Sunday, September 15, 2013

Leibniz' Metaphysics: The Problem of Omnipotence and Omni-benevolence

           In Christian Theology one can never escape attempting to answer the question, “If God is omnipotent, all benevolent, and omniscient, why are pain, suffering, and evil in the world he watches over?” What Leibniz offers in the Discourse on Metaphysics is this answer: because it is necessary. For Leibniz, it is necessary that one person suffer if it means the world will benefit from it. As Leibniz states in the Theodicy, if there is “an infinitude of possible worlds… God must have chosen the best” (162). This idea, however, presents the key problem to Leibniz’ view of God as a perfect being and God as upholding the theodicy. I contend that Leibniz’ viewpoint allows for God to be either omnipotent or omnibenevolent, but not both. An omnipotent god could create a world any way it desired, allowing only evil, allowing only good, or a mixture of both. A god that possess creating power but is only omnibenevolent would, in support of Leibniz, create the best possible world for his creation to live in, but remain powerless to stop its corruption. Leibniz’ view of God relies on too many exceptions for God (and only for God) to remain perfect.
            Leibniz’ view of God, and how a perfect God can coincide with evil in the world, predicates upon the principle of sufficient reason. This is simply to say everything that comes into existence must have a necessary cause for existing. As Leibniz writes in The Monadology, God is a “necessary substance” in almost an Aristotelian sense of necessity (124). God is necessary as a substance because there must be a “final cause” (124). God’s existence in itself “is a simple consequence of its being possible” and that God has sufficient reason for himself (125). Sufficient reason is truly what Leibniz’ theology is based upon; however this principle cannot exclusively apply to God and still be taken seriously. What is sufficient reason for anything if it is simply to say that because something is possible, it therefore exists because it is necessary? What is worth being deemed necessary? I understand that the monad God is not only sufficient cause for creation, but also for what is to be considered what all truth is based upon, but Leibniz’ principle is too open ended to simply posit God as the only substance that is sufficient in itself to provide enough reason for all of existence yet not powerful enough to create an absolutely perfect world that reflects God as upholding the theodicy.
            Peter Loptson states in the introduction to Discourse on Metaphysics that “there are many different kinds of perfection, all of which God possesses” (59). I think Leibniz would agree to this statement simply because all “contingent truths” really on sufficient reason and God is sufficient reason in himself (124). Every form of perfection requires a definition which is the truth of that perfection, since God is necessary, for Leibniz, to provide a basis for these truths, God possesses all forms of truth and all forms of perfection. This is a key issue as to why the fact that suffering and pain exist is a violation to the theodicy and why this world cannot be the best of all possible worlds. If God possesses all forms of perfection then he also possesses the ability to make a perfect world. Leibniz, I believe, would intercept my claim here to say that this is a perfect world because to suppose that there is a better world is to posit that God acted with less perfection that he is capable of. If I was to accept Leibniz’ position I would have to say that God must either be only omnipotent or only omnibenevolent, but not both. The problem with Leibniz’ view is the fact that Leibniz supposes omnipotence. If God is truly all-powerful then God would automatically have the resources necessary to create a world that did not require suffering. To return to the example used in my introduction, in Leibniz’ view it is necessary that one person suffer for the good of all creation. There is simply not enough to go around in the world. For example, if there were two people in the entire world, and the world was created with only ten dollars, no more, no less, both people could have equal money at five dollars apiece, or one person could have more than that at the other person’s expense; consequently, there is no situation in which both people can have ten dollars. If God is truly omnipotent and omnibenevolent, he automatically would have the ability to create more money; allowing each person to have equality.
            To suppose that God has created the best possible world with evil in it, yet that God is both all-powerful and all-benevolent is essentially a contradiction. I agree with Leibniz “that one acts imperfectly if he acts with less perfection than he is capable of” (61). Perhaps that is why I so wholeheartedly disagree with his view of God. Leibniz supposes a God who is imperfect by the very definition Leibniz defines him as perfect with. There is no situation in which an omnibenevolent, omnipotent being has no other choice but to deem it necessary to create a situation that inflicts suffering upon persons. That is the eternal problem in the theodicy, if a being is omniscient, that being knows everything that is and could be. If that being is also omnibenevolent, that being would know of a situation in which there is only good. If that being is also omnipotent, then that being would have the power to create a situation in which it knew that everything would be good. If the being could not, then it is not omnipotent because omnipotence would allow it to forever create a new situation in which everything is good. If a being has no limits to its power and is benevolent then it can only be perceived as imperfect if it does not act with the full extent of its perfection. The Orthodox Christian God as the theodicy is only perfect in its imperfection.

            Perhaps I write on this subject in a way that is too certain and too dogmatic. However, Leibniz reveals his own certainty of his methodology at the end of the Discourse. The problem with Leibniz’ own certainty is defined previously with his writing “To know in particular, however, the reasons that have moved him to choose this order of the universe, to permit sin, to dispense his salutary grace in a certain manner- this passes the capacity of the finite mind” (62). I agree with Leibniz. Humans cannot fathom true omnipotence. However, we can encounter the idea of it and engage it. Omnipotence is truly a quality of God, however, not the quality of the God that potentially made this world if we are to believe him to also be benevolent. 

I'll Pray For You

          I stumbled upon an article earlier this week that outlined the particular issue of a man who had recently told his fundamentalist parents that he was gay. The story really upset me (as such stories always do) and also made me think about the phrase that truly caused the man so much pain. The phrase, which was included at the end of so many letters written by his mother and father, was the very common "I'll pray for you." The problem with this seemingly caring sentiment is the fact that it is horribly insulting to the person who it was told to because of a reason that the person who gave the sentiment sees as a fundamental flaw. When someone is about to take a test and is stressed, or someone is in pain after an injury and is feeling the emotional trauma of thinking through the ramifications of the injury (such as an athlete who hurts his or her knee) saying the phrase, "I'll pray for you" is entirely appropriate and helpful thing to say. It is comforting to the emotions. It is sentiment that you care about what is ailing them. 
          However, when you say this phrase to a person because you feel that they have a fundamental flaw about them, the phrase becomes one of the most hurtful things you could ever say to another person. If you believe God designed people and knew them before they were even born, why do you feel that God made a mistake in making them gay? It is an absolutely despicable attitude. It's analogous to a white person telling a black person that he'll pray for him because he is not white. The phrase, in this way, becomes "I will pray for my idea of you." When you pray that someone will change an inherent quality about them, you have ceased to care about who they actually are. You only care about who you think they should be. 
          This is multiplied when placed in a family setting. When you write to your family member and say "I will pray for you" because he or she is gay you have ceased caring for who they actually are. You do not love the person they are. You despise it. You only love your own idea of them and what they "should" be in your eyes. It is like a parent who raises a child to become what he or she could not as a child. That parent then judges that child's success along the lines of what success they achieve. There is no actual way to meet the parent's approval because the bar is set too high. It is like attempting to reach the outside of a circle when all you can do is take a step halfway to the outside every time. When you create an idol of what you think a person should be, you cease to love that person and only love the idol because the idol is more fulfilling.
           So the question is put into your relationships with those around you: Who do you love? The person as they are, or the idol as you wish them to be?