Hegel compares his approach to world history to a theodicy and more specifically to Leibniz’s Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil (1710) (p. 45). What are the similarities and differences between Hegel’s approach to world history and this work by Leibniz?
In his lectures on the philosophy of world history, Hegel explicitly refers to his approach of world history as a theodicy1. In particular, he compares his endeavor with the anterior attempt of Leibniz. In this short essay, we provide a comparison of theodicies from Hegel and Leibniz.
The term theodicy finds its origins in the eponym work of Leibniz2. Literally meaning the “judgement of god”3, a theodicy can be generally understood as an argument to address the problem of evil. That is, how can we reconcile the seemingly contradictory concepts of evil and of an omnipotent and benevolent God? An omnipotent God would seeminlgy not create an imperfect world (the underachiever problem) and a God involved in all, and potentially evil, actions would not be exactly holy (the holiness problem). As a solution to the first problem, Leibniz proposes that our world is actually “the best of all worlds”4, refuting the arguments against this statement based on particular cases. The superlative also implies a criterion for judging the goodness of the world. Leibniz discusses several criteria, among which the maximization of the essence5. With respect to the holiness problem, Leibniz argues that evil is necessary in the creation of this best world, with God having a permissive stance towards evil doings.
Over a hundred years after Leibniz, Hegel also interprets his philosophy of world history as an attempt to make sense of the presence of evil. A central notion in Hegel’s work is the spirit. The spirit, which bears similarities with the concept of the soul is an immaterial6 entity, capable of thought, self-sufficient and free7. It can take several forms or inhabit different material entities such as human beings, a nation or the world (weltgeist)8. The essence of spirit is to become fully self-conscious of itself, such as to realize oneself and to become fully free910. Hegel then argues that the history of the world is a dynamic process that consists in the progressive self-conscientization of the world spirit such that “it can conform to its own concept”11. Importantly, the increase in self-consciousness comes at some cost : “learning and the degeneration or downfall of a nation always go hand in hand”12 such that evil events must happen for the world spirit to realize itself. Taking the analogy of the seed used by Hegel, evil is contained in the seed of History as a necessary step to self-realization.
Both theodicies bear similarities. First, the importance of self-realization and the development of its true self is used as a criterion to judge the goodness of a world in Leibniz and as a drive for History in Hegel. Second, both posit the necessity of evil, as being an inherent necessary part of the world. However, in contrast to Leibniz ‘approach, Hegel’s account is dynamic and seems to assume the potentiality of an end of History when the world spirit would become fully self-conscious. At this moment, as learning becomes unnecessary, so does evil.
“From this point of view, our investigation can be seen as a theodicy, a justification of the ways of God (such as Leibniz attempted in his own metaphysical manner […])” in G.W.F. Hegel, ‘Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. Introduction: Reason in History’, translated by H.B. Nisbet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1975). ↩︎
Gottfried W. Leibniz, ‘Essays of the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil’, London: Routledge & K. Paul; 1952. ↩︎
(from Θεός, god and δίκη judgement) ↩︎
Leibniz : ’Essays of the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil’ ↩︎
“Maximizing the mirroring of divine goodness in creation is the goal that God seeks to achieve.” in Murray, Michael J. and Sean Greenberg, “Leibniz on the Problem of Evil”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/leibniz-evil. ↩︎
“The nature of spirit can be best understood if we contrast it with its direct opposite, which is matter.” in Hegel : ‘Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. Introduction: Reason in History’, 47 ↩︎
“Spirit is by nature self-sufficient and free” in Hegel : ‘Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. Introduction: Reason in History’, 47 ↩︎
“Let us now proceed to examine it more closely, and not just as it expresses itself in the individual human being. Spirit is essentially individual, but in the field of world history, we are not concerned with particulars and need not confine ourselves to individual instances or attempt to trace everything back to them.” in Hegel : ‘Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. Introduction: Reason in History’, 51 ↩︎
“The essence of spirit, then, is self-consciousness” in Hegel : ‘Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. Introduction: Reason in History’, 51 ↩︎
“But spirit, in its consciousness of itself, is free; in this realisation, it has overcome the limits of temporal existence and enters into relationship with pure being, which is also its own being.” in Hegel : ‘Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. Introduction: Reason in History’, 53 ↩︎
Hegel : ‘Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. Introduction: Reason in History’, 53 ↩︎
Hegel : ‘Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. Introduction: Reason in History’, 61 ↩︎