Philosophy of Religion

Chapter 6. The Problem of Evil

Section 6.  Evil Transformed

Evil is only a part of the overall good and does not exist in itself

 If the deity is all perfect then any universe created by that deity could not be anything less than perfect.  This universe that does exist must therefore be the best possible.  If this is so and there is what appears to be evil in this universe then that evil is not really evil at all but some necessary part or feature of the best of all possible worlds.  Humans do not have the viewpoint of the deity.  Humans cannot see the universe as seen by the deity.  Humans focus on some aspect of the whole and give it a name "evil" and then think that evil has some existence or fore on its own.  When the entire creation is seen by the deity it appears to be beautiful and what humans call evil is seen by the deity as necessary feature of the overall beautiful creation.  

Humans cannot get past the human perspective that is finite.  Humans are viewing the canvas of a beautiful oil painting.  They view the work of art by standing very close and focusing on the dark smudges (dabs of gray and brown and black paint) which they call evil.  However, if the viewer would step back the viewer of the painting see the beauty of the work and the dabs of paint previously thought to be ugly or evil would be seen as all part of the beautiful work of art.  The problem is that humans cannot step back and view the painting for the view of the deity.  So, for humans here is the appearance of the feature that they call evil.  From the viewpoint of the deity that which humans call evil is not evil at all but a part of the overall creation.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz  

For this philosopher God allows temporary evil for the greater good and is actually part of the good.  This world (universe) created by the all perfect deity would need to be the very best possible world because an all perfect being could not produce anything less than the very best.

World=Best of All Possible Worlds  

The evil that appears to humans as part of the best of all possible worlds is not so evil from the divine view-Godís eye view.  Evil is not evil from Godís view, the infinite view .

1) If God were all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, then this world would be the best possible world.

2) But surely this world is not the best possible world.

3) Thus, God is not all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good.

Leibniz believed that the evidence that the conclusion of this argument was false was simply overwhelming. So, Leibniz needed to look carefully at the two premises in this argument in an attempt to falsify at least one of them. He was by his faith committed to accepting the first premise as true and so he wanted to reject the second. Leibniz held that the second premise was false and that this world is the best of all possible worlds.

Leibniz held that humans can not possibly know how changing certain events in this world would make it any better than it is and has been. Thus, humans can not support the claim that this world is not as good as it can be and in fact the best possible of all worlds.  Humans have not an infinite perspective and amount of knowledge-God's view- that would enable them to conclude that this world is not the best possible.  If they could have such knowledge they would see how all that is and has been makes for the best possible world that could exists and thus whatever evil does exist is in some sense necessary for the production of the most wonderful, most beautiful world possible.

see further: Leibniz on the Problem of Evil in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at


Selections from The Theodicy

From Gottfried W. Leibnitz, The Philosophical Works of Leibnitz, trans. George M. Duncan, pp. 194-197, 202-204. Published, 1890, by Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor. In the public domain.

Abridgment of the Argument Reduced to Syllogistic Form

Some intelligent persons have desired that this supplement should be made [to the Theodicy], and I have the more readily yielded to their wishes as in this way I have an opportunity to again remove certain difficulties and to make some observations which were not sufficiently emphasized in the work itself.

I. Objection. Whoever does not choose the best is lacking in power, or in knowledge, or in goodness.

God did not choose the best in creating this world.

Therefore God has been lacking in power, or in knowledge, or in goodness.

Answer. I deny the minor, that is, the second premise of this syllogism: and our opponent proves it by this.

Prosyllogism. Whoever makes things in which there is evil, which could have been made without any evil, or the making of which could have been omitted, does not choose the best.

God has made a world in which there is evil; a world, I say, which could have been made without any evil, or the making of which could have been omitted altogether.

Therefore God has not chosen the best.

Answer. I grant the minor of this prosyllogism; for it must be confessed that there is evil in the world which God has made, and that it was possible to make a world without evil, or even not to create a world at all, for its creation depended on the free will of God; but I deny the major, that is, the first of the two premises of the prosyllogism, and I might content myself with simply demanding its proof; but in order to make the matter clearer, I have wished to justify this denial by showing that the best plan is not always that which seeks to avoid evil, since it may happen that the evil be accompanied by a greater good. For example, a general of the army will prefer a great victory with a slight wound to a condition without wound and without victory. We have proved this more fully in the large work by making it clear, by instances taken from mathematics and elsewhere, that an imperfection in the part may be required for a greater perfection in the whole. In this I have followed the opinion of St. Augustine, who has said a hundred times, that God permitted evil in order to bring about good, that is, a greater good; and that of Thomas Aquinas' (in libr. II sent. dist. 32, qu. I, art. 1), that the permitting of evil tends to the good of the universe. I have shown that the ancients called Adam's fall felix culpa, a happy sin, because it had been retrieved with immense advantage by the incarnation of the Son of God, who has given to the universe something nobler than anything that ever would have been among creatures except for this. And in order to a clear understanding, I have added, following many good authors, that it was in accordance with order and the general good that God gave to certain creatures the opportunity of exercising their liberty, even when he foresaw that they would turn to evil, but which he could so well rectify; because it was not right that, in order to hinder sin, God should always act in an extraordinary manner.

To overthrow this objection, therefore, it is sufficient to show that a world with evil might be better than a world without evil; but I have gone even farther in the work, and have even proved that this universe must be in reality better than every other possible universe.

II. Objection. If there is more evil than good in intelligent creatures, then there is more evil than good in the whole work of God.

Now, there is more evil than good in intelligent creatures.

Therefore there is more evil than good in the whole work of God.

Answer. I deny the major and the minor of this conditional syllogism. As to the major, I do not admit it at all, because this pretended deduction from a part to the whole, from intelligent creatures to all creatures, supposes tacitly and without proof that creatures destitute of reason cannot enter into comparison nor into account with those which possess it. But why may it not be that the surplus of good in the non-intelligent creatures which fill the world, compensates for, and even incomparably surpasses, the surplus of evil in the rational creatures? It is true that the value of the latter is greater; but, in compensation, the other are beyond comparison the more numerous, and it may be that the proportion of number and of quantity surpasses that of value and of quality.

As to the minor, that is no more to be admitted; that is, it is not at all to be admitted that there is more evil than good in the intelligent creatures. There is no need even of granting that there is more evil than good in the human race, because it is possible, and in fact very probable, that the glory and the perfection of the blessed are incomparably greater than the misery and the imperfection of the damned, and that here the excellence of the total good in the smaller number exceeds the total evil in the greater number. The blessed approach the Divinity, by means of the Divine Mediator, as near as may suit these creatures, and make such progress in good as is impossible for the damned to make in evil, approach as nearly as they may to the nature of demons. God is infinite, and the devil is limited; good may and does advance ad infinitum, while evil has its bounds. It is therefore possible, and is credible, that in the comparison of the blessed and the damned, the contrary of that which I have said might happen in the comparison of intelligent and non-intelligent creatures, takes place; namely, it is possible that in the comparison of the happy and the unhappy, the proportion of degree exceeds that of number, and that in the comparison of intelligent and non-intelligent creatures, the proportion of number is greater than that of value. I have the right to suppose that a thing is possible so long as its impossibility is not proved; and indeed that which I have here advanced is more than a supposition.

But in the second place, if I should admit that there is more evil than good in the human race, I have still good grounds for not admitting that there is more evil than good in all intelligent creatures. For there is an inconceivable number of genii, and perhaps of other rational creatures. And an opponent could not prove that in all the City of God, composed as well of genii as of rational animals without number and of an infinity of kinds, evil exceeds good. And although in order to answer an objection, there is no need of proving that a thing is, when its mere possibility suffices; yet, in this work, I have not omitted to show that it is a consequence of the supreme perfection of the Sovereign of the universe, that the kingdom of God be the most perfect of all possible states or governments, and that consequently the little evil there is, is required for the consummation of the immense good which is there found. . . .

VIII. Objection. He who cannot fail to choose the best, is not free. God cannot fail to choose the best.

Hence, God is not free.

Answer. I deny the major of this argument; it is rather true liberty and the most perfect, to be able to use one's free will for the best, and to always exercise this power without ever being turned from it either by external force or by internal passions, the first of which causes slavery of the body, the second, slavery of the soul. There is nothing less servile than to be always led toward the good, and always by one's own inclination, without any constraint and without any displeasure. And to object therefore that God had need of external things, is only a sophism. He created them freely; but having proposed to himself an end, which is to exercise his goodness, wisdom determined him to choose those means best fitted to attain this end. To call this a need is to take that term in an unusual sense which frees it from all imperfection, just as when we speak of the wrath of God.

Seneca has somewhere said that God commanded but once but that he obeys always, because he obeys the laws which he willed to prescribe to himself; semel jussit semper paret. But he had better have said that God always commands and that he is always obeyed; for in willing, he always follows the inclination of his own nature, and all other things always follow his will. And as this will is always the same, it cannot be said that he obeys only that will which he formerly had. Nevertheless, although his will is always infallible and always tends toward the best, the evil, or the lesser good, which he rejects, does not cease to be possible in itself; otherwise the necessity of the good would be geometrical (so to speak), or metaphysical and altogether absolute; the contingency of things would be destroyed, and there would be no choice. But this sort of necessity, which does not destroy the possibility of the contrary, has this name only by analogy; it becomes effective, not by the pure essence of things, but by that which is outside of them, above them,--namely, by the will of God. This necessity is called moral, because, to the sage, necessity and what ought to be are equivalent things; and when it always has its effect, as it really has in the perfect sage, that is, in God, it may be said that it is a happy necessity. The nearer creatures approach to it, the nearer they approach to perfect happiness. Also this kind of necessity is not that which we try to avoid and' which destroys morality, rewards and praise. For that which it brings, does not happen whatever we may do or will, but because we will it well. And a will to which it is natural to choose well, merits praise so much the more; also it carries its reward with it, which is sovereign happiness. And as this constitution of the divine nature gives entire satisfaction to him who possesses it, it is also the best and the most desirable for the creatures who are all dependent on God. If the will of God did not have for a rule the principle of the best, it would either tend toward evil, which would be the worst; or it would be in some way indifferent to good and to evil, and would be guided by chance: but a will which would allow itself always to act by chance, would not be worth more for the government of the universe than the fortuitous concourse of atoms, without there being any divinity therein. And even if God should abandon himself to chance only in some cases and in a certain way (as he would do, if he did not always work towards the best and if he were capable of preferring a lesser good to a greater, that is, an evil to a good, since that which prevents a greater good is an evil), he would be imperfect, as well as the object of his choice; he would not merit entire confidence; he would act without reason in such a case, and the government of the universe would be like certain games, equally divided between reason and chance. All this proves that this objection which is made against the choice of the best, perverts the notions of the free and of the necessary, and represents to us even the best as evil; to do which is either malicious or ridiculous.



So, with Leibniz, the moral evil that humans do in some way is part of the good or is necessary for the good and so is not quite evil in an absolute sense but only evil in a relative sense as humans cannot understand how it would be good as it is necessitated by the "good" and contributes to the "good".  Somehow from the perspective of the all good and perfect deity the moral evil is part of the beautiful and good creation that is the "best of all possible worlds".

Well, there are many who prefer to think of evil as an independent being or separate existence or force.  The stories in the myths of many of the world religions present it as such and it is difficult for those from the cultures having those religions to think of evil as something other than an agent or thing in itself.  Nevertheless the approach taken by Leibniz and others to the Problem of Evil handles it by dissolving the evil and reconfigures the problem as a human creation -not the actions that would be commonly called "evil"  but the idea of "evil " itself.  In this view, the ideas of both "good " and "evil" are human creations and they appear generate a conflict in the idea of the all perfect and all good deity with the existence of moral evil.  When the nature of the deity and its creation are properly understood that conflict dissolves.

After Leibniz some other philosophers and religious commentators have gone further.  For some of them it is an indisputable fact that humans create the idea of the deity after their own characteristics and then further project into the idea of the deity all of the qualities considered as being positive or good and make them into perfections.  One of many results is the problem of the inconsistency of the properties of the deity (all good and all powerful and all knowing) with the existence of moral evil. Now in order to resolve or dissolve the conflict one would need to realize that the creation of the concepts of "good" and "evil" by humans does not necessitate the actual existence of paired entity or forces as the stories would have it.  Instead when considering the resultant inconsistencies in the projections and stories the resolution of some of them would be to simply hold that there could be such an all perfect deity at the same time as there is moral evil because the moral evil is not really the opposition to the good as a force or entity but is instead a direction away from the "good", however the "good" would be configured or conceived.

In the story book way of explanation it would be that humans cannot understand how the moral evil as part of the grand totality is really part of the "good" and contributes to it.  Such inclusions into the "good" and contributions to the "good" are held to be beyond human comprehension and understood only by the deity that has the infinite and complete perspective, viewpoints and capacity to understand.  So some hold that moral evil is not evil when understood from the perspective of the deity which is a perspective that is not possible for humans.  This position places the issue into the realm of mystery and beyond the realm of reason .  This is not acceptable to philosophical inquiry.  People, including philosophers, want to understand.

Where to turn next ?

There are those who do not accept that evil is not a thing itself.  They cannot accept that evil is not to be thought of a evil but as another form of the good.  If the deity cannot be all perfect and moral evil exist at the same time and if the idea of evil is not to be removed by transforming it into a form of the good then what else is to be done to solve this Problem of Evil?  There are an increasing number of people who are looking once again at the very idea of the deity and think that perhaps the idea is the source of the problem.  They would make adjustments in that idea.  In the next section Process Theology and Process Philosophy will be examined.

Proceed to the next section by clicking here> next

© Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2001. All Rights reserved.  Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution.

Return to:                    Table of Contents for the Online Textbook