Philosophers’ “Truth”

Gottfried Liebniz has three claims to fame. First, he was an outstanding mathematician who developed the mathematics of differential calculus independently at about the same time as Newton did. Second, he was a noted philosopher. And third, he was ridiculed by Voltaire in his play Candide [later made into an opera by Leonard Bernstein]. Not by name, of course, but the character Dr. Pangloss is always proclaiming that those in the play “live in the best of all possible worlds,” even as he and Candide suffer disaster after disaster.

In his philosophy, Leibniz asserted [and I’ve simplified the steps] that because God is perfect, and made the world, we must live in the best of all possible worlds. Obviously, many people, including Voltaire, have disputed this, particularly those who have suffered disasters clearly not of their own making.

Even during his own time, many disputed Leibnitz, but from what I’ve been able to discover, most of those disputes were about the logic and structure of Liebnitz’s proposition, rather than the key assumptions underlying the assumptions. Those assumptions, and they are assumptions, because no empirical proof exists to support or, for that matter, to refute any of them are: (1) There is a God; (2) God is perfect; (3) God created the world; (4) a perfect God would not or could not create an imperfect world, or at least not a world representing less than his best efforts. Therefore, we live in the best of all possible worlds.

While many might have liked to dispute those assumptions, in the seventeenth century, publicly disputing any of them was potentially courting a death sentence, or at the least, economic, political, and social ruin.

Voltaire did the best he could to highlight what he thought was the absurdity of the proposition, simply by contrasting the extremes of what happened to people in real life every day, but that observation and others like it had Voltaire in trouble with the religious and secular authorities on and off throughout his life.

But the problem of inaccurate assumptions isn’t just limited to philosophers of past centuries; inaccurate and unfounded assumptions appear to be the bedrock of current politics.

4 thoughts on “Philosophers’ “Truth””

  1. darcherd says:

    The optimist believes we live in the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears this is true.

  2. cremes says:

    Since liberalism as practiced and supported by the mainstream media is our newest religion, this philosophical observation is certainly germane. The headlines and fake news from the big media players tell us that the world is soon to go to Hell in a hand basket. They want us to believe them.

    Well, we can believe them or our own lying eyes.

    I think Voltaire has the better argument.

  3. R. Hamilton says:

    As I understand it, the complaint (assuming one accepts the premises) is resolved by recognizing free will: one can’t have the freedom to participate in making things better, without also having the freedom to refuse to participate, or even to make things worse.

    Given that the highest example (if there is one) seems to allow much of that, keeping dramatic interventions seemingly rare, perhaps we should take that as advice, and use force on behalf of the common good with great care, and only when the failure to act would clearly be worse.

    There can of course be vast disagreement about how that applies to any particular situation or policy. 🙂 And that’s probably a good thing, so long as nobody tries to silence or marginalize _peaceful and orderly_ dissent.

    I tend to think that some systemic approaches today also fail to recognize free will; e.g. if you subsidize something, you tend to get more of it. For example: feed people without holding them accountable to put into the system as much as they can compared to what they receive, and far too many of their offspring will demand to be fed without being held accountable. Government tends to institutionalize problems rather than institutionalizing solutions; and bureaucrats and little empire-builders amplify that effect. Focusing on incentives (and tools) for self-improvement might work quite differently, at least absent teacher’s unions, and bureaucracies padded via political patronage. (but that of course neglects the level of corruption and _un_enlightened self-interest present in a sizable fraction of institution-builders; easy answers? not here…)

  4. Devildog says:

    You may be right. There may be many inaccurate assumptions that are the foundation of today’s politics. One assumption might be that all individuals and by extension operate by the same set of economic rules. Another assumption might be that all people should compete and have the same opportunity to pursue happiness under our constitution regardless of gender, race and sexual orientation. Another assumption might be that sovereign nation has the right to do what is necessary to continue to maintain its sovereignty. And maybe if those assumptions are perceived to be false, a community might try to re-establish a situation where those assumptions might instead be true.

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