Wednesday, May 23, 2012

SOME THOUGHTS ON GENDER AND WHETHER IT IS RIGHT TO CHANGE IT

             There has been a lot of attention given, recently, to the issue of gender transformation. For example, men change their bodies to become women, and vice versa. As such, it is good to ask the question, is it morally acceptable to change one’s gender? However, in order to answer this question, we need to ask, at least, four preliminary questions. First of all, what is gender? Secondly, Is it actually possible to change gender? Thirdly, is this a question for the natural sciences, specifically biology and the medical sciences, or is it a question for moral philosophy? The final question that needs to be asked, prior to any discussion of the morality of gender changing, is, What is the foundation for human morality? In this article I will address each of these questions in turn, and will finish with an argument which seems to demonstrate that changing one’s gender is immoral. There are other issues that, though not essential to the topic that we will consider, are connected. For example, What if a person was born male, but “feels” like a woman, and, upon reaching an age where sexuality becomes important, is sexually attracted to men? In this case, should that person change their gender so as to be, physically, a woman? The question could be asked of a person who was born a female but “feels” like a man, and, upon reaching an age where sexuality becomes important, is sexually attracted to women. What about a person who is born with the sexual equipment, or close enough, of both genders? As becomes immediately obvious, this question is a delicate question, as it concerns the, so-called, self-identity of the person who is intimately concerned with this question. Furthermore, it is an issue that many people would prefer to avoid discussing. We will not avoid discussion, but will take this question head-on.

What is Gender?
            We must, first of all, answer the question, What is Gender? The term gender is synonymous with the term sex. Though most people know what sex is, we will quote the definition given by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary “either of the two major forms of individuals that occur in many species and that are distinguished respectively as female or male especially on the basis of their reproductive organs and structures.”[1] Gender, or sex, seems to be primarily determined by examining the physical constitution of any given living being that is capable of reproduction. Gender is not specific to the human race; rather, anything that can be classed under the genus animal, regardless of their species, can also be classified as either male or female. The classification of male or female does not depend upon how they act, feel, or interact with other animals of their species. Rather, the classification is based upon their genitalia – their physical reproductive organs. It does seem that those physical characteristics that decide whether or not an animal (I include humans under the genus animal, with the difference, rational.) is male or female are more than simple accidents (an accident is that which inheres or exists only in a substance. An accident cannot exist on its own. Anything that is not essential to the nature of X is accidental to X.) because they seem to be more essential to one’s personal identity than the other physical characteristics. For example, a eunuch, even when he has been entirely emasculated, would still be considered male. A male dog, or cow, or any other domesticated animal, which has been castrated, is still considered, even without its genitalia, to be a male. However, if it was possible to replace entirely the male genitalia, by female genitalia, then would the animal in question have changed gender? I would argue that gender is not based upon the bodily characteristics of any given animal, but upon its DNA. That is to say, its gender is determined by its DNA, and it is classified, by us, based upon physical observation of its genitalia. Now, DNA is as accidental to human nature as are the bodily or physical attributes (the genitalia). However, it seems that the only way to truly change one’s gender one must, not simply change the genitalia, but change the DNA which is the reason why one has such genitalia. This would explain why a eunuch is still a male, and why a castrated male dog is still considered a male dog.

 There are some concerns that complicate this question, at least when it comes to humans, (though I am of the impression that this can also be applied to any other animal) namely, the character of the animal in question also seems to come into the picture. Furthermore, for humans (and I am of the impression that this is unique to humans, due to their rational nature) self-identity, and social awareness also seem to come into the picture. For example, a man, who sees himself as a man, has always been treated as a man, who grew up male, even if he were kidnapped, and had all of his male genitalia removed, and was physically transformed into a woman, including all of the appropriate genitalia, would still, I assume, consider himself a man. In which case he would most likely be very confused and experience an identity crisis. These considerations seem to complicate our ability to define gender.

In order to clear the waters a little bit, I would suggest that, we concentrate our attention primarily on rational animals. Before we finish our consideration of what gender is, we should answer some of the preceding questions. It seems, first of all, that the character of a rational animal (and for that matter any animal, as can be seen especially with dogs and cats) is formed, not so much by its physical constitution, but rather by its social surroundings. This has been proved time and time again by psychology. It is almost a law of social psychology, that the first five years of any child’s life are the most important years for the formation of that child’s character. The child’s character will be formed, as much by verbal and intentional actions towards it, as by non-verbal and unintentional actions towards it. The child’s character is formed, not only by its social surroundings, but also by its reactions to its surroundings, both social and physical. Therefore, I would argue, that the character of a child has nothing to do with its gender.[2] Secondly, self-identity is an element of the character of the rational animal in question. It has to do with how the human being in question views him/herself. This, again, is formed partially through social awareness (how society views the person in question and how that person reacts to the perception of its immediate society.), and partially through its developing character. Most human beings experience a form of identity crisis, at least twice in their lives. The first happens when their bodies change, at puberty, allowing them to become sexually active. The second happens when their bodies begin losing the strength and beauty that they once had. So, it seems that self-identity and character are not so much dependent upon the physical constitution of the person in question,[3] as upon their social surroundings and their reactions to these surroundings.

Therefore, in light of these observations, it seems that we can persist in the claim that gender is the classification, for reproductive purposes, of any given animal which is determined by the physical constitution of the animal in question, based upon its reproductive organs. The physical constitution of the animal is determined by its DNA, therefore, gender is, properly, based upon DNA. This brings us to our second question.

Is it actually possible to change gender?

            We defined gender as the classification, for reproductive purposes, of any given animal which is determined by the physical constitution of the animal in question, based upon its reproductive organs. Now, it seems that, if gender is based only upon accidental aspects of human nature (for example, certain bodily accidents, that is, bodily members or characteristics), then it is possible to change genders. Furthermore, if gender is only based on the body, matter, or, what seems to be the most essential part of the matter of human beings, the DNA of the human being, then, it would appear, it is possible to change genders. If, on the other hand, gender is intrinsic, or essential, to the rational form of the human being, then it is impossible to change genders without changing the form. It seems that gender cannot, in any way, be based upon the form of the human being. If gender is based on the rational form, which combined with determinate matter is that form/matter composite which we define as a rational animal, then, all human beings would be one gender. For example, if the rational form was male, then anything possessed of a rational form would be male. Therefore, due to the fact that some humans are male and some humans are female, gender is not based upon the rational form.

            If gender is not based on the rational form, then it is based upon the matter of that form/matter composite which we call a human being. Therefore, gender is entirely based upon the body or matter of the human being. Gender is based, not, however, physical organs of the human body, but upon the DNA, as we established earlier. We have determined that gender is based upon the physical constitution of the animal in question, which is based upon its DNA, and, therefore, that it is possible, at least in theory, to change genders. The question that we must direct ourselves to is, is it morally right to change genders? We must ask, first of all is the question of changing genders a question that should be answered by the natural sciences, or by moral philosophy?

Is this a Question for the Natural Sciences or for Moral Philosophy?

            The natural science that is concerned with the change of gender is Biology, which is the study of living beings. The practical sciences, which are guided by Biology, and which are concerned with the change of gender are the medical and surgical sciences and practices. Moral Philosophy is concerned with what is normative, or morally right and wrong. As such, insomuch as the question that we ask is, “Is it possible to change the body parts, thus changing the gender, of a human being?” we are in the domain of the natural sciences and the practical arts that are directly related to them.

            However, insomuch as we ask the question, “It is morally right, or acceptable, to change one’s gender?” we are in the domain of Moral Philosophy. In order, however, to properly answer any moral question, we need to find the foundation upon which such an answer will be based. This brings us to the last question we must ask before we ask whether it is right or wrong to change one’s gender, “What is the foundation of human morality?”

What is the Foundation of Human Morality?

            The foundation for human morality will be determined, first of all, by our metaphysics. Are there common natures by which we can both predict what will happen in the case of inanimate objects, for example, if we throw an egg against a window, and prescribe what X should do, in the case of animate entities, for example, if a tiger is hungry is should go hunting? A common argument, given by extreme realists, is that without common natures it is impossible to engage in scientific inquiry. That is, it is impossible to predict, for example, to predict what will happen when we let a ball roll down a hill running into a building, if the ball does not have a nature that is the same, or at least similar, to other objects. If there is such a common nature, then, not only can we predict what will happen in the case of inanimate objects, but we can also prescribe what animate entities should do. The “should” is a normative affirmation, which, when it comes to rational animals, is a part of the domain of moral philosophy.

            Perhaps it would help if we considered this in a different way. Everything that exists, that has a material component, also possesses a formal component. The formal component is that which makes X what it is. The form of X can also be called the nature of X. The nature of X is defined as the essence of X when we consider it according to its proper function.[4] The proper function of a being is that which distinguishes it from all other beings of the same genus. Humans are, as I mentioned above, included in the genus animal. Animal, by definition, is a living being, composed of matter and form, which is the source of its own movement. Humans fit that description, therefore, they are animals. A species, by definition, is genus plus the specific difference (the specific difference is that which distinguishes the particular species from all other particular species that fall under the same genus). That which distinguishes Humans, from all other animals is its capacity for rational thought. Therefore, human nature is, by definition, rational animal, where rational is the specific difference and animal is the genus. Now, the end of a thing is determined by its nature, because, the end is that towards which a thing tends.[5] Any given X tends towards its own good. For example, the nature of a refrigerator is to preserve food by the maintenance of a certain temperature. A good refrigerator is one which maintains that temperature, thus preserving the food which is stored within it.[6] The end of any X is its own good. That is to say, the good of X is related to the end of X. An X is good insomuch as it attains its proper end. According to Edward Feser, human morality is simply a particular case of the good.[7] Human morality is, quite simply, the application of the principles we have just discussed, to human nature. The general notion of the good describes the good as being that which is desirable for itself, and that towards which each thing tends, in accordance with its nature. For example, though money is good, it is not the good, as it is good only in relation to some further good that we desire. Therefore, the end of any X is its good, and any X is good insomuch as it attains its proper end. The end, as we noted above, of any X is based upon its nature. Therefore, human morality is based upon its proper nature – which is, rational animal.

            Now, if anything is good insomuch as it attains its proper end, and if its end is based upon its nature, then, humans are good, insomuch as they are perfectly human. Humans are rational animals; that which distinguishes them from all other animals is the fact that they are rational. Therefore, human actions are morally right insomuch as they are rational. In fact, those actions which humans perform, which are no different from the actions of irrational animals, such as reproduction and defecating, can still be judged as moral or immoral insomuch as they are done rationally, or irrational. Therefore, though it is morally neutral for a dog to defecate in the park, even though there are children playing, it is morally wrong for a human to defecate in the park when there are children playing.

            Concerning human morality, Edward Feser has this to say, “practical reason is directed by nature towards the pursuit of what the intellect perceives as good; what is in fact good is the realization or fulfillment of the various ends inherent in human nature; and thus a rational person will perceive this and, accordingly, direct his or her actions towards the realization or fulfillment of those ends. In this sense, good action is just that which is ‘in accord with reason’ (ST I-II.21.1; cf. ST I-II.90.1), and the moral skeptic’s question ‘Why should I do what is good?’ has an obvious answer: because to be rational just is (in part) to do what is good, to fulfill the ends set for us by nature.”[8] Human morality, therefore, is based upon practical reason, applied to a situation. The moral human is that person who properly assesses the situation, and properly determines that which is the appropriate way to attain what is the good of that person’s nature. The good of that person’s nature may or may not, depending upon how rational that person is, be what is actually good for that person. Quite frequently, when we are presented with many things which may be perceived as goods, we are unable to distinguish which is actually good for us.

Included within the concept of the good is the fact that all things have proximate goods and one ultimate good. The proximate good of every particular thing is to be that which it was created to be. For example, the proximate good of a human being is to be a perfect human being.  This includes both intellectual virtues and practical virtues. The intellectual virtues have to do with knowledge. The practical virtues have to do with physical actions. A virtue is that which is found in a mean. A perfectly moral human being will have both practical and intellectual virtues. An example of the application of practical virtues can be shown by looking at anger. Now, to be a virtuous human being, who is angry, is to be angry for the right reasons, towards the proper object, in the right way, and in the appropriate amount. This changes from situation to situation, yet, the principle that virtue is found in a mean, or moderation, can be applied in all situations. The morally virtuous person is the one that is able to properly judge the situation, and to act moderately, in the appropriate way, based upon the situation. There are times when it is right to be angry.[9]

            The ultimate end for all things is the ultimate good. The ultimate good is that towards which all things tend, it is the reason for their existence. The ultimate good of all things is God. Though God is the ultimate end of all things, most things are unaware that God is their ultimate end (as they are irrational), and humans, as rational creatures, can choose to ignore their ultimate end, setting up proximate ends as if they were the ultimate end. This is evidenced in people who seek, above all else, sex, money, fame, popularity, etc.[10] The ultimate end for human beings is to be united with God. Furthermore, human nature was created by God. Therefore, we should say that the foundation for human morality is human nature, and God created us this way. Therefore, we are what we are because God made us this way, and, therefore, human nature is based upon the idea of human beings which is in the mind of God. It is to that idea, we might say, that we are supposed to measure ourselves. There is, therefore, an objective basis for human morality.

            With these principles in mind we can now consider the question that we have been working up to: “Is it morally right to change one’s sex?”

Is it Morally Right to Change one’s Sex?

            Based upon the observations that we have already made we can now tender an answer to this question. It seems, as we have attempted to demonstrate above, that gender is primarily based upon physical or bodily characteristics. Gender is determined by the physical constitution of the animal at birth in the same way that the rest of its physical constitution is determined – by its DNA. The question, then, can be asked as follows, it is morally right to change the “gender” of a human being by simply replacing organs? A second question to be asked is, if it was possible, would it be morally right to change the gender of a human being by changing its DNA? Both of these questions would fall under the answer to the broader question, is it morally right to change one’s gender? If the answer to this broader question is no, then the answers to both of the sub-questions would also be no. If the answer to one of the sub-questions is yes, then the answer to the broader question would have to be yes.

            In order to answer this question we need to keep in mind that which is the good of human beings, both the ultimate good and the proximate good. The Ultimate good, as we noted above, is for man to be united with God. The proximate good is for man to be that which he was created to be - truly human.

            Now, we noted above that neither character, nor self-awareness, nor social awareness, have any real impact on one’s gender. Gender is a question of one’s DNA which is the reason why a males and females have different genitalia. Now, we can answer the first sub-question as follows. To change one’s “gender” by replacing one’s genitalia is not a true change of gender. The DNA is still the same, therefore, even though a man may be made to look like, act like, think like, or react like, a woman, or vice versa, they have not changed their DNA, and, therefore, they are still their original gender. Such an act, therefore, is no different than self-mutilation. In order to say that it might be morally right to do X, one would have to find a circumstance in which it would be morally right to do X. Now, it seems that there is no circumstance in which self-mutilation is morally right, or even morally acceptable. Therefore, the superficial change of genitalia, by which one might attempt to change one’s gender, is morally wrong in all circumstances.

            Now, once the human being is born, it is no longer possible to actually change its gender by changing its DNA, therefore, this is not even a possibility. Now, the gender of the human being is determined upon fertilization, and the appearance of the physical genitalia happens within the first few weeks. Therefore, though it may be possible through a selective process taking place in a laboratory, prior to fertilization, to choose the sex of one’s future baby. It is actually impossible to change one’s gender by changing one’s DNA. Therefore, the second question can only be asked prior to fertilization, and, therefore, would have to be reworded as follows: Is it morally right to choose the gender of one’s baby? This, however is not the question that we are asking. We are asking whether it is possible for a human person, after birth, to change its gender. Now, if gender is determined, ultimately, by one’s DNA (we have already established that it is), then it is impossible to actually change one’s gender. All that can be done is to change the genitalia so as to take on the appearance of the opposite gender. In the previous paragraph we determined that such a practice is morally wrong, therefore, we can answer the over arching question as follows: it is morally wrong to change one’s gender.


[1]Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2012, s.v. “sex”.

[2]This is especially evident with dogs, which, regardless of their sex, can be made violent or docile, based upon the actions of their owners.

[3]Physical constitution will play a part in the formation of their character, as it is a part of their physical surroundings. However, its role in the formation of character and self-identity seems to be minimal, when compared with the social surroundings of the human in question.  A human male, isolated entirely from all interaction with other humans, will not question its gender. In such a case, “gender” is taken for granted.

[4]Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence, trans. Armand Maurer (Toronto, ON : Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1983).

[5]We could also use the term purpose.

[6]Food, of course, can only be preserved for a certain amount of time at the temperature that a refrigerator is designed to attain, so, the good refrigerator preserves the food, for as long as the particular food in question is capable of being preserved at the ideal temperature of a refrigerator.

[7]Edward Feser, Aquinas : A Beginners Guide (2009; repr., Oxford : One World, 2010), 176.

[8]Ibid., 185.

[9]This is only a summary treatment of the human virtues, and as such, it does not deal with objections, nor with a multitude of examples.

[10]Romans 1:19-20 claims that the existence, divine power, and divine nature of God is evident to humans when it is considered in the things that God created.  Therefore, although there seems to be, in human beings, a longing for something greater than them (as is evidenced by human kinds constant deifying and worshipping of the things that exist – the sun god, etc.), it is not a given that they will ever come to know the God who is the creator of all things, as knowledge of this God does not seems to be innate. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Un Bref Pensée sur la Modestie

          Dans les milieux chrétiens, au moins, la question de la modestie est souvent le sujet de vifs débats. En partie à cause des textes comme 1 Timothée 2:9-10 et 1 Pierre 3:1-6, et en partie à cause de la notion que la femme devrait porter attention à ce qu’elle ne s’habille pas d’un façon qui va être un source de tentation pour les hommes.[1] Le débat, pour une raison inconnue, tourne presque toujours autour de la fameux question: Est-il correct pour une fille de porter un bikini? J'ai été impliqué dans de nombreuses discussions à ce sujet, et j'ai toujours été un peu troublé par la tendance inhérente à plusieurs personnes dans le débat de mettre en place, comme une règle infaillible, qu'il est toujours, et en toute circonstance, pas honorable devant Dieu pour une femme de porter un bikini. Cette affirmation est, bien entendu, la même chose que de dire que c'est un péché de porter un bikini. Il s'agit d'une revendication inquiétant parce que c'est la même chose que les pharisiens avaient faites en Israël; Fixant comme une loi, pas quelque chose qui a été explicitement ordonné par Dieu, ni même sous-entendus par quelque chose que Dieu aurait dit, mais, une opinion personnelle sur un sujet. Typiquement, cette pratique est connue sous le nom légalisme.

Il y a une autre tendance inquiétante que j'ai remarqué dans ces conversations, à savoir, que personne ne semble avoir une idée claire de ce que le mot modeste ou sa négation, immodeste, signifie réellement. Ce mot est introduit dans la discussion comme si elle porte beaucoup de poids, mais, personne ne prend le temps de le définir, et d’expliquer ce qu’elle implique, et comment, compte tenu de la définition de la modestie, de portée ceci ou cela est immodeste. Il semble évident que la modestie est un terme qui ne s'appliquent pas, essentiellement aux vêtements, mais à une attitude. Il est, tout simplement, ignorants de fixer une loi sans d'abord établir les fondements sur lesquels la loi doit se fonder. Dans ce cas, la fondation devrait être la définition de la modestie. Donc, je vais d'abord expliquer ce que signifie le terme en question, et puis je vais vous donner quelques exemples concrets qui illustrent comment être modeste.

Le dictionnaire Merriam-Webster définit le terme modeste, premièrement, comme étant l’acte de « placer une estimation modérée sur ses capacités ou sa valeur. »[2] Les définitions qui suivent lire comme ceci, « ni extravagante, ni auto-assertif: tendant vers nonchalance; découlant de, ou caractéristique d'un personne modeste par nature, observer les convenances de l'habillement et le comportement (décent); limités en taille, la quantité ou la portée; sans prétention. »[3] Dans le Petit Larousse Illustré on nous informe que la modestie est la « qualité d’une personne modérée dans l’appréciation qu’elle a d’elle-même. »[4] Alors, d’être modeste est, principalement, d'avoir une attitude particulière. Il est d'être modéré dans la façon dont on dépeint ses capacités, son caractère et son corps. La modestie implique la représentation extérieure de sa propre valeur; c'est la façon dont nous présentons nous-mêmes à d'autres personnes. Par conséquent, une personne qui est immodeste pourrait également être décrit comme étant prétentieux ou trop extravagant. Fait intéressant, une personne qui est trop timide, retirée ou, dans la mesure où les vêtements sont concernés, terne, est aussi immodeste. Autrement dit, ils n’ont pas, pour reprendre la définition de Webster, « placer une estimation modérée sur leur propres capacités ou valeur. » Ils se sont sous-estimer, ou minimiser, ou, on pourrait dire, ils commettent le péché de la fausse humilité. Vous voyez, la modération est tout au sujet d’un milieu (la modération), c'est de ne pas aller aux deux extrêmes. De plus, c’est de cette façon dont la Bible enseigne concernant presque tous les sujets qui sont éthiquement « grise ». Donc, d’être modeste, n'est pas autant une question des vêtements qu’on porte que l'attitude qui nous pousse à s'habiller de cette manière. Ceci est évident dans notre texte (1 Tim. 2 :9-10), ainsi qu’en 1 Pierre 3. Il faut aussi remarquer que la modestie ne peut pas être considérée à l’abstraction des circonstances dans lequel on porte les vêtements en question.

Comme je l'ai mentionné déjà, c'est la politique quasi-officielle des nombreux chrétiens d'affirmer que les bikinis sont en eux-mêmes indécents ou immodeste. Bien sûr, si la modestie est définie comme nous l'avons mentionné ci-dessus, nous ne pouvons pas faire une telle déclaration. Au contraire, des bikinis, et tout autre article de l'habillement, seront modéré ou immodéré selon les circonstances (ce qui implique la situation ou lieu, la personne en question, et l’article de vêtements en question). Il y a deux façons, fondées sur la définition ci-dessus, par lequel on peut déterminée qu’un morceau de vêtement est modeste ou immodeste. La première façon dépend de la personne qui porte les vêtements en question, et le second dépend des circonstances dans lequel la personne en question porte des vêtements en question. Ce qui pourrait être modeste sur une personne dans certaines circonstances, pourrait aussi être immodeste sur un autre dans les mêmes circonstances, et un même article de vêtement pourraient être modeste dans une circonstance, mais pas dans un autre. (Ceci n'est pas, d’ailleurs, l'affirmation que l'éthique est relative, mais, plutôt, l'affirmation que les réponses aux nombreuses questions d’éthiques sont fondées sur l'application correcte des principes approprié. Les principes de la philosophie morale sont absolus, mais, ils doivent être appliqués avec sagesse et discernement, dans chaque circonstance.)

Commençons par la deuxième façon, qui est, comment les circonstances déterminent la modestie ou immodestie d'un article de l'habillement. On va mettre quelques exemples sur la table. Certains d'entre eux je prends directement à partir des gens qui prétendent que les filles ne devraient jamais porter des bikinis. Est-il présomptueux ou immodeste pour une femme de porter un bikini quand elle va passer la soirée seule avec son mari dans leur spa à leur maison? Est-il présomptueux ou immodeste pour une femme de porter de la lingerie, ou même d'être nu, lors des rapports sexuels avec son mari? Est-il présomptueux pour une femme de porter un bikini dans un spa, lors d'une fête, à laquelle seules des filles sont invitées, dans une maison privée? Il semble que la réponse à chacune de ces questions est NON! Dans ces circonstances, au moins, il n'est pas présomptueux ou immodeste pour une femme de porter un bikini, ou même dans le deuxième cas, d’être nu. Par conséquent, nous devons, en fait, nous sommes obligés de conclure, qu’un bikini, en tant que telle, en soi, n'est pas immodeste. Plutôt, ce sont les circonstances dans lesquelles il est porté qui décidera si la fille est modeste ou immodeste. Notez le changement d'emphase dans la phrase précédente. Ce n'est pas le bikini qui est modeste ou immodeste, mais la fille qui le porte, selon les circonstances. Nous voyons un principe qui commence à ressortir. Mettons-nous d'autres exemples sur la table, pour nous aider à mieux comprendre le principe.

Si j’assiste à un dîner qui est une affaire formelle, comme un mariage, est-il modeste ou immodeste pour moi de porter mes jeans troué, et mon chandail à capuchon préféré? Maintenant la plupart des gens, en discutant de modestie, ne vous demandera jamais ce type de question, parce que tout ce que les préoccupes est de savoir quel quantité de peau qu’une fille a la droit de montrer? Il n’y pas seulement une circonstance dans laquelle la modestie, et les principes de la modestie, s'applique, mais plusieurs. La réponse à la question que je viens de poser est, qu'il serait immodeste pour moi de porter ces jeans et gros chandail à capuchon en cette circonstance, parce que je ne suis pas habillé de manière appropriée pour la circonstance. L'autre côté de la médaille est qu'il est tout aussi immodeste pour moi de porter un habille de mariage noir à une partie de Superbowl.

Un autre exemple: la plupart de ceux qui tendent vers l'affirmation selon laquelle des  bikinis sont immodeste ne trouvent pas un problème avec un maillot de bain normal à un morceau, qui couvre tout le corps. Cependant, est-il modeste ou immodeste pour une femme de porter un costume de bain normale quand elle va à l'obtention d’un diplôme, à un mariage dans une église, ou à une funérailles? Évidemment, dans chacune de ces circonstances, il est immodeste parce que les circonstances exigent que l'on soit dans une robe ou un habille propre ou formelle. Ainsi, un maillot de bain normal n’est pas toujours modeste. Un autre question : Était-ce modeste ou immodeste pour Yulia Nestsiarenka de Belarus, qui a remporté la médaille d'or pour le course de 100 mètres aux Jeux olympiques d'été de 2004, de porter l'équivalent d'un soutien-gorge de sport et un bas de bikini pour exécuter cette course? Nous aurions tendance à dire que c'est une question ridicule parce que c'est justement ce que les coureurs olympiques portent pour minimiser la friction de l’eau sur leur corps. Pourtant, si elle aurait porté la même tenue pour visiter la reine d'Angleterre, elle aurait était jugé immodeste.

Maintenant, en lien avec la première façon de déterminer la modestie ou immodestie, nous allons nous donner quelques exemples de la façon dont un seul morceau de vêtement peut être modeste ou immodeste en fonction de la personne qui le porte. Quelques exemples peuvent aider à éclaircir cette question. Prenez par exemple un costume de bain normale, rouge, et de taille moyenne, tels que les sauveteurs femelles portent. Pour une femme d'une certaine taille, qui est, une femme pour qui ce maillot de bain est ajusté parfaitement, il est parfaitement modeste. Cependant, pour une femme qui devrait porter un petit ou extra-petit, ou un large ou extra-large, le maillot de bain de grandeur moyen est immodeste. Un autre exemple, pour moi, il serait immodeste, et honnêtement, sur le bord d’être ridicule, pour moi de porter une paire de jeans de taille 50. Toutefois, cette paire de jeans serait parfaitement modeste sur un homme qui est plus grand que moi. Un petit t-shirt serait modeste sur une femme qui est mince et environ 5'4 ", mais ce même petits t-shirt serait immodeste sur une femme qui est plus large et/ou 6 pieds de haut. La jupe que ma fille porte est parfaitement modeste, sur elle! Si une femme adulte était de la mettre, elle serait immodeste.

La modestie et l'immodestie s'applique aussi bien aux hommes qu’aux femmes, et ce n'est pas déterminée par le vêtement en question, mais par la personne qui porte le vêtement, et par les circonstances en question. Nous ne pouvons pas simplement pointer vers un morceau de vêtement et déclarer qu'il est, en soi, immodeste; au contraire, la personne est modeste ou immodeste basée sur ce qu'il porte dans les circonstances en question. Bien sûr, et je n'ai pas pris le temps d'explorer ces sujets, la modestie a aussi à voir avec la façon dont j’agis, et que je parle. Les mêmes principes s'appliquent aux actions et aux discours, qu’aux vêtements que je porte. Ce que nous devons chercher à développer, n’est pas des personnes qui ne vont jamais porter des bikinis en public, ou, ça me fais mal de le dire, un Speedo. Au contraire, ce que nous devrions chercher à faire c’est d'enseigner aux gens comment bien déterminer ce qu'il faut porter selon leur propre corps, comment agir, et comment parler, basée sur la situation en question. C'est ce qu'on appelle la sagesse pratique, qui comprend la modestie, qui est de se présenté correctement devant les autres; présentant sa juste valeur, dans chaque circonstance dans laquelle on se trouve. Alors, les femmes, il n'est pas nécessaire de jeter ou brûler vos bikinis, vous avez juste besoin d'être sage pour savoir quand c'est le moment approprié de les porter. Selon Tite 2 :3-5 c’est les femmes chrétiens âgées qui sont supposé de donner l’exemple, et d’aider les jeunes femmes à apprendre ce qui est modeste et ce qui n’est pas modeste selon chaque circonstance. Ce qui implique une instruction particulière pour les femmes âgées, pour les jeunes femmes et pour les pères. Pour les femmes âgées, premièrement, faire attention à ce que tu t’habilles de façon modeste selon le corps que tu as présentement (pas celui que tu avais quand tu avais 20 ans), et selon les circonstances. De cette façon tu vas donner une bonne exemple de ce que c’est la vraie beauté et modestie. Deuxièmement, soit sage dans les conseils que tu donnes aux jeunes femmes chrétiens de ne pas être trop extrême ni d’un côté (trop de restrictions), ni de l’autre (trop libérale). C’est en étant trop extrême que tu vas perdre la respecte des jeunes femmes qui devrait t’écouter. Pour les jeunes femmes, tu veux savoir comment être modeste et t’habiller en conséquence de ta foi ? Regarde des femmes âgées chrétiennes qui sont des exemples de la piété, demande leurs avis, et imitez-les. Pères, Paul dit à Tîte que c’est la femme âgée qui est supposé d’enseigner les jeunes femmes comment suivre le seigneur. Si tu veux être le meilleur père pour vos filles, fait confiance à ta femme qu’elle va enseigner par exemple et parole ta fille comment être modeste. Nous avons notre place comme protecteur de nos filles, comme oreille qui écoute et qui prends soin, comme hommes, des besoins émotive de nos filles, mais, c’est le rôle de nos femmes, et les autre femmes d’expérience dans l’église, de montrer à nos filles comment être des vraies femmes. 

Personnellement, je n'ai jamais trouvé un moment opportun pour porter un Speedo, mais j'ai des amis qui, peut-être plus sage que moi, ont trouvé le moment opportun pour porter un Speedo.



[1]Rom. 14 :13, 1 Cor. 8 :9-13.

[2]Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, s.v. “Modesty”. Traduction le mien.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Le Petit Larousse Illustré, (2007) s.v. « Modestie ».

A THOUGHT ON MODESTY


            In Christian circles, at least, the question of modesty is one that is frequently the topic of hot debate. The debate, for some unknown reason, almost always turns around the following question: Is it alright for a girl to wear a bikini? I have been involved in many such discussions, and I have always been a little disturbed by the inherent tendency of a certain people in the debate to set up as an infallible rule that it is always, in every circumstance, not honoring to God, for a woman to wear a bikini. This claim is, properly understood; the same as saying that it is a sin to wear a bikini. This is a disturbing claim because it is the same thing that the Pharisees were doing in Israel; Laying down as a law, not something that was explicitly commanded by God, nor implied by anything God said, but, a personal opinion on a subject. Typically this practice is known as legalism. The subject in question is the subject of modesty.

            There is another disturbing tendency that I have noticed in these conversations, namely, no one seems to have a clear idea of what the word “modesty” or its negation, “immodesty” actually means. It’s thrown around as if it carries a lot of weight, but, no one takes the time to define it, and explain how it is, that, in light of the definition of modesty, wearing this or that is immodest. It seems obvious that the term modesty does not primarily apply to clothing, but to an attitude. It is simply ignorant to lay down the law without first establishing the foundations upon which the law is to be based. In this case the foundation should be the definition of modesty. So, in this short thought on modesty, I will first explain what the term means, and then I will give some practical examples that will illustrate how to be modest.

            The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term modest, primarily, as “placing a moderate estimate on one’s abilities or worth.” The definitions that follow read, “neither bold nor self-assertive: tending toward diffidence; arising from or characteristic of a modest nature; observing the proprieties of dress and behaviour (decent); limited in size, amount or scope; unpretentious.” To be modest is primarily to have a particular attitude. It is to be moderate in how one portrays one’s abilities and character. Modesty involves the outward portrayal of one’s proper worth; it is how we present our self’s to others. Therefore, a person who is immodest could also be described as being pretentious or over extravagant.  Interestingly, a person who is shy, withdrawn, or, as far as clothes are concerned, drab, is also immodest. That is, they are not, to use Webster’s definition, “placing a moderate estimate on their self-worth.” They are underestimating, or downplaying, or, as we might say, they are committing the sin of “false humility.” You see, moderation is all about the mid-point; it’s all about not going to EITHER extreme. This by the way is the common biblical teaching on almost every ethically “grey” subject. So, to be modest is not so much about what clothing you’re wearing as about the attitude that drives you to dress in that way. Modesty is also about the circumstances in question. This is where we get have some fun.

            As I mentioned above, it is almost official policy of many Christians to claim that bikinis are in and of themselves indecent. Of course, if modesty is defined as we mentioned above, then we cannot make such a declaration. Rather, bikinis, and any article of clothing, will be moderate or immoderate depending on the circumstances. There are two ways, based upon the above definition, in which a piece of clothing could be modest or immodest. The first way depends upon the person wearing the clothing, and the second depends upon the circumstances that the person is in. Certain clothing, with might be modest on one person might also be immodest on another, and that same piece of clothing might be modest in one circumstance, but not in another. (This is not, by the way, the claim that ethics is relative, but, rather, the claim that the answers to many ethical questions are based upon the proper application of the appropriate principle. The principles of moral philosophy are absolute, but, they must be applied with wisdom and discernment, in each circumstance.)

Let us begin with the second way, that is, how the circumstances determine the modesty or immodesty of an article of clothing. Let get some examples on the table. Some of these I take directly from those people who claim that girls should not wear bikinis. Is it immodest for a woman to wear a bikini when she will be spending the evening alone with her husband in their spa? Is it immodest for a woman to wear lingerie, or even to be naked, when having sex with her husband? Is it immodest for a woman to wear a bikini in a spa, at a party, to which only girls are invited, at a private house? It seems that the answer to each of these questions is NO! In these circumstances, at least, it is not immodest for a woman to wear a bikini. Therefore, we must, in fact we are obligate to conclude, that a bikini, as such, in and of itself, is not immodest. Rather, it is the circumstances in which it is worn that will decide if the girl is immodest. Note the change of emphasis in the previous sentence. It is not the bikini that is modest or immodest, but the girl wearing it, depending on the circumstances. Let’s get some more examples on the table.

            If I’m going to a dinner party that is a formal affair, is it modest or immodest for me to wear my jeans, with the hole in one knee, and my favorite hoody, with the black skull on the left shoulder? Now most people, in discussing modesty, never ask this type of question, because all they are concerned with is how much skin is the girl allowed to show? But that is only one circumstance in which modesty, and the principles of modesty, applies. The answer the question that I just asked is that it would be immodest for me to wear those jeans and that hoody in that circumstance, because I am not dressed appropriately for the circumstance, I am not decent. The other side of the coin is that it is equally immodest for me to wear a black suit to a superbowl party.

            Another example: Most of those who tend towards the claim that bikini’s are immodest; don’t find any problem with one piece bathing suits. However, is it modest or immodest for a woman to wear a one piece bathing suit when they go to graduation, to a wedding at a church, or to a funeral? Obviously in each of these circumstances it is immodest because the circumstances require that one dress either in a suit or some other formal attire. So, one piece bathing suits are not always modest. Was it modest or immodest for Yulia Nestsiarenka of Belarus, who won the gold medal for the 100 yard dash in the summer olympics of 2004, to wear the equivalent of a sports bra and a bikini bottom to run that race? We would tend to say that this is a ridiculous question as that is just what Olympic runners wear. Yet if she were to wear the same outfit to visit the queen of England, it would be immodest.

            Now let us give some examples of how one piece of clothing can be modest or immodest depending on the person wearing it. Some examples will help to clear up this issue. Take for example a red, medium size, one piece bathing suit, such as female lifeguards frequently wear. For a woman of a certain size, that is, a woman for whom that bathing suit is a perfect fit, it is perfectly modest. However, for a woman who should be wearing a small, extra-small, large or extra-large, that bathing suit is immodest. For myself, it would be immodest, and honestly, bordering on ridiculous for me to wear a size 50 pair of jeans. However, that pair of jeans would be perfectly modest on a bigger man. A small t-shirt would be modest on a woman who is thin and about 5’4”, give or take, but that same, small t-shirt would be immodest on a woman who is big-boned and 6 feet tall. The shorts that my daughter wears are perfectly modest, on her! If a grown woman were to put them on, they would be immodest.

            Modesty and immodesty applies as much to men as to women, and is determined not by the piece of clothing in question, but by the person wearing the clothing, and by the circumstance in question. We cannot just point to a piece of clothing and declare that it is in and of itself immodest, rather, the person is modest or immodest based upon what they are wearing in the circumstances in question. Of course, and I have not taken the time to explore these areas, modesty also has to do with how I act, and speak. The same principles apply to actions and speech as to what clothing I wear. What we need to be developing are not people who never wear bikinis in public, or, it pains me to say it, Speedo’s. Rather, what we need to be worried about, is teaching people how to properly determine what to wear, how to act, and how to talk, based upon the situation in question. That is called practical wisdom, which includes modesty, which is being used to properly portray one’s own self worth, in each circumstance in which we find ourselves. So, women, there is no need to throw away, or burn your bikini, you just need to be wise about when is the appropriate time to wear it. I, personally, have never found an appropriate time for wearing a Speedo, though I have friends who, perhaps wiser than I, have.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

LEIBNIZ ON POSSIBLE WORLDS AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

             One of the most well-known doctrines of Leibniz is the doctrine of possible worlds. It is essential to understanding Leibniz’s system. Furthermore, everyone is familiar with his book Theodicy in which he attempts to demonstrate that this world in which we live is the best of all possible worlds, in spite of the evil that we cannot escape. He attempts to solve, in this book, the problem of evil. The problem of evil is, essentially, how could an all-knowing, omnibenevolent, all-powerful God create a world in which there is evil of all kinds. Eleonore Stump, who recently published what is probably the most important modern work on the problem of evil, explains that “It has become customary to divide evil into natural evil and moral evil...But so-called natural evil would not raise the problem of evil if there were no sentient creatures who suffered from hurricanes, viruses, and the rest. It is the fact of suffering, not its origin, that raises the problem of evil in connection with so-called natural evil.”[1] She goes on to show that the same fact is also true of moral evil. That is, in the cases of both natural evil and moral evil, “what is in need of justification is God’s allowing suffering.”[2] So, the problem of evil primarily concerns the suffering of sentient beings. I raise the problem of evil, in this paper, because it is the question that comes immediately to mind once we have understood Leibniz’s claim that this world in which we live is the best of all possible worlds.


           The primary purpose of this paper is to explain Leibniz’s doctrine of possible worlds, and as a corollary to explain, according to Leibniz, the presence of evil, or rather, suffering. In order to do this, I will begin by explaining some definitions and important concepts that Leibniz relies on for his doctrine of possible worlds. Then, I will explain why this world in which we live is, according to Leibniz, the best of all possible worlds. Finally, I will turn to the problem of evil, exposing Leibniz’s solution to this problem, which is, I propose, ultimately, only a problem in Leibniz’s system, and based upon his doctrine of possible worlds.

Definitions and Important Concepts
            First of all, according to Leibniz, an Essence, which he frequently equates with the term perfection,[3] or natures,[4] is primarily, “that which includes everything we express...it has no limits and nothing surpasses it.” It is the complete idea of the thing in question.[5] Furthermore, Leibniz describes an essence or perfection as “an urge for existence from which existence indeed follows per se, not necessarily, but from the denial that another thing more perfect prevents it from existing.”[6] This definition coincides with what he says elsewhere, “essence in and of itself strives for existence.”[7] It is important to keep in mind that, for Leibniz, “possibility is the foundation [source, or principle] of essence.”[8] Therefore, an essence, for Leibniz, is a possible thing, including its complete idea or notion, which strives for existence.

            We must consider, in relation to the term essence, the terms perfection, possible thing, world, and existence. Perfection, according to Leibniz, can be defined as “the amount of essence”,[9] or, the “degree of essence”.[10] In the Monadology he defines perfection as “being nothing but the magnitude of positive reality considered as such, setting aside the limits or bounds in the things which have it.”[11] In a letter to Wolff he defined perfection in a slightly deeper manner, “Perfection is the harmony of things, or the state where everything is worthy of being observed, that is, the state of agreement or identity in variety; you can even say that it is the degree of contemplatibility.”[12] This is not a contradiction, the application of the preceding definition to the entire universe. For, a perfect state, according to Leibniz, is that in which the greatest amount, or the greatest degree, of essences are brought into existence. It is important to note that, for Leibniz, “the perfection a thing has is greater to the extent that there is more agreement in greater variety.”[13]

            Existence, in Leibniz, is equated with actuality, or being actual.[14] He also agrees with Descartes that existence is a perfection.[15] Furthermore, existence is not only a perfection, but it depends upon perfection as a principle or cause.[16] “perfection or degree of essence (through which the greatest number of things are compossible) is the foundation of existence.”[17]

            A possible thing is that which expresses essence or possible reality, it is a thing that strives for existence.[18] A thing is possible by (or in) its nature, when, in itself, it “implies no contradiction.”[19] The striving of a possible thing for existence is in proportion to the degree (amount or quantity) of essence (perfection or reality) that it contains in its complete idea.[20] The World is the complete collection of actually existing finite things.[21]

            Before we can finish this section we must consider four other concepts that are essential to any explanation of Leibniz’s possible worlds. First of all, metaphysical necessity, or absolute necessity, can be affirmed of a thing, when the contrary of the thing in question implies a contradiction.[22] Physical or hypothetical necessity is affirmed of a thing when the contrary of that thing implies either imperfection or moral absurdity.[23] Decision rule is the choice of “maximum effect at the minimum cost.”[24]

            Finally, the Principle of Sufficient reason claims that “nothing takes place without a sufficient reason.”[25] In other words, “that nothing happens without it being possible for someone who knows enough things to give a reason sufficient to determine why it is so and not otherwise.”[26] The principle of sufficient reason is the claim that for anything that exists, or that happens, there is a sufficient answer to the questions “why does this exist? (why did this happen?)” and “why does it exist in this way and not in another way? (why did it happen this way and not another way?)” With these principles in hand we will now expose Leibniz’s theory of possible worlds.

Leibniz’s Theory of Possible Worlds
            According to Leibniz there is an infinity of possible worlds.[27] These possible worlds are all found in Gods ideas – the realm of the possible.[28] These possible worlds are, in themselves, complete and coherent, yet, quite obviously, they cannot coexist, as the existence of one possible world implies the non-existence of every other possible world.[29] Therefore, only one possible world could be made actual.[30] There are two questions that we must ask of Leibniz; questions which he actually asks himself. Why does this particular possible world exist?[31] Why are there certain possible things that don’t exist?[32]

Why is this Particular World Actual?
            The question has two aspects, we are asking, essentially, what is the sufficient reason for the existence of this particular world (Why does this world exist?)? However, we are also asking Why does this world exist in the way that it does? We will treat these two questions together. Leibniz gives two answers to this question, one is based upon the world itself, and the other on God. First of all, this world is actual based upon the definitions of possibility, perfection and existence. Possibility, as we said above, is the principle of essence, and perfection (which is the degree of essence) is the principle of existence. Now, “all possible, that is, everything that expresses essence or possible reality, strive with equal right for existence in proportion to the amount of essence or reality or the degree of perfection they contain.”[33] Therefore, that possible world that is made actual is the world that contains the greatest amount of perfection or degree of essence. In other words, out of all of the possible worlds realizable this world is the best possible world. We might attempt to imagine a world that is more perfect, but, according to Leibniz’s definitions, if such a world was possible this would be it.

            This first answer, by itself, would leave us unsatisfied, but, the second answer guarantees that this is indeed the best of all possible worlds. The second reason, the ultimate sufficient reason, why this world is the best of all possible worlds is that God chose this world out of all the possible worlds.[34] God’s choice, flowing from his infinite wisdom, was made by decision rule and based upon the principle of fitness. The principle of fitness concerns “the degree of perfection that these [any and all possible worlds] worlds contain.”[35] That world is fit for existence, as we noted above, which contains within itself, and the composition of all of its parts, the greatest degree of perfection. Now, decision rule demands that God create that world with the greatest degree of perfection, or, as Leibniz says elsewhere, that world that is “at the same time the simplest in hypotheses and the richest in phenomena.”[36] In other words God creates that world that has the greatest amount of “agreement or identity in variety,”[37] which contains the “greatest variety together with the greatest order,”[38] or “which is the most appropriate,”[39] and “best”.[40] God, in fact, chooses to bring into existence that possible world which contains, “the most power, knowledge, happiness and goodness.”[41] Leibniz explains, in the Monadology, that, through God’s wisdom He knows which possible world has the greatest degree of perfection, through His goodness He chooses to create it, and by His power He produces it.[42] God, then, for Leibniz, is the ultimate sufficient reason for the existence of things.

            Yet, is not the introduction of God, as the ultimate source of all existing things, a little gratuitous? Is there not something else that could be the ultimate sufficient reason for the existence of this universe? Something else that answers the question why the world exists and why it exists the way that it does?

            Leibniz has an answer to this question as well. If God, a being that is not a part of the universe, is not the sufficient reason for the existence of this world, then what could take His place? One answer that has been given throughout the history of philosophy is: Matter. Leibniz, in the Principles of Nature and Grace, Based on Reason, takes this answer head on. He claims that matter (or energy, protons, neutrons or electrons), could not possibly be the ultimate cause (reason) of the existence of all things, because it is absolutely indifferent to motion or to rest.[43] Pure matter is unable to be the ultimate sufficient reason as it itself is in need of a sufficient reason to be either in motion or at rest. Regardless of how far back we go in the spatio-temporal states of the universe, we will never find a reason, coming from matter, why things are the way they are and not otherwise.[44] Therefore, the ultimate sufficient reason for the why there is something rather than nothing cannot possibly be matter.[45]

            We could always just avoid the problem by saying that the universe is eternal. That is, regardless of how far back you go, you will never actually reach a beginning of the universe. There is a constant flow of spatio-temporal, contingent, states of the universe. Leibniz addresses this issue in much the same way that he addresses the question of matter. He says that this answer, positing an infinite regress of finite, or contingent, beings, or spatio-temporal states, still does not give us an ultimate sufficient reason for the existence of this world.[46] Why is this? First of all, the reason for an unchanging thing (a persisting thing)[47] is its own nature or essence.[48] However, the reason for a contingent thing (or even an infinite series of contingent things) is “the superior strength of certain inclinations”,[49] that is, the strength of its striving for existence. But its striving for existence does not give it existence as it is still only possible until it receives existence.[50] Therefore, the ultimate sufficient reason for the existence of the universe, the compilation of contingent essences, cannot be found in any one contingent essence, nor in the total compilation of contingent essences. Therefore, concludes Leibniz, the ultimate sufficient reason for the existence of the universe must depend upon something which is: not contingent, nor part of the continent universe. Such a being, would, according to Leibniz, would exist by its very essence, that is to say, it would be “an entity whose essence is existence.”[51]

            These two arguments, which sound very much like the cosmological argument for the existence of God, are used in Leibniz to provide us with that necessary being that is capable of choosing, and producing, the most perfect world. If these arguments are sound and valid, then Leibniz has proved that this is the best possible world that could be created. The questions remains, why are there possible things that don’t exist?

Why are there Possible Things that don’t Exist?
            In his letters to Des Bosses, Leibniz can be quoted as saying that “there is a reason why not every possible thing exists.”[52] Furthermore, we know, based upon the principle of sufficient reason, that there must be a sufficient reason for every state of affairs. Leibniz might have attempted to argue to that seeing as possible things that will never be created are not actual, they, are, therefore, not a state of affairs. However, due to the fact that he puts all possibilities, all possible worlds in the ideas of God, he tends to say that they exist, as ideas or notions, in God’s mind. Therefore, he needs to explain how it is possible for there to be possible things in God’s mind which are not made actual. To some, such a question might not seem important, for example, does it really matter that the possibility that I drink two cups of coffee this morning did not come to be? Do I really care why that possible state of affairs does not exist? Put that way, it does sound like a trivial question. However, this question, which will lead us into the problem of suffering, could be worded differently. Why did that state of affairs in which the twin towers were not destroyed, which was certainly possible, not come to pass? They were destroyed, but, it was possible that the terrorists never exist, or that they get caught. Why did the state of affairs, in which a woman is not raped, not exist?  Why did the state of affairs in which my grandfather did not get brain cancer, which was entirely possible, not exist? Put this way, this question takes on a whole new meaning.

He answers question in the short article On Freedom and Possibility. Leibniz’s answer is based upon all of the principles that we have already seen. He claims that if X is possible in its nature, but does not exist, or come to pass, it is because it is, or was, “incompatible with other things that include more perfection, that is, with other things that include more reality,” which exist already, have existed, or will exist.[53] Though it was, or is, physically (or hypothetically) possible that X happen, or receive existence, due to the other parts of this actual world, its non-existence is physically, though not metaphysically, necessary. This answer does not seem satisfying to those who have experienced great suffering. This leads us on to our final section in which we will look at how Leibniz answers the problem of evil, based upon the principles of possible worlds.

Possible Worlds and The Problem of Evil
            The question that we just finished answering, in Leibniz’s terms, brings us to the problem of evil, or, as mentioned in the introduction, the problem of suffering. The problem, as Franklin Perkins notes, “is not just that we suffer more than necessary but also that the suffering is not fairly distributed.”[54] As I said above, the problem of suffering is that it seems that if there is a God that is all-knowing, omnibenevolent, and all-powerful (at least these three attributes together), then it seems that God should actualize that world in which there is the least amount of suffering. However there is all too much suffering in this world, in fact, we can all imagine a world in which there is at least one less murder or rape victim. If God was such as described above, then He would have created that world, instead. Therefore there cannot possibly be a God, at least as described above. At best, if there is a God, in order to create such a world as this, He couldn’t possibly be either all-knowing or omnibenevolent or all-powerful, or all three. This is the problem of evil.

            There are many different philosophers who have attempted to answer this problem, but in this section we will look at Leibniz’s answer to the problem of evil, based upon the principles that we saw above. According to Leibniz, as we saw above, God, through his omniscience and divine wisdom knew which, of the infinity of possible worlds, was the best. Through his goodness God willed to create the best possible world, and through His supreme power He produced the best possible world. This possible world includes all the finite creatures that are found in its idea. Each of these creatures, in each possible world, has a complete idea in the mind of God which includes its entire spatio-temporal possible existence, including, for rational creatures their thoughts and actions.[55] God, knowing all possible worlds, with all possible creatures and all their possible actions, knows which of those possible worlds is the best, and declares that this world exist. From that point on, he simply keeps it in existence – preserving the being of each thing in it.[56] For God to interfere significantly (unless His divine action in contingent affairs is a part of the best possible world) with the being of any one contingent thing would, essentially, be to choose an entirely different world (which would contain less perfection then the best possible world).[57] Therefore, God preserves each being (animate or inanimate), each action or event, guaranteeing that they each accomplish or live out their complete idea. This means that, according to Leibniz, and based upon his principles and definitions, and especially based upon his theory of possible worlds, we are living in the best possible world. Not one evil event or act could be removed without making the world less perfect, because that which exists is based upon the total perfection of the world in question.

            Though this answers the problem of evil, on a large scale, it doesn’t answer the problem of evil on a small scale. In other words, it begs the question, which Leibniz asks and immediately answers, “Why is it that this man will assuredly commit this sin? The reply is easy: otherwise he would not be this man.”[58] We might add to his answer, based on the above principles, that, otherwise this would not be the greatest, best, most perfect, possible world, because, each individual part of this world includes within its complete idea the entire possible world.

            We could be even more specific, as Leibniz was, “Why does such a Judas, the traitor, [insert anybody here, Hitler, Statesman Mao, the man who raped that girl, Bundy] who is merely possible in God’s idea, actually exist?”[59] He had to exist because he was part of the most perfect, best, possible world realizable. Leibniz says, “Since God found it good that he should exist, despite the sin that God foresaw, it must be that this sin is paid back with interest in the universe, that God will derive a greater good from it, and that it will be found that, in sum, the sequence of things in which the existence of the sinner is included is the most perfect among all the possible sequences. But we cannot always explain the admirable economy of this choice while we are travellers in this world; it is enough to know it without understanding it.”[60] Leibniz’s response is that, though we only consider the contingent act of that person, or this contingent evil, God considers the entire series of contingent things, persons, and acts, in the spatio-temporal universe and this particular moment, that we have in mind (evil as it is), is physically necessary.

            One final question, Why must evil, or suffering exist at all? First of all, Leibniz notes that, technically, evil is a necessary fact for created being. He gives many examples of what he means,

Indeed, the most distinguished masters of composition quite often mix dissonances with consonances in order to arouse the listener, and pierce him, as it were, so that, anxious about what is to happen, the listener might feel all the more pleasure when order is soon restored, just as we delight in small dangers or in the experience of misfortune for the very feeling or manifestation they provide of our power or happiness, or just as we delight in the spectacle of ropewalkers or sword dancing for their very ability to incite fear, or just as we ourselves laughingly half toss children, as if we are about to throw them off...On that same principle it is insipid to always eat sweet things; sharp, acidic, and even bitter tastes should be mixed in to stimulate the palate. He who hasn’t tasted bitter things hasn’t earned sweet things, nor, indeed, will he appreciate them. Pleasure does not derive from uniformity, for uniformity brings forth disgust and makes us dull, not happy: this very principle is a law of delight.[61]

            We might add that pain is often necessary for good things, for example, a tooth ache alerts us to a cavity, and repairing the cavity, a good, can be painful. Getting in good shape, physically, is painful. Most of the good things of life cannot be appreciated properly without a prior pain or suffering.

            This, of course does not answer the question we asked, but it is part of the answer. The reason why evil and suffering exists has to do with the fact that we are limited creatures. “The cause of evil derives from the original limitation of creatures, before all sin.”[62] In the Dialogue on Human Freedom Leibniz takes this question head on. He says that the cause of evil is, in a sense, nothingness.[63] This is so because, “evil is a defect, that is a privation or negation, and consequently, it arises from nothingness or nonbeing.”[64] This limitation, which is part of our nature, is inevitable. It is part of the definition of a created, contingent, being. To be created is to be limited. This limitation is the ultimate source of evil in the universe: limitations in inanimate things, limitations in animals, and limitations in human beings.  Due to our limited knowledge, power, wisdom and goodness, human beings can cause evil, hurting and killing others. God could not have created any possible world in which there was no evil, because evil is by definition a negation of being, and all created things are imperfect. Therefore, for contingent, created, beings, evil is a necessity. Without evil there would be no creation.

            Leibniz’s answer to the problem of evil, though it may not satisfy that person who is suffering at this moment, does seem, if we accept his principles and definitions, to be true. This personal problem of evil (why did this happen to me?) is not a problem that a philosopher should address, even if, philosophically speaking his answer is true. The personal problem of evil needs a comforting friend, counselor, psychologist or pastor.

Conclusions
The primary purpose of this paper was to expose Leibniz’s doctrine of possible worlds, and to show the coherence of his claim that this is the best possible world. In the process we showed how Leibniz answered, with the theory of possible worlds, the problem of evil. Possibility, as the principle of essence, is found in the mind of God, and God knows all possible worlds and all the parts of all possible worlds. We, however, only know what might be possible based upon what is actual.[65] We only have a posteriori knowledge of possibilities. As such it is difficult for us to accept Leibniz’s claim that this is the best of all possible worlds. However, as, I hope, I have made clear, Leibniz’s system is, if we accept his definitions and the principle of sufficient reason, eminently coherent. I would argue, in fact, that the entire problem of evil, hinges, not on the claim that God, as an all-knowing, omnibenevolent, all-powerful being, could not have made a world with evil, but rather, on the principle of sufficient reason, and the definitions that Leibniz gives to the terms perfection, existence and essence. Without these definitions, and the principle of sufficient reason there is absolutely no reason to think that God could not create a world in which there is evil. The notion of such a God and the notion of evil are not contradictory terms. However, though Leibniz’s problem of evil was caused by his own terms and principles, he dealt with the problem in a coherent and rational way. Though we may not like his answer, unless we take exception to his definitions or principles we cannot reject it.

We began by explaining the terms, and principles, that Leibniz uses in the doctrine of possible worlds. We then used these terms to explain the doctrine of possible worlds and why Leibniz claims that this is the best of all possible worlds. This is, according to Leibniz, the best of all possible worlds because only perfection is the foundation of existence, and because God, who is all knowing chose that possible world that would exhibit the most perfection. We finished by exposing Leibniz’s solution to the problem of evil. Evil is a necessary fact of life that, rather than demonstrate that God (as normally described in Christian literature) could not possibly exist, is a result of creation. God didn’t have to create anything, but, by the fact that He did, he allowed for the existence of suffering.



[1]Eleonore Stump, Wandering in Darkness : Narrative and  the Problem of Suffering (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 4.

[2]Ibid.

[3]Cf. G. W. Leibniz, “On Freedom and Possibility,” in Philosophical Essays, trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1989), 20. G. W. Leibniz, “On the Ultimate Origination of Things,” in Philosophical Essays, trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1989),150, 151.

[4]Cf. G. W. Leibniz, “Dialogue on Human Freedom and the Origin of Evil,” in Philosophical Essays, trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1989), 114.

[5]Cf. G. W. Leibniz, “Discourse on Metaphysics,” in Philosophical Essays, trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1989), 47.

[6]Leibniz, On Freedom and Possibility, 20.

[7]Leibniz, On the Ultimate Origination of Things, 150.

[8]Ibid., 151.

[9]Ibid., 150.

[10]Ibid., 151.

[11]G. W. Leibniz, “The Monadology,” in Philosophical Essays, trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1989), 218.

[12]G. W. Leibniz, “From the Letters to Wolff,” in Philosophical Essays, trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1989), 233-4.

[13]Ibid., 233.

[14]Leibniz, On the Ultimate Origination of Things, 151. Cf. Leibniz, The Monadology, 218.

[15]G. W. Leibniz, “Letter to Countess Elizabeth, On God and Formal Logic,” in Philosophical Essays, trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1989), 237.

[16]Leibniz, On the Ultimate Origination of Things, 151.

[17]Ibid.

[18]Ibid., 150. Cf. G. W. Leibniz, “On Freedom and Possibility,” in Philosophical Essays, trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1989), 21..

[19]Leibniz, On Freedom and Possibility, 21.

[20]Ibid.

[21]Ibid., 149.

[22]Ibid., 150, 151.

[23]Ibid.

[24]Ibid. 150.

[25]G. W. Leibniz, “Principles of Nature and Grace, Based on Reason,” in Philosophical Essays, trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1989), 210.

[26]Ibid.

[27]Leibniz, The Monadology, 220. G. W. Leibniz, “From the Letters to Arnauld,” in Philosophical Essays, trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1989), 71, 72. G. W. Leibniz, “From the Letters to Johann Bernoulli,” in Philosophical Essays, trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1989), 170-1.

[28]Leibniz, On the Ultimate Origination of Things, 151. Leibniz, The Monadology, 220. Leibniz, The Letters to Arnauld, 73, 75. I will address a little further on, why God is necessary, not only for the existence of this actual world, but for the possibility of possible worlds.

[29]Two possible worlds may be very similar but between any two possible worlds there is at least one difference, otherwise they would be numerically the same. That difference means that they both cannot be actual. For example: In possible world 1 I was born in Brantford, Ontario, but, in possible world 2 I was born in Hamilton Ontario.  Now, these two towns are very to each other, it takes about a half hour to drive between the two towns. The interesting fact about possible worlds is that, if in possible world 1 I have a different birth place than I do in possible world 2, then there are a lot of other things that are going to be different between possible world 1 and 2. Yet, we have only changed one fact, supposedly.  Some of the consequences of a difference of birth place are that my parents would have had to either live in a different town, or drive further to get to the hospital in the neighboring town when I was born, etc.

[30]Leibniz, The Monadology, 220.

[31]Ibid.

[32]Leibniz, On Freedom & Possibility, 21.

[33]Leibniz, On the Ultimate Origination of Things, 150.

[34]Ibid., 150-1. Cf. Leibniz, The Monadology, 220. Leibniz, Principles of Nature and Grace, Based on Reason, 210. Leibniz, Letters to Johann Bernoulli, 170-1.

[35]Leibniz, The Monadology, 220.

[36]Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics, 39.

[37]Leibniz, Letters to Wolff, 234.

[38]Leibniz, Principles of Nature and Grace, Based on Reason, 210.

[39]Leibniz, Letters to Johann Bernoulli, 170-1.

[40]G. W. Leibniz, “Letter to Coste, On Human Freedom,” in Philosophical Essays, trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1989), 194.

[41]Leibniz, Principles of Nature and Grace, Based on Reason, 210.

[42]Leibniz, The Monadology, 220.

[43] Leibniz, Principles of Nature and Grace, Based on Reason, 210.

[44]Ibid.

[45]Ibid.

[46]Leibniz, On the Ultimate Origination of Things, 149.

[47]Ibid.

[48]Ibid.

[49]Ibid., 149-50.

[50]Ibid.

[51]Ibid., 149.

[52]G. W. Leibniz, “From the Letters to Des Bosses,” in Philosophical Essays, trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1989), 202.

[53]Leibniz, On Freedom and Possibility, 21.

[54]Franklin Perkins, Leibniz: A Guide for the Perplexed (New York, NY: Continuum, 2007), 41.

[55]All the actions of rational creatures are freely committed, because God is not forcing them to act, rather, in a theory that is very molinistic, God, simply declares that the best possible world exist, along with all the free, contingent, actions of its creatures. This of course is bordering on another subject, the sovereignty of God and human free-will, which is much too involved for us to be able to treat it in this short paper.

[56]Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics, 61.

[57]For an explanation of how the changing of even one event, such as, for example, that Hitler die in his childhood, changes the entire possible world in numerous important aspects, see footnote 29.

[58]Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics, 61.

[59]Ibid.

[60]Ibid.

[61]Leibniz, On the Ultimate Origination of Things, 153.

[62]G. W. Leibniz, “The Source of Contingent Truths,” in Philosophical Essays, trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1989), 100.

[63]G. W. Leibniz, “Dialogue on Human Freedom,” in Philosophical Essays, trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1989), 113.

[64]Ibid.

[65]Leibniz, Letters to Arnauld, 75.