Baroque Philosophers (on The Nature of Freedom and Evil)

Posted: May 30, 2017 in Uncategorized

Nicolas Malebranche
(1638 – 1715)

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
(1646 – 1716)

Antoine Arnauld
(1612 – 1694)

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Princeton University Press, 2010

The centerpiece of this intellectual history is a vicious late 17th-century debate between three unlikely combatants. . . . Nadler’s superb study makes for a larger space for Leibniz, Malebranche, and Arnauld alongside such giants of the period as Descartes and Spinoza.

–Publishers Weekly

  1. Kayla Kingsley says:

    I find this topic to be extremely fascinating. I have a friend at Westminster that is currently working on getting a paper published by a philosophy journal with the help of his professor. His paper deals with the idea of how an all-knowing, ever-present and perfect God can exist simultaneously in a world of evil. His theory suggests that there are metaphysical universes in which God travels to when evil is present- whether they be evils of the natural world or evils of the human spirit. His theory digresses to why natural laws are in place and how they function in God’s leave-of-absence. My friend was frustrated by the amount of opposition his theory was facing by clergy figures, “I don’t understand how they can be so irked when I’m arguing for the existence of God.” Poor buddy didn’t know what he was getting himself into.

    This is also a major throwback to Voltaire’s Candide from the AP reading list last year. I remember my teacher talking very briefly about this book and my feelings of frustration that I wasn’t in an academic setting in which I could delve into deeper conversation about this topic like Malebranche and Leibniz do. High-schoolers are so sensitive. Thanks for posting this!

    • You’re quite right to think here of Voltaire’s Candide, as that novel’s character Professor Pangloss is in fact modeled on Leibniz. The phrase ‘all for the best in the best of all possible worlds’ is a satirical reduction of the argument Leibniz makes in his Theodicy. Because of the brevity of the semester, we’ll not get into these issues as deeply as either of us might like. But I will try at least to broach these issues in class, especially when we get to Spinoza on Thursday. You’ll recall that I mentioned a number of very sophisticated logicians would tried to grapple with various problems created by Descartes philosophy. The figures mentioned above are three of the logicians I had in mind.

      As for your friend’s argument, and the ensuing frustrations, they recall the kind of difficulties that resulted from attempts to either salvage Descartes, or salvage traditional notions. For instance, various post-Cartesian theories ingeniously preserved the concept of human freedom, but only at the very high price of turning the definition of freedom into something almost entirely different from what most persons would recognize. More to come on these matters on Thursday.

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