evils in the world. Leibniz introduces permission early in his career, in the manuscript dialogue, Confessio philosophi, written in the early 1670s. Two and a half decades later, Pierre Bayle offered a critique of traditional uses of permission in his Dictionnaire historique et critique. Though he certainly had not read Leibniz’s manuscript, the arguments against the use of permission in the Dictionnaire offer a useful foil for understanding the role permission plays in Leibniz’s early thought. Bayle’s objections will be discussed first. Once these are explained, they will be used to argue that Leibniz’s doctrine of permission, as presented in the Confessio philosophi, adds nothing to the best-possible-world thesis. As the reasons for this are explained, it will become obvious that this is not the case for the mature Leibniz of the Essais de Théodicée. Thus, there is a Leibniz for whom the best-possible-world thesis answers only some of the theological problems posed by evil, but that is not the Leibniz of the early Confessio philosophi.

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Joseph Anderson
University of Virginia

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