G. W. F. Leibniz

  • William Lane Craig
Part of the Library of Philosophy and Religion book series (LPR)


Gottfried Wilhelm Freiherr von Leibniz (1646–1716) is without a doubt one of the most important figures in the history of philosophical theism. His entire philosophical system might be termed a theodicy; in fact, the only book he ever wrote and published bears that title.1 All of Leibniz’s philosophical powers are brought to bear in support of the existence of the traditional theistic God, so much so that some have thought it incredible that such an innovative thinker as Leibniz should culminate and even centre his system in such a conservative, orthodox theology.2 But this he did, and he was eager to prove God’s existence by all means available, utilising the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, a special form of the teleological argument dependent upon his monadology, and the argument from eternal truths.3 He remarked, ‘I believe also that nearly all the means which have been employed to prove the existence of God are good and might be of service, if we perfect them...4 Leibniz’s attempt to perfect the ontological argument by supplying a missing premiss is well-known; however, the centre of our attention shall be directed toward the contributions he made in formulating the cosmological a gument. These are substantial; it is his version of the argument that Was employed by Christian Wolff and subsequently attacked by Immanuel Kant and that is the basic form of the argument discussed today. Fortunately, in terms of presuppositions, Leibniz’s version of the proof is largely independent of his monadological system, and we can therefore forgo a discussion of his general metaphysical Weltanschauung. But there are some underlying principles, an understanding of which is critical if we are to fully appreciate the thrust of his proof.


Rational Basis Sufficient Reason True Proposition Ontological Argument Ultimate Reason 
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  1. 1.
    G. W. Leibniz, Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil, trans. E. M. Huggard (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1951).Google Scholar
  2. Most of Leibniz’s philosophy must be garnered from short essays, letters, and notes never intended for publication. Two important collections of these documents in the original languages are Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Sämtliche Schriften und Briefen (Darmstadt, Deutschland: Otto Reichel, 1923)Google Scholar
  3. and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Die philosophischen Schriften von Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, ed. C. I. Gerhardt (Berlin: Wiedmannsche Buchhandlung, 1875).Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    For example, Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1945), pp. 581–96.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz, New Essays on the Understanding, by the Author of the System of Pre-established Harmony, trans. Alfred G. Langley (New York: Macmillan, 1896), p. 505.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    For an example of both, see G. W. Leibniz, ‘Mr. Leibniz’s Second Paper: Being an Answer to Dr. Clarke’s First Reply’, in Philosophical Works of Leibniz ed. George Martin Duncan (New Haven, Conn.: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, 1890), p. 239. Here Leibniz states the principle: ‘a proposition cannot be true and false at the same time’, and he expresses it: ‘A is A and cannot be not A’ (ibid.).Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Spinoza had written, ‘For the existence or non-existence of everything, there must be a reason or cause’ (Benedict Spinoza, Ethic, in Spinoza Selections ed. John Wild, The Modem Student’s Library [London: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1930], p. 103). Leibniz had commented with regard to this, ‘This is rightly observed, and agrees with what I am wont to say, that nothing exists unless a sufficient reason of its existence can be given, which is easily shown not to lie in the series of causes’ (G. W. Leibniz, ’Communicata ex literis D. Schull(eri)’, in philosophische Schriften 4: 138).Google Scholar
  8. 16.
    G. W. Leibniz, ‘The Principles of Nature and of Grace, Based on Reason’ [1714], in Selections ed. Wiener, p. 527.Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    G. W. Leibniz, ‘Mr. Leibniz’s Fifth Paper: Being an Answer to Dr. Clarke’s Fourth Reply’ [1715], in Works ed. Duncan, p. 258.Google Scholar
  10. 21.
    Louis Couturat, ‘On Leibniz’s Metaphysics’, in Leibniz, ed. Harry G. Frankfurt, Modern Studies in Philosophy (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday; Anchor Books, 1972), p. 21.Google Scholar
  11. 23.
    Gottfried Martin, Leibniz: Logic and Metaphysics, trans. K. J. Northcott and P. G. Lucas (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1964), p. 9.Google Scholar
  12. 24.
    Leroy E. Loemker, Introduction to Philosophical Papers and Letters, 2nd ed., by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, ed. Leroy E. Loemker (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel, 1969), p. 26.Google Scholar
  13. 38.
    Louis Couturat, La Logique de Leibniz (Paris: Ancienne Librairie Germer Bailliére & Cie., 1901), pp. 214–16.Google Scholar
  14. 42.
    G. H. R. Parkinson, Logic and Reality in Leibniz’s Metaphysics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), pp. 67–8.Google Scholar
  15. 63.
    Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea (New York: Harper & Row, 1936; Harper Torchbooks, 1960), p. 147.Google Scholar
  16. 73.
    Anna Teresa Tymieniecka, Leibniz’ Cosmological Synthesis (Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1964), p. 14.Google Scholar
  17. Cf. Herbert Wildon Carr, Leibniz (New York: Dover Publications, 1960), pp. 119, 121;Google Scholar
  18. Ruth Lydia Saw, Leibniz (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books; Pelican Books, 1954), p. 74.Google Scholar
  19. 78.
    Leibniz, ‘Monadology’, p. 540. For an analysis of this last phrase, see David Blumenfield, ‘Leibniz’s Proof of the Uniqueness of God’, Studia Leibnitiana 6 (1974): 262–71.Google Scholar
  20. 85.
    This is also done by J. Jalabert, Le Dieu de Leibniz (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1960), p. 111. Unfortunately Jalabert fails to discern the most important contrasts.Google Scholar
  21. 86.
    For example, Patterson asserts that the cosmological argument attacked by Kant is the proof that Leibniz called the argument from contingent things and ‘is identical with the third proof of St. Thomas’ (R. L. Patterson, The Conception of God in the Philosophy of Aquinas [London: George Allen & Unwin, 1933], p. 94). That this statement could appear in a doctoral thesis on Aquinas’s concept of God shows how greatly misunderstood are the arguments of both Aquinas and Leibniz.Google Scholar

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© William Lane Craig 1980

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