If you’ve ever read much Enlightenment metaphysics (especially Liebniz, but certainly not limited to Liebniz) you’ll be familiar with the idea that this must be the best of all possible worlds. The argument generally follows like this:
- God is all powerful
- God is all good
- God created the world
- A God who is all powerful and all good would not create an inferior world (i.e. a less than perfect world or a world that was unnecessarily flawed)
- Thus, this must be the best of all possible worlds
This argument has been supported, railed against, rejected outright, and ignored for the past few hundred years. It is clearly built on the premise that a deistic god (i.e. an all-good, all-powerful deity that does not necessarily bear all of the attributes of the Judeo-Christian God, especially immanence) both exists and was responsible for the creation of the world. From there if follows a logical flow that a deity of this type would not create a world that is not of this type (i.e. if God intentionally created a world filled with sin, death, natural, and moral evils then he is not good, and if God was incapable of creating a world that was not filled with sin, death, natural, and moral evils then either 1) God is not all-powerful, or 2) these attributes are necessarily inherent in the best of all possible worlds).
One of the opponents of theory was the French philosopher Voltaire, who especially targeted it in his short novel Candide. In Candide, Voltaire presents a main character, Candide, who grows up in a seemingly idyllic castle in Westphalia, Germany under the tutelage of the Leibnizesque philosopher Pangloss (who’s name could be telling…). Through a series of unfortunate misunderstandings, foolish decisions, and unlikely/remarkable events Candide is separated from the love of his life multiple times in his unending quest to be reunited with her, and finally finds her, a broken, ugly, bitter crone who he then marries out of duty. He lives out his days with her, two philosophers, another bitter, broken old woman, and a laborer working a farm after losing the greatest fortune that ever walked the face of the earth. Voltaire’s point in the novel is ultimately that man’s hope does not lie in providence or in the faithful belief that all things work together to make this the best of all possible worlds, but instead in his own hard work, ability, and willingness to be content with what he has.
If you read Candide it is impossible to miss that the main character is incredibly naive, and not only is he incredibly naive, but he is intentionally naive. He is a fool and a coward, and it is these traits that lead directly to much of the suffering that Candide undergoes. Further, if we go back to Aquinas it is clear that, unlike Leibniz, he does not believe that this is the best of all possible worlds. In fact, it seems that Aquinas would reject the idea of ‘the best of all possible worlds’ itself as an impossibility. This is not the best of all possible worlds because this begs the question: best for what purpose or by what standard of measure? Surely by some standards of measure it is the best of all possible worlds (for instance, this world is the best of all possible worlds at being this world. No world could be more this world than this world is), but by other standards of measure it is not the best of all possible worlds (for instance, it could be more conducive to the creation of happiness, anger, pain, death, contentment, faith, etc). Further, the very things that Candide lacks are two of Aquinas’ cardinal virtues: courage and wisdom. So, I have three questions for you, depending on your familiarity with these ideas and authors:
- For those least familiar: is this or could this be the best of all possible worlds? Why or why not?
- For those familiar with Voltaire: is it the evils of the world that drive men down, their own failings, or both?
- For those familiar with both Voltaire and Aquinas: what is a good world and can we say that this is a good world? Why?
As always, write me a 1000 word story that presents and defends your position on one of these three questions.