Last updated

Theodicee title page from a 1734 version Theodicee title page.jpeg
Théodicée title page from a 1734 version

Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l'homme et l'origine du mal (Essays of Theodicy on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil), more simply known as Théodicée, is a book of philosophy by the German polymath Gottfried Leibniz. The book, published in 1710, introduced the term theodicy , and its optimistic approach to the problem of evil is thought to have inspired Voltaire's Candide (albeit satirically). Much of the work consists of a response to the ideas of the French philosopher Pierre Bayle, with whom Leibniz carried on a debate for many years. [1]


Théodicée was the only book Leibniz published during his lifetime; [2] his other book, New Essays on Human Understanding , was published only after his death, in 1765.

Central claims

In various works, including his famous Historical and Critical Dictionary (1697), Pierre Bayle had argued that there is no defensible rational solution to the problem of why God permits evil. More specifically, Bayle had argued that powerful philosophical arguments can be given against a number of orthodox Christian teachings, including the goodness, justice, and freedom of God. Leibniz responds to Bayle's arguments in detail, arguing that it can be proved that God is an infinitely perfect being, and that such a being must have created a world that has the greatest possible balance of good over evil ("the best of all possible worlds"). [3] Leibniz distinguishes three forms of evil: moral, physical, and metaphysical. Moral evil is sin, physical evil is pain, and metaphysical evil is limitation. [4] God permits moral and physical evil for the sake of greater goods, and metaphysical evil (i.e., limitation) is unavoidable since any created universe must necessarily fall short of God's absolute perfection. Human free will is consistent with God's foreknowledge, because even though all events in the universe are foreseen and pre-determined, they are not necessitated (i. e., logically necessary), and only if human choices were necessitated would free will be an illusion. [5] Against Bayle's claims (derived from Augustine) that it is unjust for God to damn unbaptized infants or adult non-Christians who had lived as well as they could, Leibniz denies that Christian teaching supports such claims. [6] Against Bayle's claim that God cannot be free since he cannot fail to choose the best, Leibniz argues that such "moral necessity" is consistent with divine freedom. God would lack freedom only if there are no possible worlds in which less than maximal goodness exists, which is not the case, Leibniz argues. [7]

Related Research Articles

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz German mathematician and philosopher

Gottfried Wilhelm (von) Leibniz was a prominent German polymath and one of the most important logicians, mathematicians and natural philosophers of the Enlightenment. As a representative of the seventeenth-century tradition of rationalism, Leibniz developed, as his most prominent accomplishment, the ideas of differential and integral calculus, independently of Isaac Newton's contemporaneous developments. Mathematical works have consistently favored Leibniz's notation as the conventional expression of calculus. It was only in the 20th century that Leibniz's law of continuity and transcendental law of homogeneity found mathematical implementation. He became one of the most prolific inventors in the field of mechanical calculators. While working on adding automatic multiplication and division to Pascal's calculator, he was the first to describe a pinwheel calculator in 1685 and invented the Leibniz wheel, used in the arithmometer, the first mass-produced mechanical calculator. He also refined the binary number system, which is the foundation of nearly all digital computers, including "the Von Neumann machine", which is the standard design paradigm, or "computer architecture", followed from the second half of the 20th Century, and into the 21st.

Pelagianism is a heterodox Christian theological position which holds that the original sin did not taint human nature and that humans have the free will to achieve human perfection without divine grace. Pelagius, a British monk, taught that God could not command believers to do the impossible, and therefore it must be possible to satisfy all divine commandments. He also taught that it was unjust to punish one person for the sins of another; therefore, infants are born blameless. Pelagius accepted no excuse for sinful behavior and taught that all Christians, regardless of their station in life, should live unimpeachable, sinless lives.

The problem of evil is the question of how to reconcile the existence of evil and suffering with an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient God. The best known presentation is attributed to the Greek philosopher Epicurus by David Hume, who was responsible for popularizing it. Hume summarizes Epicurus's version of the problem as follows: "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then from whence comes evil?"

Theodicy Theological attempt to resolve the problem of evil

Theodicy means vindication of God. It is to answer the question of why a good God permits the manifestation of evil, thus resolving the issue of the problem of evil. Some theodicies also address the evidential problem of evil by attempting "to make the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good or omnibenevolent God consistent with the existence of evil or suffering in the world." Unlike a defense, which tries to demonstrate that God's existence is logically possible in the light of evil, a theodicy attempts to provide a framework wherein God's existence is also plausible. The German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Leibniz coined the term "theodicy" in 1710 in his work Théodicée, though various responses to the problem of evil had been previously proposed. The British philosopher John Hick traced the history of moral theodicy in his 1966 work, Evil and the God of Love, identifying three major traditions:

  1. the Plotinian theodicy, named after Plotinus
  2. the Augustinian theodicy, which Hick based on the writings of Augustine of Hippo
  3. the Irenaean theodicy, which Hick developed, based on the thinking of St. Irenaeus
Free will Ability to make choices without constraints

Free will is the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded.

Alvin Plantinga American Christian philosopher

Alvin Carl Plantinga is an American analytic philosopher who works primarily in the fields of philosophy of religion, epistemology, and logic.

Nicolas Malebranche French philosopher

Nicolas Malebranche, Oratory of Jesus, was a French Oratorian priest and rationalist philosopher. In his works, he sought to synthesize the thought of St. Augustine and Descartes, in order to demonstrate the active role of God in every aspect of the world. Malebranche is best known for his doctrines of vision in God, occasionalism and ontologism.

Omnibenevolence Unlimited or infinite benevolence

Omnibenevolence is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "unlimited or infinite benevolence". Some philosophers have argued that it is impossible, or at least improbable, for a deity to exhibit such a property alongside omniscience and omnipotence, as a result of the problem of evil. However, some philosophers, such as Alvin Plantinga, argue the plausibility of co-existence.

Euthyphro dilemma Ethical problem on the origin of morality posed by Plato

The Euthyphro dilemma is found in Plato's dialogue Euthyphro, in which Socrates asks Euthyphro, "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" (10a)

The Discourse on Metaphysics is a short treatise by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in which he develops a philosophy concerning physical substance, motion and resistance of bodies, and God's role within the universe. It is one of the few texts presenting in a consistent form the earlier philosophy of Leibniz.

The Monadology is one of Gottfried Leibniz's best known works representing his later philosophy. It is a short text which sketches in some 90 paragraphs a metaphysics of simple substances, or monads.

Best of all possible worlds

The phrase "the best of all possible worlds" was coined by the German polymath Gottfried Leibniz in his 1710 work Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l'homme et l'origine du mal. The claim that the actual world is the best of all possible worlds is the central argument in Leibniz's theodicy, or his attempt to solve the problem of evil.

Irenaean theodicy Christian theodicy

The Irenaean theodicy is a Christian theodicy. It defends the probability of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God in the face of evidence of evil in the world. Numerous variations of theodicy have been proposed which all maintain that, while evil exists, God is either not responsible for creating evil, or he is not guilty for creating evil. Typically, the Irenaean theodicy asserts that the world is the best of all possible worlds because it allows humans to fully develop. Most versions of the Irenaean theodicy propose that creation is incomplete, as humans are not yet fully developed, and experiencing evil and suffering is necessary for such development.

Nick Trakakis is a philosopher at the Australian Catholic University, where he is Assistant Director of the recently established Centre for Philosophy and Phenomenology of Religion. He has previously taught at Monash University and Deakin University, and during 2006–2007 he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame. He works mainly at the intersections of philosophy, religion, and theology.

Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne poem in French composed by Voltaire

The "Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne" is a poem in French composed by Voltaire as a response to the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. It is widely regarded as an introduction to Voltaire's 1759 acclaimed novel Candide and his view on the problem of evil. The 180-line poem was composed in December 1755 and published in 1756. It is considered one of the most savage literary attacks on optimism.

Alvin Plantingas free-will defense

Alvin Plantinga's free-will defense is a logical argument developed by the American analytic philosopher Alvin Plantinga and published in its final version in his 1977 book God, Freedom, and Evil. Plantinga's argument is a defense against the logical problem of evil as formulated by the philosopher J. L. Mackie beginning in 1955. Mackie's formulation of the logical problem of evil argued that three attributes of God, omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence, in orthodox Christian theism are logically incompatible with the existence of evil. In 1982, Mackie conceded that Plantinga's defense successfully refuted his argument in The Miracle of Theism, though he did not claim that the problem of evil had been put to rest.

Philosophical Inquiries into the Essence of Human Freedom is an 1809 work by Friedrich Schelling. It was the last book he finished in his lifetime, running to some 90 pages of a single long essay. It is commonly referred to as his "Freiheitsschrift" or "freedom essay".

Augustinian theodicy Type of Christian theodicy designed in response to the evidential problem of evil

The Augustinian theodicy, named for the 4th- and 5th-century theologian and philosopher Augustine of Hippo, is a type of Christian theodicy designed in response to the evidential problem of evil. As such, it attempts to explain the probability of an omnipotent (all-powerful) and omnibenevolent (all-good) God amid evidence of evil in the world. A number of variations of this kind of theodicy have been proposed throughout history; their similarities were first described by the 20th-century philosopher John Hick, who classified them as "Augustinian". They typically assert that God is perfectly (ideally) good; that he created the world out of nothing; and that evil is the result of humanity's original sin. The entry of evil into the world is generally explained as consequence of original sin and its continued presence due to humans' misuse of free will and concupiscence. God's goodness and benevolence, according to the Augustinian theodicy, remain perfect and without responsibility for evil or suffering.

Theodicy, in its most common form, is the attempt to answer the question of why a good God permits the manifestation of evil. Theodicy attempts to resolve the evidential problem of evil by reconciling the traditional divine characteristics of omnibenevolence and omnipotence, in either their absolute or relative form, with the occurrence of evil or suffering in the world. “Writings and discourses on theodicy by Jews, Greeks, Christians, and Eastern religions have graced our planet for thousands of years,” and "debates about theodicy continue among believers and unbelievers alike".

Theistic finitism, also known as finitistic theism or finite godism, is the belief in a deity that is limited. It has been proposed by some philosophers and theologians to solve the problem of evil. Most finitists accept the absolute goodness of God but reject omnipotence.


  1. Austin Farrer (1985). Introduction to Theodicy. La Salle: Open Court. ISBN   0-87548-437-9.
  2. Michael Murray (16 March 2005). "Leibniz on the Problem of Evil". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 26 January 2012.
  3. G. W. Leibniz, Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, theFreedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil. Translated by E. M. Huggard. Lasalle, IL: Open Court, 1985, pp. 127-28.
  4. Leibniz, Theodicy, p. 136.
  5. Leibniz, Theodicy, p. 381.
  6. Leibniz, Theodicy, p. 385.
  7. Leibniz, Theodicy, p. 387.