Superphysics Superphysics
Part 120

Bayle's 19 philosophic maxims

by Leibniz
20 minutes  • 4053 words
  1. I come now to the principal objection M. Bayle, after M. Arnauld, brings up against me. It is complicated: they maintain that God would be under compulsion, that he would act of necessity, if he were bound to create the best; or at least that he would have been lacking in power if he could not have found a better expedient for excluding sins and other evils. That is in effect denying that this universe is the best, and that God is bound to insist upon the best. I have met this objection adequately in more than one passage: I have proved that God cannot fail to produce the best; and from that assumption it follows that the evils we experience could not have been reasonably excluded from the universe, since they are there. Let us see, however, what these two excellent men bring up, or rather let us see what M. Bayle’s objection is, for he professes to have profited by the arguments of M. Arnauld.

  2. ‘Would it be possible’, he says, Reply to the Questions of a Provincial, vol. III, ch. 158, p. 890, ’that a nature whose goodness, holiness, wisdom, knowledge and power are infinite, who loves virtue supremely, and hates vice supremely, as our clear and distinct idea of him shows us, and as well-nigh every page of Scripture assures us, could have found in virtue no means fitting and suited for his ends? Would it be possible that vice alone had offered him this means? One would have thought on the contrary that nothing beseemed this nature more than to establish virtue in his work to the exclusion of all vice.’ M. Bayle here exaggerates things. I agree that some vice was connected with the best plan of the universe, but I do not agree with him that God could not find in virtue any means suited for his ends. This objection would have been valid if there were no virtue, if vice took its place everywhere. He will say it suffices that vice prevails and that virtue is trifling in comparison. But I am far from agreeing with him there, and I think that in reality, properly speaking, there is incomparably more moral good than moral evil in rational creatures; and of these we have knowledge of but few.

  3. This evil is not even so great in men as it is declared to be. [265]It is only people of a malicious disposition or those who have become somewhat misanthropic through misfortunes, like Lucian’s Timon, who find wickedness everywhere, and who poison the best actions by the interpretations they give to them. I speak of those who do it in all seriousness, to draw thence evil conclusions, by which their conduct is tainted; for there are some who only do it to show off their own acumen. People have found that fault in Tacitus, and that again is the criticism M. Descartes (in one of his letters) makes of Mr. Hobbes’s book De Cive, of which only a few copies had at that time been printed for distribution among friends, but to which some notes by the author were added in the second edition which we have. For although M. Descartes acknowledges that this book is by a man of talent, he observes therein some very dangerous principles and maxims, in the assumption there made that all men are wicked, or the provision of them with motives for being so. The late Herr Jacob Thomasius said in his admirable Tables of Practical Philosophy that the πρωτον ψευδος, the primary cause of errors in this book by Mr. Hobbes, was that he took statum legalem pro naturali, that is to say that the corrupt state served him as a gauge and rule, whereas it is the state most befitting human nature which Aristotle had had in view. For according to Aristotle, that is termed natural which conforms most closely to the perfection of the nature of the thing; but Mr. Hobbes applies the term natural state to that which has least art, perhaps not taking into account that human nature in its perfection carries art with it. But the question of name, that is to say, of what may be called natural, would not be of great importance were it not that Aristotle and Hobbes fastened upon it the notion of natural right, each one following his own signification. I have said here already that I found in the book on the Falsity of human Virtues the same defect as M. Descartes found in Mr. Hobbes’s De Cive.

  4. But even if we assume that vice exceeds virtue in the human kind, as it is assumed the number of the damned exceeds that of the elect, it by no means follows that vice and misery exceed virtue and happiness in the universe: one should rather believe the opposite, because the City of God must be the most perfect of all possible states, since it was formed and is perpetually governed by the greatest and best of all Monarchs. This answer confirms the observation I made earlier, when speaking of the conformity of faith with reason, namely, that one of the greatest [266]sources of fallacy in the objections is the confusion of the apparent with the real. And here by the apparent I mean not simply such as would result from an exact discussion of facts, but that which has been derived from the small extent of our experiences. It would be senseless to try to bring up appearances so imperfect, and having such slight foundation, in opposition to the proofs of reason and the revelations of faith.

  5. Finally, I have already observed that love of virtue and hatred of vice, which tend in an undefined way to bring virtue into existence and to prevent the existence of vice, are only antecedent acts of will, such as is the will to bring about the happiness of all men and to save them from misery. These acts of antecedent will make up only a portion of all the antecedent will of God taken together, whose result forms the consequent will, or the decree to create the best. Through this decree it is that love for virtue and for the happiness of rational creatures, which is undefined in itself and goes as far as is possible, receives some slight limitations, on account of the heed that must be paid to good in general. Thus one must understand that God loves virtue supremely and hates vice supremely, and that nevertheless some vice is to be permitted.

  6. M. Arnauld and M. Bayle appear to maintain that this method of explaining things and of establishing a best among all the plans for the universe, one such as may not be surpassed by any other, sets a limit to God’s power. ‘Have you considered’, says M. Arnauld to Father Malebranche (in his Reflexions on the New System of Nature and Grace, vol. II, p. 385), ’that in making such assumptions you take it upon yourself to subvert the first article of the creed, whereby we make profession of believing in God the Father Almighty?’ He had said already (p. 362): ‘Can one maintain, without trying to blind oneself, that a course of action which could not fail to have this grievous result, namely, that the majority of men perish, bears the stamp of God’s goodness more than a different course of action, which would have caused, if God had followed it, the salvation of all men?’ And, as M. Jacquelot does not differ from the principles I have just laid down, M. Bayle raises like objections in his case (Reply to the Questions of a Provincial, vol. III, ch. 151, p. 900): ‘If one adopts such explanations’, he says, ‘one sees oneself constrained to renounce the most obvious notions on the nature of the supremely perfect Being. These teach us that all things not implying contradiction [267]are possible for him, that consequently it is possible for him to save people whom he does not save: for what contradiction would result supposing the number of the elect were greater than it is? They teach us besides that, since he is supremely happy, he has no will which he cannot carry out. How, then, shall we understand that he wills to save all men and that he cannot do so? We sought some light to help us out of the perplexities we feel in comparing the idea of God with the state of the human kind, and lo! we are given elucidations that cast us into darkness more dense.’

  7. All these obstacles vanish before the exposition I have just given. I agree with M. Bayle’s principle, and it is also mine, that everything implying no contradiction is possible. But as for me, holding as I do that God did the best that was possible, or that he could not have done better than he has done, deeming also that to pass any other judgement upon his work in its entirety would be to wrong his goodness or his wisdom, I must say that to make something which surpasses in goodness the best itself, that indeed would imply contradiction. That would be as if someone maintained that God could draw from one point to another a line shorter than the straight line, and accused those who deny this of subverting the article of faith whereby we believe in God the Father Almighty.

  8. The infinity of possibles, however great it may be, is no greater than that of the wisdom of God, who knows all possibles. One may even say that if this wisdom does not exceed the possibles extensively, since the objects of the understanding cannot go beyond the possible, which in a sense is alone intelligible, it exceeds them intensively, by reason of the infinitely infinite combinations it makes thereof, and its many deliberations concerning them. The wisdom of God, not content with embracing all the possibles, penetrates them, compares them, weighs them one against the other, to estimate their degrees of perfection or imperfection, the strong and the weak, the good and the evil. It goes even beyond the finite combinations, it makes of them an infinity of infinites, that is to say, an infinity of possible sequences of the universe, each of which contains an infinity of creatures. By this means the divine Wisdom distributes all the possibles it had already contemplated separately, into so many universal systems which it further compares the one with the other. The result of all these comparisons and deliberations is the choice of the best from [268]among all these possible systems, which wisdom makes in order to satisfy goodness completely; and such is precisely the plan of the universe as it is. Moreover, all these operations of the divine understanding, although they have among them an order and a priority of nature, always take place together, no priority of time existing among them.

  9. The careful consideration of these things will, I hope, induce a different idea of the greatness of the divine perfections, and especially of the wisdom and goodness of God, from any that can exist in the minds of those who make God act at random, without cause or reason. And I do not see how they could avoid falling into an opinion so strange, unless they acknowledged that there are reasons for God’s choice, and that these reasons are derived from his goodness: whence it follows of necessity that what was chosen had the advantage of goodness over what was not chosen, and consequently that it is the best of all the possibles. The best cannot be surpassed in goodness, and it is no restriction of the power of God to say that he cannot do the impossible. Is it possible, said M. Bayle, that there is no better plan than that one which God carried out? One answers that it is very possible and indeed necessary, namely that there is none: otherwise God would have preferred it.

  10. It seems to me that I have proved sufficiently that among all the possible plans of the universe there is one better than all the rest, and that God has not failed to choose it. But M. Bayle claims to infer thence that God is therefore not free. This is how he speaks on that question (ubi supra, ch. 151, p. 899): ‘I thought to argue with a man who assumed as I do that the goodness and the power of God are infinite, as well as his wisdom; and now I see that in reality this man assumes that God’s goodness and power are enclosed within rather narrow bounds.’ As to that, the objection has already been met: I set no bounds to God’s power, since I recognize that it extends ad maximum, ad omnia, to all that implies no contradiction; and I set none to his goodness, since it attains to the best, ad optimum. But M. Bayle goes on: ‘There is therefore no freedom in God; he is compelled by his wisdom to create, and then to create precisely such a work, and finally to create it precisely in such ways. These are three servitudes which form a more than Stoic fatum, and which render impossible all that is not within their sphere. It seems that, according to this system, God could [269]have said, even before shaping his decrees: I cannot save such and such a man, nor condemn such and such another, quippe vetor fatis, my wisdom permits it not.’

  11. I answer that it is goodness which prompts God to create with the purpose of communicating himself; and this same goodness combined with wisdom prompts him to create the best: a best that includes the whole sequence, the effect and the process. It prompts him thereto without compelling him, for it does not render impossible that which it does not cause him to choose. To call that fatum is taking it in a good sense, which is not contrary to freedom: fatum comes from fari, to speak, to pronounce; it signifies a judgement, a decree of God, the award of his wisdom. To say that one cannot do a thing, simply because one does not will it, is to misuse terms. The wise mind wills only the good: is it then a servitude when the will acts in accordance with wisdom? And can one be less a slave than to act by one’s own choice in accordance with the most perfect reason? Aristotle used to say that that man is in a natural servitude (natura servus) who lacks guidance, who has need of being directed. Slavery comes from without, it leads to that which offends, and especially to that which offends with reason: the force of others and our own passions enslave us. God is never moved by anything outside himself, nor is he subject to inward passions, and he is never led to that which can cause him offence. It appears, therefore, that M. Bayle gives odious names to the best things in the world, and turns our ideas upside-down, applying the term slavery to the state of the greatest and most perfect freedom.

  12. He had also said not long before (ch. 151, p. 891): ‘If virtue, or any other good at all, had been as appropriate as vice for the Creator’s ends, vice would not have been given preference; it must therefore have been the only means that the Creator could have used; it was therefore employed purely of necessity. As therefore he loves his glory, not with a freedom of indifference, but by necessity, he must by necessity love all the means without which he could not manifest his glory. Now if vice, as vice, was the only means of attaining to this end, it will follow that God of necessity loves vice as vice, a thought which can only inspire us with horror; and he has revealed quite the contrary to us.’ He observes at the same time that certain doctors among the Supralapsarians (like Rutherford, for example) denied that God wills sin as sin, whilst [270]they admitted that he wills sin permissively in so far as it is punishable and pardonable. But he urges in objection, that an action is only punishable and pardonable in so far as it is vicious.

  13. M. Bayle makes a false assumption in these words that we have just read, and draws from them false conclusions. It is not true that God loves his glory by necessity, if thereby it is understood that he is led by necessity to acquire his glory through his creatures. For if that were so, he would acquire his glory always and everywhere. The decree to create is free: God is prompted to all good; the good, and even the best, inclines him to act; but it does not compel him, for his choice creates no impossibility in that which is distinct from the best; it causes no implication of contradiction in that which God refrains from doing. There is therefore in God a freedom that is exempt not only from constraint but also from necessity. I mean this in respect of metaphysical necessity; for it is a moral necessity that the wisest should be bound to choose the best. It is the same with the means which God chooses to attain his glory. And as for vice, it has been shown in preceding pages that it is not an object of God’s decree as means, but as conditio sine qua non, and that for that reason alone it is permitted. One is even less justified in saying that vice is the only means; it would be at most one of the means, but one of the least among innumerable others.

  14. ‘Another frightful consequence,’ M. Bayle goes on, ’the fatality of all things, ensues: God will not have been free to arrange events in a different way, since the means he chose to show forth his glory was the only means befitting his wisdom.’ This so-called fatality or necessity is only moral, as I have just shown: it does not affect freedom; on the contrary, it assumes the best use thereof; it does not render impossible the objects set aside by God’s choice. ‘What, then, will become’, he adds, ‘of man’s free will? Will there not have been necessity and fatality for Adam to sin? For if he had not sinned, he would have overthrown the sole plan that God had of necessity created.’ That is again a misuse of terms. Adam sinning freely was seen of God among the ideas of the possibles, and God decreed to admit him into existence as he saw him. This decree does not change the nature of the objects: it does not render necessary that which was contingent in itself, or impossible that which was possible.


  1. M. Bayle goes on (p. 892): ‘The subtle Scotus asserts with much discernment that if God had no freedom of indifference no creature could have this kind of freedom.’ I agree provided it is not meant as an indifference of equipoise, where there is no reason inclining more to one side than the other. M. Bayle acknowledges (farther on in chapter 168, p. 1111) that what is termed indifference does not exclude prevenient inclinations and pleasures. It suffices therefore that there be no metaphysical necessity in the action which is termed free, that is to say, it suffices that a choice be made between several courses possible.

  2. He goes on again in the said chapter 157, p. 893: ‘If God is not determined to create the world by a free motion of his goodness, but by the interests of his glory, which he loves by necessity, and which is the only thing he loves, for it is not different from his substance; and if the love that he has for himself has compelled him to show forth his glory through the most fitting means, and if the fall of man was this same means, it is evident that this fall happened entirely by necessity and that the obedience of Eve and Adam to God’s commands was impossible.’ Still the same error. The love that God bears to himself is essential to him, but the love for his glory, or the will to acquire his glory, is not so by any means: the love he has for himself did not impel him by necessity to actions without; they were free; and since there were possible plans whereby the first parents should not sin, their sin was therefore not necessary. Finally, I say in effect what M. Bayle acknowledges here, ’that God resolved to create the world by a free motion of his goodness’; and I add that this same motion prompted him to the best.

  3. The same answer holds good against this statement of M. Bayle’s (ch. 165, p. 1071): ‘The means most appropriate for attaining an end is of necessity one alone’ (that is very well said, at least for the cases where God has chosen). ‘Therefore if God was prompted irresistibly to employ this means, he employed it by necessity.’ (He was certainly prompted thereto, he was determined, or rather he determined himself thereto: but that which is certain is not always necessary, or altogether irresistible; the thing might have gone otherwise, but that did not happen, and with good reason. God chose between different courses all possible: thus, metaphysically speaking, he could have chosen or done what was not the best; but he could not morally speaking have done so. [272]Let us make use of a comparison from geometry. The best way from one point to another (leaving out of account obstacles and other considerations accidental to the medium) is one alone: it is that one which passes by the shortest line, which is the straight line. Yet there are innumerable ways from one point to another. There is therefore no necessity which binds me to go by the straight line; but as soon as I choose the best, I am determined to go that way, although this is only a moral necessity in the wise. That is why the following conclusions fail.) ‘Therefore he could only do that which he did. Therefore that which has not happened or will never happen is absolutely impossible.’ (These conclusions fail, I say: for since there are many things which have never happened and never will happen, and which nevertheless are clearly conceivable, and imply no contradiction, how can one say they are altogether impossible? M. Bayle has refuted that himself in a passage opposing the Spinozists, which I have already quoted here, and he has frequently acknowledged that there is nothing impossible except that which implies contradiction: now he changes style and terminology.) ‘Therefore Adam’s perseverance in innocence was always impossible; therefore his fall was altogether inevitable, and even antecedently to God’s decree, for it implied contradiction that God should be able to will a thing opposed to his wisdom: it is, after all, the same thing to say, that it is impossible for God, as to say, God could do it, if he so willed, but he cannot will it.’ (It is misusing terms in a sense to say here: one can will, one will will; ‘can’ here concerns the actions that one does will. Nevertheless it implies no contradiction that God should will—directly or permissively—a thing not implying contradiction, and in this sense it is permitted to say that God can will it.)

  4. In a word, when one speaks of the possibility of a thing it is not a question of the causes that can bring about or prevent its actual existence: otherwise one would change the nature of the terms, and render useless the distinction between the possible and the actual. This Abelard did, and Wyclif appears to have done after him, in consequence of which they fell needlessly into unsuitable and disagreeable expressions. That is why, when one asks if a thing is possible or necessary, and brings in the consideration of what God wills or chooses, one alters the issue. For God chooses among the possibles, and for that very reason he chooses freely, [273]and is not compelled; there would be neither choice nor freedom if there were but one course possible.

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