Prefacing the Theodicy

In Larry M. Jorgensen & Samuel Newlands (eds.), New Essays on Leibniz's Theodicy. Oxford University Press. pp. 13-42 (2014)


The Preface to Leibniz's famous Theodicy offers a perspective on the work that has been insufficiently studied. In this paper, I ask that we step back from the main text of the Theodicy and attend to its Preface. I show that the latter performs two crucial preparatory tasks that have not been properly appreciated. The first is to offer a public declaration of what I call Leibniz’s radical rationalism. The Preface assumes that any attentive rational being is capable of divine knowledge. The basic idea is that it is knowledge about a divine perfection that can be understood more or less completely. In the Preface, Leibniz entices his readers to seek such knowledge and explains why doing so has been so difficult before now. What makes this rationalism radical is that divine knowledge is severed from any religion or set of religious beliefs. While some Christian doctrines make it easier to approach God, they are neither necessary nor sufficient to do so. The author of the Theodicy thereby informs his readers that they have access to divine perfections, regardless of religious affiliation. To acquire such knowledge, they need only work through his book. The second task of the Preface is closely related to the first. It invites readers to seek divine love and virtue. To set themselves on the path to virtue, they need only avoid the pitfalls of religion and use reason in the right way to grasp a divine perfection. Once they enter the main text of the Theodicy, they have begun that journey.

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Christia Mercer
Columbia University

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