Why is a duck?

7 Nov

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (1646-1716) didn’t actually use the ontological argument in order to prove the existence of God. (That is, the argument that, since God is ‘that than which nothing greater can be thought’, he must exist because anything that exists is greater than anything that doesn’t exist). The argument was put forward by St Anselm in the Middle Ages and more or less discredited when St Thomas Aquinas rejected it.

Immanuel Kant put the final nail  by pointing out that existence isn’t actually a predicate. In his view, existence is a means of marking synthetic connections between concepts therefore the ontological argument is synthetic and not analytic and therefore does not convey a necessary truth.

In a way what Leibnitz had in mind sounds similar, but it’s different. His idea was essentially that God ‘must exist if he is possible, and nothing can prevent the possibility of that which has no limits, no negation, and consequently no contradiction’. In other words God des not exist as a result of the definition ofthe word ‘God’, but as a necessary consequence of his own nature.

Leibnitz goes on, in effect, to say that basically God, because he is God, had no choice but the create the world, since it is in his nature to create and that, God being God, he had no choice but to make the very best world that could possibly be made.

This is what gives rise to Pangloss’ continual refrain throughout Voltaire’s Candide about all being for the best in the best of all possible worlds. A comment he usually makes just after things have all gone horribly wrong.

Obviously Voltaire was not a huge fan of Leibniz. Neither was Sir Isaac Newton due to a dispute over the invention of the Apple (And you thought it was the late Steve Jobs who did that).

Essentially the argument would go something like this. God being perfect had no choice but to create the best of all possible worlds, therefore if something in the world looks to you like it might be evil, that’s only because you’re a feeble-minded human and you can’t understand the purpose behind this apparent evil which is, in fact, something very good. If you could only see things the way God sees them, then you would understand the purpose behind what seems to be evil and you would see that it’s all a necessary part of the overall pattern.

Obviously this forms the basis for an attempt to reconcile the apparent contradiction between the existence of a God who is both benign and omnipotent with the existence of evil.

Essentially this attempt fails, because it depends on God being bound by laws or conditions that make it necessary for him to do certain things, or to allow certain things in order to achieve his ends. If God is truly omnipotent then he can have no limits and therefore he is not actually compelled to do anything.

Another problem with Leibnitz argument is that it implies that everything exists with a purpose which ultimately flows from God’s divine nature.

If this were the case, then the question ‘Why is a duck?’ would not only be meaningful, but probably quite important.

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One Response to “Why is a duck?”

  1. Dudley 12/12/2012 at 10:04 pm #

    Why is a duck?

    …because ice cream got no bones.

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