Superphysics Superphysics
Part 124

Bayle's 19 philosophic maxims

by Leibniz
14 minutes  • 2811 words
Table of contents

Maxim 9: ‘The way whereby that master can give proof of greatest love for virtue is to cause it, if he can, to be always practised without any mixture of vice.’

If it is easy for him to procure for his subjects this advantage, and nevertheless he permits vice to raise its head, save that he punishes it finally after having long tolerated it, his affection for virtue is not the greatest one can conceive; it is therefore not infinite.'

I am not yet half way through the nineteen maxims, and already I am weary of refuting, and making the same answer always. M. Bayle multiplies unnecessarily his so-called maxims in opposition to my dogmas.

If things connected together may be separated, the parts from their whole, the human kind from the universe, God’s attributes the one from the other, power from wisdom, it may be said that God can cause virtue to be in the world without any mixture of vice, and even that he can do so easily.

But, since he has permitted vice, it must be that that order of the universe which was found preferable to every other plan required it. One must believe that it is not permitted to do otherwise, since [198]it is not possible to do better. It is a hypothetical necessity, a moral necessity, which, far from being contrary to freedom, is the effect of its choice. Quae rationi contraria sunt, ea nec fieri a Sapiente posse credendum est.

The objection is made here, that God’s affection for virtue is therefore not the greatest which can be conceived, that it is not infinite. To that an answer has already been given on the second maxim, in the assertion that God’s affection for any created thing whatsoever is proportionate to the value of the thing. Virtue is the noblest quality of created things, but it is not the only good quality of creatures.

There are innumerable others which attract the inclination of God: from all these inclinations there results the most possible good, and it turns out that if there were only virtue, if there were only rational creatures, there would be less good.

Midas proved to be less rich when he had only gold. And besides, wisdom must vary. To multiply one and the same thing only would be superfluity, and poverty too. To have a thousand well-bound Vergils in one’s library, always to sing the airs from the opera of Cadmus and Hermione, to break all the china in order only to have cups of gold, to have only diamond buttons, to eat nothing but partridges, to drink only Hungarian or Shiraz wine—would one call that reason?

Nature had need of animals, plants, inanimate bodies; there are in these creatures, devoid of reason, marvels which serve for exercise of the reason. What would an intelligent creature do if there were no unintelligent things? What would it think of, if there were neither movement, nor matter, nor sense?

If it had only distinct thoughts it would be a God, its wisdom would be without bounds: that is one of the results of my meditations. As soon as there is a mixture of confused thoughts, there is sense, there is matter. For these confused thoughts come from the relation of all things one to the other by way of duration and extent.

Thus it is that in my philosophy there is no rational creature without some organic body, and there is no created spirit entirely detached from matter. But these organic bodies vary no less in perfection than the spirits to which they belong. Therefore, since God’s wisdom must have a world of bodies, a world of substances capable of perception and incapable of reason; since, in short, it was necessary to choose from all the things possible what produced the best effect together, and since vice entered in by this door, God would not have been altogether good, altogether wise if he had excluded it.

  1. X. ‘The way to evince the greatest hatred for vice is not indeed to allow it to prevail for a long time and then chastise it, but to crush it before its birth, that is, prevent it from showing itself anywhere. A king, for example, who put his finances in such good order that no malversation was ever committed, would thus display more hatred for the wrong done by factionaries than if, after having suffered them to batten on the blood of the people, he had them hanged.’

It is always the same song, it is anthropomorphism pure and simple. A king should generally have nothing so much at heart as to keep his subjects free from oppression. One of his greatest interests is to bring good order into his finances. Nevertheless there are times when he is obliged to tolerate vice and disorders. He has a great war on his hands, he is in a state of exhaustion, he has no choice of generals, it is necessary to humour those he has, those possessed of great authority with the soldiers: a Braccio, a Sforza, a Wallenstein. He lacks money for the most pressing needs, it is necessary to turn to great financiers, who have an established credit, and he must at the same time connive at their malversations. It is true that this unfortunate necessity arises most often from previous errors. It is not the same with God: he has need of no man, he commits no error, he always does the best. One cannot even wish that things may go better, when one understands them: and it would be a vice in the Author of things if he wished to change anything whatsoever in them, if he wished to exclude the vice that was found there. Is this State with perfect government, where good is willed and performed as far as it is possible, where evil even serves the greatest good, comparable with the State of a prince whose affairs are in ruin and who escapes as best he can? Or with that of a prince who encourages oppression in order to punish it, and who delights to see the little men with begging bowls and the great on scaffolds?

  1. XI. ‘A ruler devoted to the interests of virtue, and to the good of his subjects, takes the utmost care to ensure that they never disobey his laws; and if he must needs chastise them for their disobedience, he sees to it that the penalty cures them of the inclination to evil, and restores in their soul a strong and constant tendency towards good: so far is he from any desire that the penalty for the error should incline them more and more towards evil.’


To make men better, God does all that is due, and even all that can be done on his side without detriment to what is due. The most usual aim of punishment is amendment; but it is not the sole aim, nor that which God always intends. I have said a word on that above. Original sin, which disposes men towards evil, is not merely a penalty for the first sin; it is a natural consequence thereof. On that too a word has been said, in the course of an observation on the fourth theological proposition. It is like drunkenness, which is a penalty for excess in drinking and is at the same time a natural consequence that easily leads to new sins.

  1. XII. ‘To permit the evil that one could prevent is not to care whether it be committed or not, or is even to wish that it be committed.’

By no means. How many times do men permit evils which they could prevent if they turned all their efforts in that direction? But other more important cares prevent them from doing so. One will rarely resolve upon adjusting irregularities in the coinage while one is involved in a great war. And the action of an English Parliament in this direction a little before the Peace of Ryswyck will be rather praised than imitated. Can one conclude from this that the State has no anxiety about this irregularity, or even that it desires it? God has a far stronger reason, and one far more worthy of him, for tolerating evils. Not only does he derive from them greater goods, but he finds them connected with the greatest goods of all those that are possible: so that it would be a fault not to permit them.

  1. XIII. ‘It is a very great fault in those who govern, if they do not care whether there be disorder in their States or not. The fault is still greater if they wish and even desire disorder there. If by hidden and indirect, but infallible, ways they stirred up a sedition in their States to bring them to the brink of ruin, in order to gain for themselves the glory of showing that they have the courage and the prudence necessary for saving a great kingdom on the point of perishing, they would be most deserving of condemnation. But if they stirred up this sedition because there were no other means than that, of averting the total ruin of their subjects and of strengthening on new foundations, and for several centuries, the happiness of nations, one must needs lament the unfortunate necessity (see above, pp. 146, 147, what has been said of the [201]force of necessity) to which they were reduced, and praise them for the use that they made thereof.’

This maxim, with divers others set forth here, is not applicable to the government of God. Not to mention the fact that it is only the disorders of a very small part of his kingdom which are brought up in objection, it is untrue that he has no anxiety about evils, that he desires them, that he brings them into being, to have the glory of allaying them. God wills order and good; but it happens sometimes that what is disorder in the part is order in the whole. I have already stated this legal axiom: Incivile est nisi tota lege inspecta judicare. The permission of evils comes from a kind of moral necessity: God is constrained to this by his wisdom and by his goodness; this necessity is happy, whereas that of the prince spoken of in the maxim is unhappy. His State is one of the most corrupt; and the government of God is the best State possible.

  1. XIV. ‘The permission of a certain evil is only excusable when one cannot remedy it without introducing a greater evil; but it cannot be excusable in those who have in hand a remedy more efficacious against this evil, and against all the other evils that could spring from the suppression of this one.’

The maxim is true, but it cannot be brought forward against the government of God. Supreme reason constrains him to permit the evil. If God chose what would not be the best absolutely and in all, that would be a greater evil than all the individual evils which he could prevent by this means. This wrong choice would destroy his wisdom and his goodness.

  1. XV. ‘The Being infinitely powerful, Creator of matter and of spirits, makes whatever he wills of this matter and these spirits. There is no situation or shape that he cannot communicate to spirits. If he then permitted a physical or a moral evil, this would not be for the reason that otherwise some other still greater physical or moral evil would be altogether inevitable. None of those reasons for the mixture of good and evil which are founded on the limitation of the forces of benefactors can apply to him.’

It is true that God makes of matter and of spirits whatever he wills; but he is like a good sculptor, who will make from his block of marble only that which he judges to be the best, and who judges well. God makes of matter the most excellent of all possible machines; he makes of spirits the most excellent of all governments conceivable; and over and above all that, he establishes for [202]their union the most perfect of all harmonies, according to the system I have proposed. Now since physical evil and moral evil occur in this perfect work, one must conclude (contrary to M. Bayle’s assurance here) that otherwise a still greater evil would have been altogether inevitable. This great evil would be that God would have chosen ill if he had chosen otherwise than he has chosen. It is true that God is infinitely powerful; but his power is indeterminate, goodness and wisdom combined determine him to produce the best. M. Bayle makes elsewhere an objection which is peculiar to him, which he derives from the opinions of the modern Cartesians. They say that God could have given to souls what thoughts he would, without making them depend upon any relation to the body: by this means souls would be spared a great number of evils which only spring from derangement of the body. More will be said of this later; now it is sufficient to bear in mind that God cannot establish a system ill-connected and full of dissonances. It is to some extent the nature of souls to represent bodies.

  1. XVI. ‘One is just as much the cause of an event when one brings it about in moral ways, as when one brings it about in physical ways. A Minister of State, who, without going out of his study, and simply by utilizing the passions of the leaders of a faction, overthrew all their plots, would thus be bringing about the ruin of this faction, no less than if he destroyed it by a surprise attack.’

I have nothing to say against this maxim. Evil is always attributed to moral causes, and not always to physical causes. Here I observe simply that if I could not prevent the sin of others except by committing a sin myself, I should be justified in permitting it, and I should not be accessary thereto, or its moral cause. In God, every fault would represent a sin; it would be even more than sin, for it would destroy Divinity. And it would be a great fault in him not to choose the best. I have said so many times. He would then prevent sin by something worse than all sins.

  1. XVII. ‘It is all the same whether one employ a necessary cause, or employ a free cause while choosing the moments when one knows it to be determined. If I imagine that gunpowder has the power to ignite or not to ignite when fire touches it, and if I know for certain that it will be disposed to ignite at eight o’clock in the morning, I shall be just as much the cause of its effects if I apply the fire to it at that hour, as I should be in assuming, as is [203]the case, that it is a necessary cause. For where I am concerned it would no longer be a free cause. I should be catching it at the moment when I knew it to be necessitated by its own choice. It is impossible for a being to be free or indifferent with regard to that to which it is already determined, and at the time when it is determined thereto. All that which exists exists of necessity while it exists. Το ειναι το ον ‛οταν ηι, και το μη ειναι ‛οταν μη ηι, αναγκη. “Necesse est id quod est, quando est, esse; et id quod non est, quando non est, non esse”: Arist., De Interpret., cap. 9. The Nominalists have adopted this maxim of Aristotle. Scotus and sundry other Schoolmen appear to reject it, but fundamentally their distinctions come to the same thing. See the Jesuits of Coimbra on this passage from Aristotle, p. 380 et seq.)’

This maxim may pass also; I would wish only to change something in the phraseology. I would not take ‘free’ and ‘indifferent’ for one and the same thing, and would not place ‘free’ and ‘determined’ in antithesis. One is never altogether indifferent with an indifference of equipoise; one is always more inclined and consequently more determined on one side than on another: but one is never necessitated to the choice that one makes. I mean here a necessity absolute and metaphysical; for it must be admitted that God, that wisdom, is prompted to the best by a moral necessity. It must be admitted also that one is necessitated to the choice by a hypothetical necessity, when one actually makes the choice; and even before one is necessitated thereto by the very truth of the futurition, since one will do it. These hypothetical necessities do no harm. I have spoken sufficiently on this point already.

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