Philosophical Essays and Texts of Leibniz

The Conception of God in Descartes and Leibniz

René Descartes and Gottfried Leibniz both espouse belief in a God that is infinitely powerful, infinitely knowledgeable and infinitely benevolent. Nonetheless, Descartes and Leibniz differently structure the hierarchy of those three defining traits as they determine God’s actions. Descartes’ God is a Voluntarist, meaning that God has absolute freedom of indifference. Power is supreme for Descartes. Leibniz objects to the arbitrariness of goodness and truth that arises from Descartes’ conception. In response, Leibniz chooses to depict a God whose power is constrained by a dominant intellect and benevolence. However, in Leibniz’s attempt to find absolute truth and goodness outside of God’s power, he limits God’s power to such an extent that the nature of God is fundamentally altered from the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-benevolent conception that Leibniz claims to believe in. Ultimately, Descartes’ view of God, though problematic, is more convincing because it does not involve the paradox of a God with limited freedom.

For Descartes, God’s power is primary. God can will anything to exist. Descartes writes that “every single moment of my entire existence depends on him.” God has complete freedom of discretion in choosing what to...

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