The Best of all Possible Worlds

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The 17th century sees the rise of a surprising argument: We are living (and this has to be the case) in the best of all possible worlds. Any other option would (so the argument) mean that God created something less than his omnipotence and omniscience would have allowed him to create - and this would be a contradiction in terms.

One could read this argument as a prove of the optimism the Enlightenment developed. Things are, however more complex. The argument had its side effects: It had a potential to attack traditional Christian dogmas, according to which we lived in a world of sin and divine punishment. It could just as well support Christian historical views as soon as one detected God's wiser plan behind the miserable present state. The argument moved, in any case, rational and philosophical argumentation into a field of theological debate; and it attacked the different Christian denominations with different vigor. The so called Enlightenment finally re-evaluated the argument in the 1750s with the radical attack thinkers like Voltaire levelled at the generation of preceding Theodicee-philosophers on the ground of suspicions that our world might be highly imperfect (and ultimately the proof of a universe in which God was quite absent if not failing to fulfil his duties).

The seminar could refer to poetical texts (such as Alexander Pope's Essay on Man or Voltaires Candide) it should also include philosophical and religious texts such as Leibnitz' Theodicee (1710) or Mandeville's Fable of the Bees (1714). Something to be interdisciplinarily with philosophers and theologians.