Leibniz and the Necessity of the Best Possible World

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Authors

Colleges, School and Institutes

Abstract

Leibniz has long faced a challenge about the coherence of the distinction between necessary and contingent truths in his philosophy. In this paper, I propose and examine a new way to save genuine contingency within a Leibnizian framework. I conclude that it succeeds in formally solving the problem, but at unbearable cost. I present Leibniz’s challenge by considering God’s choice of the best possible world (Sect. 2). God necessarily exists and necessarily chooses to actualise the best possible world. The actual world therefore could not be different, for if it were different it would be a distinct and inferior world and hence would not be created. In Sect. 3 I defend Leibniz from this challenge. I argue that while it is necessary for God to choose to create the best possible world, it is not necessary for any world to be the best possible. This is because the criterion for judging perfection can itself be contingent. Different criteria will judge different worlds as the best. Thus it is necessary for God to create the best, but not necessary which is the best. Distinguishing between possible worlds in Leibniz’s sense and in the modern sense allows a fuller exposition of this position. There are worries that can arise with the claim that the criterion of perfection is contingent. I consider two of the most pressing (Sect. 4). The first argues that the criterion is in God’s understanding and hence is necessary; the second alleges that a contingent criterion of perfection violates Leibniz’s cherished Principle of Sufficient Reason. These worries are well-grounded, and examining them reveals a deep incompatibility between this solution and Leibniz’s metaphysical views. I conclude that there is a real solution available, but that it is unacceptable to Leibniz or a Leibnizian. The search for a genuine solution that is genuinely Leibnizian goes on.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)507-523
Number of pages16
JournalAustralasian Journal of Philosophy
Volume92
Issue number3
Early online date26 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2014

Keywords

  • leibniz, best possible world, necessary and contingent truths, criteria of perfection

ASJC Scopus subject areas