The Truths of Reasonby Leibniz
- I begin with the preliminary question of the conformity of faith with reason, and the use of philosophy in theology, because:
- it has much influence on the main subject of my treatise
- M. Bayle introduces it everywhere.
I assume that:
- 2 truths cannot contradict each other
- the object of faith is the truth God has revealed in an extraordinary way
- reason is the linking together of truths
- especially (when it is compared with faith) of those whereto the human mind can attain naturally without being aided by the light of faith.
This definition of strict and true reason has surprised some persons accustomed to inveigh against reason taken in a vague sense.
They replied that they had never heard of it: the truth is that they have never conferred with people who expressed themselves clearly on these subjects.
They have confessed to me, nevertheless, that one could not find fault with reason, understood in the sense which I gave to it.
It is in the same sense that sometimes reason is contrasted with experience. Reason, since it consists in the linking together of truths, is entitled to connect also those wherewith experience has furnished it, in order thence to draw mixed conclusions; but reason pure and simple, as distinct from experience, only has to do with truths independent of the senses.
One may compare faith with experience, since faith (in respect of the motives that give it justification) depends upon the experience of those who have seen the miracles whereon revelation is founded, and upon the trustworthy tradition which has handed them down to us, whether through the Scriptures or by the account of those who have preserved them.
It is rather as we rely upon the experience of those who have seen China and on the credibility of their account when we give credence to the wonders that are told us of that distant country. Yet I would also take into account the inward motion of the Holy Spirit, who takes possession of souls and persuades them and prompts them to good, that is, to faith and to charity, without always having need of motives.
- The truths of reason are of two kinds:
the one kind is of those called the ‘Eternal Verities’, which are altogether necessary, so that the opposite implies contradiction. Such are the truths whose necessity is logical, metaphysical or geometrical, which one cannot deny without being led into absurdities. There are others which may be called positive, because they are the laws which it has pleased God to give to Nature, or because they depend upon those. We learn them either by experience, that is, a posteriori, or by reason and a priori, that is, by considerations of the fitness of things which have caused their choice. This fitness of things has also its rules and reasons, but it is the free choice of God, and not a geometrical necessity, which causes preference for what is fitting and brings it into existence. Thus one may say that physical necessity is founded on moral necessity, that is, on the wise one’s choice which is worthy of his wisdom; and that both of these ought to be distinguished from geometrical necessity. It is this physical necessity that makes order in Nature and lies in the rules of motion and in some other general laws which it pleased God to lay down for things when he gave them being. It is therefore true that God gave such laws not without reason, for he chooses nothing from caprice and as though by chance or in pure indifference; but the general reasons of good and of order, which have prompted him to the choice, may be overcome in some cases by stronger reasons of a superior order.
- Thus it is made clear that God can exempt creatures from the laws he has prescribed for them, and produce in them that which their nature does not bear by performing a miracle. When they have risen to perfections and faculties nobler than those whereto they can by their nature attain, the Schoolmen call this faculty an ‘Obediential Power’, that is to say, a power which the thing acquires by obeying the command of him who can give that which the thing has not. The Schoolmen, however, usually give instances of this power which to me appear impossible: they maintain, for example, that God can give the creature the faculty to create. It may be that there are miracles which God performs through the ministry of angels, where the laws of Nature are not violated, any more than when men assist Nature by art, the skill of angels differing from ours only by degree of perfection. Nevertheless it still remains true that the laws of Nature are subject to be dispensed from by the Law-giver; whereas the eternal verities, as for instance those of geometry, admit no dispensation, and faith cannot contradict them. Thus it is that there cannot be any invincible objection to truth. For if it is a question of proof which is founded upon principles or incontestable facts and formed by a linking together of eternal verities, the conclusion is certain and essential, and that which is contrary to it must be false; otherwise two contradictories might be true at the same time. If the objection is not conclusive, it can only form a probable argument, which has no force against faith, since it is agreed that the Mysteries of religion are contrary to appearances. Now M. Bayle declares, in his posthumous Reply to M. le Clerc, that he does not claim that there are demonstrations contrary to the truths of faith: and as a result all these insuperable difficulties, these so-called wars between reason and faith, vanish away.
Hi motus animorum atque haec discrimina tanta,
Pulveris exigui jactu compressa quiescunt.
Protestant theologians as well as those of the Roman confession admit the maxims which I have just laid down, when they handle the matter with attention; and all that is said against reason has no force save against a kind of counterfeit reason, corrupted and deluded by false appearances. It is the same with our notions of the justice and the goodness of God, which are spoken of sometimes as if we had neither any idea nor any definition of their nature. But in that case we should have no ground for ascribing these attributes to him, or lauding him for them. His goodness and his justice as well as his wisdom differ from ours only because they are infinitely more perfect. Thus the simple notions, the necessary truths and the conclusive results of philosophy cannot be contrary to revelation. And when some philosophical maxims are rejected in theology, the reason is that they are considered to have only a physical or moral necessity, which speaks only of that which takes place usually, and is consequently founded on appearances, but which may be withheld if God so pleases.
It seems, according to what I have just said, that there is often some confusion in the expressions of those who set at variance philosophy and theology, or faith and reason: they confuse the terms ’explain’, ‘comprehend’, ‘prove’, ‘uphold’. And I find that M. Bayle, shrewd as he is, is not always free from this confusion. Mysteries may be explained sufficiently to justify belief in them; but one cannot comprehend them, nor give understanding of how they come to pass. Thus even in natural philosophy we explain up to a certain point sundry perceptible qualities, but in an imperfect manner, for we do not comprehend them. Nor is it possible for us, either, to prove Mysteries by reason; for all that which can be proved a priori, or by pure reason, can be comprehended. All that remains for us then, after having believed in the Mysteries by reason of the proofs of the truth of religion (which are called ‘motives of credibility’) is to be able to uphold them against objections. Without that our belief in them would have no firm foundation; for all that which can be refuted in a sound and conclusive manner cannot but be false. And such proofs of the truth of religion as can give only a moral certainty would be balanced and even outweighed by such objections as would give an absolute certainty, provided they were convincing and altogether conclusive. This little might suffice me to remove the difficulties concerning the use of reason and philosophy in relation to religion if one had not to deal all too often with prejudiced persons. But as the subject is important and it has fallen into a state of confusion, it will be well to take it in greater detail.