Gottfried “W” Leibniz (1646-1716 C.E.) was a polymath (a long-chain molecule made up of dowdy 2nd-grade arithmetic teachers) roundly satirized in Voltaire’s Candide as the character Dr. Pangloss (Latin for a whale's vagina). Leibniz in his Theodicy put forth the proposition that we live in the best of all possible worlds. He’s got a pretty good argument for this, but it doesn’t matter. The real reason he offered up such saccharine prescriptions was his addiction to noble sponsorship.

In 1666, Leibniz graduated with a doctorate of law at the University of Altdorf and was offered a professorship; instead he took up with the Archbishop of Mainz, with the idea of becoming a mover and shaker in European affairs. You know the type – he’s a real geek who always wanted to hang out with the popular kids. It’s hardly his fault that he was a genius. I have an easy time understanding the compromises that dear Gottfried must have made. Please allow me to demonstrate... with a brief choose your own adventure:
Woman Who Is Very Cute but Quite Vapid: Oh, you do Philosophy? That’s really interesting. I’ve always thought that everything happens for a reason.

Response 1: How trite. I guess you didn’t realize that the universe is essentially meaningless, and any meaning we ascribe to it is merely a reflection of our own capacity for self-delusion.

Response 2: Oh, me too. I mean, I didn’t want to come tonight, but I just had a feeling. And meeting you, I know why that was. Want to make out?
I don’t know about you, but I always choose number 2. And so I can respect Leibniz’s choices. But a very interesting thing happened after he died – the genius that spent his life shilling and scheming for the rich and powerful of his particular geographic region left behind a lot of unpublished work. As it was gradually found, analyzed, and translated, it became obvious that Leibniz was more than just the schmuck who challenged Newton over Calculus.

I’ve recently read the first few letters of exchange between our dear Gottfried and his friend Antoine Arnauld, and they reveal a much different Leibniz than his court philosopher/diplomat/sycophant persona implies. In his first letter to Arnauld, Leibniz came very close to fully embracing a deterministic worldview that so shocked Arnauld, that Leibniz chose to not publish it. And so while these philosophical ideas were more fully developed in correspondence with Arnauld, they were never made public.

And so he begins:
1. On divine perfection, and that God does everything in the most desirable way. The most widely accepted and meaningful notion we have of God is expressed well enough in these words, that God is an absolutely perfect being; yet the consequences of these words are not sufficiently considered.
Now we examine the flipside of living in the best of all possible worlds.1

If God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omni benevolent, that is: all knowing, all powerful, and all good; then of course he has created the best of all possible worlds. God had no choice. Leibniz correctly points out that if you accept the most common Christian concept of God, then it was not his will, but his understanding that resulted in our most perfect universe. Knowledge plus Understanding equals Action, without necessitating a Will. The entire universe – matter, motion, and ideas (from Geometry to Justice) is a consequence of this understanding.

Gottfried makes a very important point here, and then immediately backpedals. But if God isn’t free, why bother to praise him? He makes up some bullshit about God being free to choose, but never being able to choose other than the good. This is mere semantics, a distinction without a difference. It makes sense to pray to gods like Thor or Set, if you don’t – they will fuck you up. But God is pure good, he will always choose the good and desirable answer. Why bother with the bowing and scraping? But like I said, Leibniz offers a bullshit reason as to why, and he was a really smart guy. He was smart enough to not share these bombs with the public at the time… and probably smart enough to not write down anything truly heretical.

But what does this view of God say about us? God is all-knowing, and so at the moment of creation (well, God is timeless too, so, you know, something like that) God knew everything you would ever do. God created you, and your soul, and contained within that form (oh yeah, Leibniz buys the Platonic Forms2 big time) was everything you were ever going to do. This, by the way, is what so shocked Arnauld.

Leibniz explains that this still allows for Free Will, because even though God knows what you will do, if you were to do something different it would not be a logical contradiction. Julius Caesar could have chosen not to cross the Rubicon. Now, in the universe that we live in, Caesar could not have chosen such a thing – but it is not a logical impossibility that he could have, like it is an impossibility that a right angle should equal forty-five degrees.

My own view of these things is that our actions are determined, but that we allow ourselves a healthy illusion of free will in order to enjoy watching sports. I don’t believe in God, but I do believe in cause and effect relationships, which is about the same.

I think our buddy GL put a little too much emphasis on the logic of the problem, without analyzing the forms properly. To wit: the form of Justice is just as eternal and unchanging as the form of Geometry, and so is the form of Gottfried Leibniz and your mom. If it is a logical impossibility that 2 + 2 = 5, it is also a logical impossibility that Julius Caesar does not cross the Rubicon. We just don’t yet understand the logic governing Caesar’s actions. Or rather, Leibniz didn’t. Because we are starting to get a handle on it.

Sad? Have an anti-depressant. Crazy? Have an anti-psychotic. Sober? Have a beer. We all now recognize how various chemical (and electrical) substances (and charges) have an effect upon our thinking patterns. I have it on good authority from people who aren’t squeamish around blood that the brain is a really complicated natural computer of sorts, floating in a chemical soup. Although our thought processes are very complicated, they’re still just chemical and electrical interactions. We are material creatures, governed by the laws of physics. And that means that laws like the laws of Geometry do apply to us. And therefore it would be a logical contradiction for us to act differently than we are going to.

Maybe we'd know more about Leibniz's thoughts on this if he'd had the balls to publish his private thoughts. Undoubtedly much of his more controversial work has been destroyed.

P.S. He also completely reinvented propositional logic, but kept it in his desk and didn’t show anyone because it disproved Aristotle. What a pussy.

1. G.W. Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics (1686)

2. Don’t laugh, so do I. Suckah.