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Theodicy

THEODICY.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz's (16461716) neologism théodicée (from Greek theos, God dike, justice) means divine justice, but the term has long been conflated with John Milton's (16081674) promise to "justify the ways of God to men." In 1791 Immanuel Kant (17241804) defined theodicy as "the defense of the highest wisdom of the creator against the charge which reason brings against it for whatever is counterpurposive in the world" (p. 24).

Many intellectual historians see theodicy as a specifically modern, perhaps even a more specifically eighteenth-century phenomenon, but the term has come to have broader meanings. Auguste Comte (17981857) described all natural and philosophical theology as theodicy. Scholars of religion call all efforts to answer a problem of evil thought to be universal theodicies. The Book of Job, the Indian doctrine of karma, and even capitalist faith in the market have all been seen as theodicies.

There is good reason to restrict the meaning of the term, however, if not to post-Leibnizian thought then at least to philosophical discussions of a certain sort. Works like the Book of Job do not offer philosophical justifications of God, or even accounts of his justice; slamming the door in the face of human demands for intelligibility simply cuts the knot. Much can be learned from examining the presuppositions that make the door-slam inadmissable in the modern age.

Early Modern Theodicy

Pierre Bayle (16471706) forced the problem of evil in his 1697 Dictionnaire historique et critique. He may have been inspired by Nicolas de Malebranche's (16381715) insistence on the world's imperfectionsalbeit in the context of an argument for the supremacy of God. For Malebranche, evils prove that God sought not to create the best of all possible worlds but only the most perfect in relation to God's ways. He could have created a better world, but this world, the work of "general" rather than "particular volition," better expresses his nature.

Leibniz's Essais de théodicée (1710) responded to Bayle's challenge, but offers little that was really new. Leibniz himself traced its most famous claimthat this is "the best of all possible worlds"back to Plato. The related idea that a perfect world is not possible because not all possible things are "compossible" with each other has a Stoic pedigree. Both claims had come close to the surface of Martin Luther's polemic with Desiderius Erasmus and were explicitly made by Spanish Jesuits and by the Cambridge Platonists.

While Leibniz thought that we would do well to be more attentive to the good in our lives, his argument was a priori. A God infinite in goodness, power, and wisdom would not create a world unless it were good, and, if several worlds were possible, would create none but the best. "It is true that one may imagine possible worlds without sin and without unhappiness," Leibniz conceded. Yet, "these same worlds again would be very inferior to ours in goodness. I cannot show you this in detail. For can I know and can I present infinities to you and compare them together? But you must judge with me ab effectu, since God has chosen this world as it is" (Theodicy §10).

Optimism.

Christian Freiherr von Wolff (16791754), Leibniz's most influential disciple, thought that Leibniz had unnecessarily abandoned the best argument against atheismthe argument from design, known in Germany as teleology or physico-theology. Much early-eighteenth-century thought offered teleological arguments that this was the best possible world. The word optimism (from optimum, the best), coined in the 1730s, lumped together decidedly different arguments. Wolff's Leibnizian arguments are quite different from Alexander Pope's assertion, in his best-selling Essay on Man (1733), that "Whatever IS, is RIGHT."

The hollowness of optimistic claims was shown by Samuel Johnson's Rasselas (1759), Voltaire's Candide (1759), and most decisively by David Hume's posthumously published Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779). Hume's character Philo declares "Epicurus' old questions" concerning the compatibility of belief in God with evil "yet unanswered." Immanuel Kant tried to show that they could never be answered.

Kant.

Although he was originally a defender of optimism and remained impressed by the evidences of physico-theology, Kant pulled the rug out from under the project of theodicy. As an endeavor fusing theoretical and practical reason, philosophical theodicy for Kant represented a particularly dangerous form of pretension: it threatened to blunt the sense that defined the human ethical vocationthat the world of our experience is not as it ought to be. In his mature philosophy of religion, Kant was particularly attentive to insincerity and saw philosophical theodicies as a key example.

In his essay "On the Failure of All Philosophical Efforts in Theodicy" (1791), Kant likened theodicists to Job's comforters. By contrast, Job, whose faith in God was firmly rooted in the moral law rather than in the claim to be able to understand God's ways, was able to stand fast in his piety despite his "counterpurposive" experiences. In the place of the hypocrisy of "doctrinal" theodicy Kant recommended Job's "authentic theodicy": "honesty in openly admitting one's doubts; repugnance to pretending conviction where one feels none" (p. 33).

Progress and Pessimism

Theodicy was not yet dead, however. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (17701831) thought philosophical efforts at theodicy had failed only because they did not see history philosophically. Properly understood, history is "the true theodicy." Like other nineteenth-century accounts of necessary progress, he did not deny the reality of evil. Evil qua evil is a necessary moment in the unfolding of spirit. For Karl Marx (18181883) and Friedrich Engels (18201895) feudalism was a necessary stage in human history. For Herbert Spencer (18201903) the competition that led to the "survival of the fittest" was the best promise for a bright future.

In response, Arthur Schopenhauer (17881860) developed his philosophical "pessimism," a deliberate reversal of optimism. This is not the best of all possible worlds, but the worst, a mindless machine of self-inflicted suffering, among whose cleverest devices are precisely the philosophical theories of teleology and progress. All efforts to make life bearable only make things worse. The only hope is to deny the will to live. Schopenhauer claimed that his pessimism made it like Buddhism, a mistaken equation that persists to this day.

In turn, thinkers as varied as Friedrich Nietzsche, William James, and Karl Barth argued for views that acknowledged the impossibility of canceling out the evils of the world and yet affirmed the world. But these views are no longer theodiciesor at least do not claim to be. What makes it possible for us to resist pessimism is not reflection on the experienced order of the world but will (Nietzsche), temperament (James), or grace (Barth).

Theodicies of Suffering and Good Fortune

Max Weber thought that the problem of theodicy was the stimulus for the "rationalization of religious ideas" in allnot just monotheisticreligious traditions. Alongside "theodicies of suffering," accounts of the nature and distribution of misfortune in the world that console those who suffer, Weber discerned another kind of view that reassures those who do not suffer that it is just and right that they be spared. He deems this the "theodicy of good fortune" (ch. 6).

The idea seems to have roots in Marx, but Weber adds the idea that those theodicies that last are those that speak both to the fortunate and to the unfortunate. He thought only three have ever done so: Zoroastrian dualism, the Calvinist understanding of the hidden God (deus absconditus ), and the Indian doctrine of karma, "the most complete formal solution of the problem of theodicy (ch. 8).

Weber's is the most impressive effort to expand the meaning of theodicy beyond its monotheistic origins. No longer a problem only for theists, theodicy arises in response to the general problem of the "the incongruity between destiny and merit" (a Kantian problematic), which challenges all human efforts at making theoretical and practical sense of the world. Weber's understanding of theodicy as a species of the problem of meaning has shaped important theories of religion by Clifford Geertz and Peter Berger.

Contemporary debates.

Debate on theodicy has come to be dominated by two very different tendencies. There has been a revival of philosophical theodicy among analytic philosophers of religion, who have moved from attention to the "logical problem of evil" to the "evidential problem of evil." Alvin Plantinga has revived the important distinction between the "defense" of a view against objections and the far more demanding philosophical establishment of that view, which he calls "theodicy," and which he thinks we can do without. On the other hand, the very desire to do theodicy has been condemned as irreligious or ideological. "The disproportion between suffering and every theodicy was shown at Auschwitz with a glaring, obvious clarity," wrote Emmanuel Levinas (p. 162).

See also Evil ; Philosophy of Religion .

bibliography

Adams, Marilyn McCord, and Robert Merrihew Adams, eds. The Problem of Evil. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Bayle, Pierre. "Manichees." In Historical and Critical Dictionary: Selections. Translated by Richard H. Popkin, 144153. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1991.

Kant, Immanuel. "On the Miscarriage of All Philosophical Trials in Theodicy." Translated by George di Giovanni. In Religion and Rational Theology, edited by Allen W. Wood and George di Giovanni, 1937. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Leibniz, Gottfried W. Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil. Translated by E. M. Huggard. La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1985.

Levinas, Emmanuel. "Useless Suffering." Translated by Richard Cohen. In The Provocation of Levinas: Rethinking the Other, edited by Robert Bernasconi and David Wood, 156167. London and New York: Routledge, 1988.

Weber, Max. "The Sociology of Religion." Translated by Ephraim Fischoff. In Economy, and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.

Mark Larrimore

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Theodicy

Theodicy


A theodicy is an argument for the justice of God in the face of evil and suffering in the world. The word theodicy is derived from the Greek words theos (god) and dike (justice). It was first used by the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) in the early eighteenth century. It is common to talk about the theodicy problem, or the problem of evil, as created by the tension, found mainly in monotheistic religions, between the belief that the world is created by a God who is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good, and the observation that there exists immense evil and suffering in the world. Critics argue that such a religious belief is either contradictory or morally unacceptable, and, consequently, can not be true.


Theodicy in world religions

The actuality of evil is a concern in many religions. In Buddhism and Hinduism it is a principal goal to be released from the suffering in the world. In these religions, however, the question of divine justice and its possible conflict with suffering has not been a main concern. For Buddhists and Hindus, individual suffering is the result of each individual's karma; suffering can not be blamed on the gods, for even the gods are submitted to karma.

The problem of evil has mainly challenged Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. In Judaism, the incomprehensibleness of God and of God's justice is stressed. The rabbinical discussion contains several approaches to the theodicy problem. According to a frequent interpretation, suffering is the consequence of human disobedience to God. Jewish teaching also stresses the educational and disciplinary value of suffering. This interpretation is often based on the Old Testament book of Job, in which a righteous man endures immense suffering. In Islamic tradition there is a strong emphasis on the omnipotence of God. This applies not only to the strong tradition of divine predestination, but also to the belief that human beings must obey and surrender to the will of God and that God is not accountable to human moral judgement.

A solution to the theodicy problem presented in classic Christian theology is the idea that evil is a kind of nonexistence or a lack of completeness. Another classic effort is the idea presented by Leibniz that evil is bad only from a limited perspective, and may be necessary for the goodness of reality as a whole. Leibniz used an aesthetic metaphor to illustrate this view: The dark parts in a painting are necessary for the beauty of the whole.


Varieties of theodicy

The nature of God's omnipotence is widely discussed within Christianity. One influential theodicy is to deny that God has the capacity to carry out anything God wants to do. According to this view, the Christian understanding of God as almighty is not identical to the philosophical idea of a capacity to predetermine everything that happens. A modern version of this interpretation can be found in process theology. However, in other Christian traditions, predestination is seen as an important capacity of God.

Another form of theodicy is the claim that suffering is an unavoidable means to a greater end. God's main goal is not to create a paradise on earth, but rather this world is a kind of school to prepare for heaven. Christian teaching often goes beyond the harmonious vision of Leibniz. Not only is suffering seen as an integral part of life, but God is also described as engaging in human misery by taking suffering upon himself through Jesus Christ. Within Christianity there are divergent interpretations of why Christ assumes this vicarious suffering and what function it has.

A frequent argument is the idea that evil is a consequence of human free will. What is commonly called the free will defense is the contention that evil in the world can be explained and justified by the free will of human beings. The main idea is that God has granted human beings a kind of independence. The goal of this freedom is to give humans the possibility to become like God and thereby achieve a communion with God, which would be impossible without such freedom. As a consequence, humans may not always act in accordance with the will of God, and they may cause evil and suffering in the world. The free will defense, if accepted, seems to explain only evil caused by humans, but it does not explain natural evil, not caused by humans.

All these efforts to defend the goodness of God in the face of the evil continue to be widely debated, but many give only partial explanations of evil. However, a theodicy must not only provide an intellectually satisfying explanation for evil, the explanation must be morally convincing.


Scientific perspectives on theodicy

Developments in science have interesting consequences for the traditional discussion on the theodicy problem. One important development in biology is the understanding of the role of the nervous system and the possibility of pain in living beings. Physical pain is part of a complex and life-sustaining system for organisms that helps them avoid dangerous situations in which they may be hurt. Pain helps living beings survive by warning them to avoid what causes pain. Individuals whose pain signal system does not work properly have difficulty orienting themselves in the world and avoiding dangers. Similarly, anxiety can be regarded as a by-product or as an integral part of consciousness and imagination, which is highly developed in humans. Consciousness helps people foresee and calculate the future, but it also leads to anxiety.

Another aspect of current biology is the understanding of death as a prerequisite for evolution. From the perspective of evolutionary biology, reproduction of the individual is an instrument for evolution because it facilitates recombination of genes. Thus, the death of the individual is a necessary aspect of life. An individual life is only a link in a series of generations, where the reproduction and extinction of individuals and generations are necessary for evolution.

These scientific insights have inspired new approaches to the theodicy problem because they encourage an understanding of suffering and death as integral parts of reality, hardly to be explained by human disobedience or freedom.


See also Evil and Suffering; Free Process Defense; Free Will Defense

Bibliography

adams, marilyn mccord, and adams, robert merrihew, eds. the problem of evil. oxford: oxford university press, 1990.

bowker, john. problems of suffering in religions of the world. cambridge, uk: cambridge university press, 1970.

hick, john. evil and the god of love, 2nd edition. new york: harper, 1977.

görman, ulf. a good god? a logical and semantical analysis of the problem of evil. stockholm, sweden: verbum, 1977.

gregersen, niels henrik. "the cross of christ in an evolutionary world." dialog: a journal of theology 40, no. 3 (2001): 192207.

ormsby, eric l. theodicy in islamic thought: the dispute over al-ghazali's "best of all possible worlds". princeton, n.j.: princeton university press, 1984.

whitney, barry l. theodicy. an annotated bibliography on the problem of evil 19601990. new york and london: garland, 1993.

ulf gÖrman

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Theodicy

Theodicy. The justification of God, in response to the charge that the evils of the world are incompatible with his omnipotence and perfect goodness. The word was coined by Leibniz in his Theodicy (1710), in which he argued that this world is the best of all possible worlds. John Hick, in his Evil and the God of Love (1966) claimed to discern two traditions of Christian theodicy: the Augustinian, which stresses the role of the Fall, seeing evil as either sin or the result of sin; and the Irenaean, which regards evil more as a feature of an evolving universe and the result of human immaturity: the world, with its tests, becomes ‘a vale of soul-making’. Both positions (though without the specific appeal to the Fall) can be found in all theistic religions.

In Eastern religions, the issue of theodicy is not so acute, either because the understandings of cosmogony are diffused, or because there is no belief in a God who is responsible for creation (Jains and Buddhists). For Indian religions, the understanding of karma in any case gives more direct answers to the questions of the occurrence and distribution of suffering. For Hindus, the sense of God participating in the conquest of evil is strong (e.g. Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad-gītā).

The term ‘theodicy’ received a different analysis in the work of Weber, for whom theodicy is central in his understanding of religions. In his view, religions offer theodicies, not simply as abstract solutions to intellectual puzzles, but as programmes for action.

From the adopted theodicy of a particular religion flow social consequences which give to different societies their characteristic forms and actions (or lack of them). His extension of the concept of theodicy drew attention to the dynamic consequences of theodicy and the quest for salvation (or its equivalent) in the forming of religious societies. See also EVIL.

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theodicy

theodicy In metaphysics, representation of the world as God's creation offered a method of demonstrating that the world must have certain characteristics, often ones which contradicted commonsense experience. Thus, from God's goodness and omnipotence it could be deduced that the created world must itself be good, despite the appearance of evil and suffering. The philosophical optimism of Leibniz and his followers (‘all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds’) was ruthlessly satirized by Voltaire in Candide. The role of theodicies as reconciling, conservative ideologies has been noted by Max Weber among other sociologists of religion, but they may also have critical implications.

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theodicy

theodicy vindication of the divine attributes. XVIII. — F. théodicée, title of a work by Leibniz (1710), f. Gr. theós God + díkē justice; the ending is assim. to -Y3.

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theodicy

theodicyChrissie, Cissy, kissy, missy, prissy, sissy •dixie, pixie, tricksy, Trixie •chintzy, De Quincey, wincey •efficiency, proficiency, sufficiency •Gypsy, tipsy •ditzy, glitzy, itsy-bitsy, Mitzi, ritzy, Uffizi •Eurydice •odyssey, theodicy •sub judice • prophecy • anglice •chaplaincy • policy • baronetcy •governessy • Pharisee • actressy •clerisy, heresy •secrecy • statice • captaincy •courtesy •dicey, icy, pricey, spicy, vice •stridency • sightsee •bossy, Flossie, flossy, glossy, mossy, posse •boxy, doxy, epoxy, foxy, moxie, poxy, proxy •bonxie •poncey, sonsy •dropsy, popsy •biopsy • heterodoxy • orthodoxy •autopsy

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