Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Leibniz (1646-1716 A.D.)


By Richard E. Noble

Leibniz's desire for fame and recognition, and though praised and admired by many, it seems to me has led him to be characterized in the history books pretty much as the Milton Berle of philosophy. Some anthologies of Philosophic thought don't even list him, and others make only passing reference. I think this is because nothing that he has to say is new, and his greatest achievements are, as with Uncle Milty, said to have been stolen from others (most notably, his Calculus from Newton, but other things from Spinoza, Descartes and possibly others.)
Leibniz was a 'want-to-believer' of the first order. He came from a family of theologians, and like many others (Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Isaac Newton, Spinoza and possibly even Albert Einstein) wanted very much to substantiate the notion that the universe was the product of an organized intelligence. There are those, like Leibniz, who consider God and His universe to be a combination of order, form, design, intellect and perfection, and those who look upon the universe as having been created by Rube Goldberg. In other words, the universe being a thing containing a myriad of interconnected moving parts, but no discernable function, purpose or reason, and God as a kind of well meaning tinkerer whose greatest of mistakes can be observed by most everyone by simply looking into a mirror.
Leibniz is reminiscent of Robert Service's Compensation Bill. If you tell him that your nose just fell off, he counters by telling you it is probably for the best because now you wont have to smell all the 'poop' in the world. Voltaire carries this criticism to the extreme in his Candide 'which is actually a satire on Leibniz's notion that this is in fact, “the best of all possible worlds.”
Leibniz, a man who wanted to put order to the universe was incapable of organizing his own papers. He could never find anything and consequently wrote things over and over. He is credited by his Butler as not having the capacity nor desire to kill even a fly, but yet he suggested in his diplomatic capacity that the British should be allowed to plunder the French in order to collect German debts, and that the French and the Germans ought to get together and attack Egypt rather than fight among themselves.
Bertrand Russell and others say that Leibniz was a great man but most agree, not a nice or pleasant man. He is also made out to be, if not a liar, at least a hypocrite by others - a man who said one thing in his public papers, but wrote a completely different story in his personal unpublished material.
All attempts at the justification of God must contend with the notion of Evil. Leibniz tried to justify evil by compensation, or the notion that a good end would justify a bad means. This attempt brings Leibniz back to my Milton Berle analogy. This is not only ludicrous, but childish. By even earthly standards hugging and kissing one's wife all night long will not make up for brutalizing and beating her all day. You will still go to prison. An eternity of contrition will not compensate a mico-second of injustice. Philosophically, evil can not be compensated or rationalized, it must be denied entirely (Spinoza), or proved not to exist (no one). Leibniz, as Voltaire points out, is a joke.