[lit-ideas] Leibniz's Best of All Possible Worlds

  • From: "" <dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> (Redacted sender "Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx" for DMARC)
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 24 Feb 2015 07:32:11 -0500

In a message dated 2/24/2015 5:01:57 A.M. Eastern Standard Time,  
omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx writes:
If a different world came into existence,  Leibnitz could say one of the 
following: either the new world is no better than  the old one; or, if the 
betterness of the new world is overwhelming, he could  say that this world has 
now become possible and previously wasn't possible. It  is now this world 
that is "the best of all possible worlds."

Indeed. He was a very observant fellow, Leibniz was. In fact, his doctrine  
can be traced to Augustine (or "Saint Augustine," as Geary prefers), in  
"Enchiridion", xi, "Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil 
 to exist in his works". 
 
Peter Abelard took up after Augustine (or Saint Augustine) and argued that  
God must create the best of all possible worlds. 

(This Saint Augustine is not the one who went to England and founded the  
Cathedral of Canterbury -- or Caunterbury, as he spelled it, and founded the 
C.  of E., but an earlier saint with the same name). 
 
Aquinas takes up the Augustinian remark, and provides a reductio ad  
absurdum that is later contradicted: There is evil in the world. Therefore God  
does not exist. Aquinas, who was an Italian philosopher (hence his name)  
counters this in general by the quinque viae, and in particular with this  
refutation:
 
Leibniz relates the idea with the principle of sufficient reason.
 
The sufficient reason for any contingent truth is that it is for the best. 
 
According to Leibniz, God's reason for creating the actual world is that it 
 is the best of all possible worlds. 
 
The reason for this world is that it is the best. 
 
The reason for any contingent truth is that, since the existence of the  
actual world entails it, it is for the best.
 
This concept is often put into the form: 
 
i. All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
 
Voltaire, who was attracted to the adage,  translated to  
 
ii. Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes.
 
In English, following Grice ('be brief') it is usually abbreviated  as:
 
iii. All is for the best. 
 
or even
 
iv. All for the best. 
 
We must credit the original coinage thus. Leibniz thought that Augustine,  
Abelard, and Aquinas (an Italian who COULD have written in Italian) were 
wrong  in avoiding the vernacular. Thus Leibniz's adage is vernacular in spirit.
 
v. Die beste aller möglichen Welten.
 
Leibniz presents this as tautological, and thus analytic a priori. 
 
As is well known, the theory of the maxima and minima of functions is  also 
indebted to Leibniz for the greatest progress through the  discovery of the 
method of tangents. 
 
Tangentially, as Geary notes, all connects. 
 
Leibniz, following Augustine (Saint Augustine) thus conceives God in  the 
creation of the world like a mathematician who is solving a MINIMU  problem, 
which Geary calls "an understatement if ever I came across one". 
 
In our modern phraseology, Leibniz's problem is a problem in "the  calculus 
of variations"; the question being to determine among an infinite  number 
of possible worlds, that for which the sum of necessary evil is a  minimum.
 
Lakatos, following Popper, would disagree. He extends the Popperian  
methodology of falsifiability to the realm of mathematics, yielding the 
calculus  
of variations as not necessarily analytic a priori. Some call Lakatos's move 
 'wicked'.
 
Cheers,

Spearnza

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