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The Best of All Possible Worlds: A Story of…
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The Best of All Possible Worlds: A Story of Philosophers, God, and Evil

by Steven Nadler

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If you enjoy reading about the history of philosophy, this is a great book. It presents the history of ideas, and the strange ways that thoughts come about. If you're not interested in the subject material, this is not a book that will spark it. If you are new to philosophy, then this book will definitely drag in places where the author goes into depth about the arguments between the various thinkers in history. As someone with a graduate degree in the philosophy of religion, this was fascinating and enjoyable. It was outside the focus of my field, which made it a "for fun" read to me. Highly recommended - for the right reader. ( )
  LSmith862 | Apr 13, 2018 |
A good example of popular philosophy, this about the great debate between Antoine Arnauld, Nicolas Malebranche, and Gottfried Leibniz about the nature of good and evil. Readable to the layman while still digging quite deeply into the philosophical discussions. ( )
  JBD1 | Jan 6, 2015 |
This is a well-written book about philosophical arguments in the 17th century, chiefly by Leibniz, Arnaud, Malebranche and Spinoza. The author seems to have a thorough grasp of the topic and his arguments are well documented. I like books that are an intensive exploration of a particular time and place. In this case I would have liked a little more history and a little less philosophy, but that is a personal preference, not a criticism. I shall have to read Candide again though, because I remember the ending as somewhat different from Nadler's interpretation. While Professor Pangloss felt that all the suffering was justified by the end, I was left with the feeling that Candide, having achieved some of what he wanted, was less sure. My review, however, will deal with the subject, rather than his treatment of it.

I have long been suspicious of formal philosophy, that which appears in books on the history of philosophy. (I avoid here, arguments about whether or not everyone, by definition, has a philosophy.) Yet it has always been so highly praised for centuries as the highest activity of humanity; I try to keep an open mind. One author argued that slavery in Greece was justified because the elite Greeks put their minds to such important work: philosophy. Others praise Islam for preserving Greek works. While these are incalculable treasures from a historical point of view, as intellectual pursuits, they need not have bothered on my account. True, it is a significant part of Western intellectual history, but would we have been better off without it?

So much intellect and fury expended on such minor matters. So many people claiming that so many different things are "obviously" true with nothing to back them up except vehemence and venom. I cannot help but wonder if indoor plumbing would have been standard by 1800 if these 17th century people had concentrated on their science.

This does nothing to raise my opinion, which I do not mean as a criticism of the author, but only of the subject. Consider the Euthyphro Problem: are acts pious because the gods favor them, or do the gods favor them because they are independently pious? In Christian terms, is God the source of values like beauty and truth, or does He choose these independently existing virtues? Unless one posits that a deity would fail to choose the pious, the true, the beautiful, etc, or one can seriously question the goodness of the diety, this is a distinction without a difference.

Nadler insists that it is choosing a different world, but in practical terms, it is still A=B and B=A. Sure, in one case, the A is on the left, and in the other case, the B is on the left, but it amounts to the same thing. I am reminded of the old story about philosophers arguing passionately about the number of teeth a horse had. The young whippersnapper who suggested that they find a horse and count its teeth was expelled from the convocation. And so it is with these philosophers: they may write lengthy tracts, but until someone actually experiments with the things of the world, counts the horse's teeth, it is all in vain.

My attention was drawn to this book in part because it deals with the question of evil. In the end, as an adult atheist, I find all of the philosophers as unhelpful and meaningless as I found God's response in the Book of Job when I was a child in Sunday School class.

I was quite interested to read about Spinoza: I knew little about him, and what appears here seems like a hopeful moving away older philosophical traditions.

In sum, this is a well-written book with an enormous amount of information about this period, even if I don't personally find it one of humankind's golden ages. ( )
1 vote juglicerr | Mar 15, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374229988, Hardcover)

In the spring of 1672, the German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz arrived in Paris on a furtive diplomatic mission. That project was abandoned quickly, but Leibniz remained in Paris with a singular goal: to get the most out of the city’s intellectual and cultural riches. He benefited, above all, from his friendships with France’s two greatest philosopher-theologians of the period, Antoine Arnauld and Nicolas de Malebranche. The interactions of these three men would prove of great consequence not only for Leibniz’s own philosophy but for the development of modern philosophical and religious thought.
 
Despite their wildly different views and personalities, the three philosophers shared a single, passionate concern: resolving the problem of evil. Why is it that, in a world created by an allpowerful, all-wise, and infinitely just God, there is sin and suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people, and good things to bad people?
 
This is the story of a clash between radically divergent worldviews. But it is also a very personal story. At its heart are the dramatic—and often turbulent—relationships between three brilliant and resolute individuals. In this lively and engaging book, Steven Nadler brings to life a debate that obsessed its participants, captivated European intellectuals, and continues to inform our ways of thinking about God, morality, and the world.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:11 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"In the spring of 1672, the German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz arrived in Paris on a furtive diplomatic mission. That project was quickly abandoned, but Leibniz remained in Paris with a specific goal: to get the most he could out of the city's intellectual and cultural riches. He benefited, above all, from his friendships with France's two greatest philosopher-theologians of the period, Antoine Arnauld and Nicolas Malebranche, The dialogue among these three men would prove of great consequence not only for Leibniz's own philosophy but also for the development of modern philosophical and religious thought." "Despite their wildly different views and personalities, the three philosophers shared a single, passionate concern: resolving the problem of evil. Why is it that, in a world created by an all-powerful, all-wise, and infinitely just God, there is sin and suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people, and good things to bad people? In pursuing answers to this puzzle, Leibniz and his French colleagues relied on very different ideas of what God is and how He acts. Which is more important, they asked, God's wisdom or His power? And what does the answer suggest about the path to well-being in this world and to salvation in the next?" "This is the story of a clash between radically different worldviews. But it is also a very personal story. At its heart is the dramatic - and often turbulent - relationship between three brilliant and resolute individuals. Their exchanges were informed by mutual respect but were also full of insults, expressions of anger and hurt feelings, and the occasional apology. What emerged from their conversations was nothing less than a critical foundation for modern Western philosophical approaches to ancient problems."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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