Are good and bad subjective

The terms "good" and "bad" in Leibniz's worldview

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. General differentiation between the terms "good" and "bad"

3. Leibniz view of the world and his conception of good and evil
3.1. The principle of reason
3.2. The concept of Leibniz's theodicy
3.3. The good and the bad

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1 Introduction

What exactly is evil and is it inherent in each of us from birth? What are the prerequisites for evil to become a human way of life? And doesn't every person naturally strive for the good?

In our language usage, the term evil is mostly used to express something negative. Evil is the opposite of good. Traditionally it is called, privatio debiti boni, defined as the robbery of the owed good and thus negatively related to the good.[1] In contrast to evil, good is both a moral and a social norm and is considered to be worth striving for. But who determines what is right or wrong. Basically, the terms good and bad are initially measured subjectively and mean something different for everyone. So it can be the case that something that one considers to be bad and evil is something very good for the other. So what is right or wrong is in the eye of the beholder. A person who is convinced that he is acting well can be seen as dangerous and evil by outsiders if he acts according to a misconception of the majority. So we humans often distinguish our reality ourselves in terms of good and bad, positive and negative. Beyond that, however, there are situations and things in the world about which even people from the most diverse cultures would agree that they are bad, destructive and undoubtedly evil. Furthermore, we all have the same basic perception on an emotional level as soon as we are confronted with something that is bad for us. Our reaction and the physiognomy of what we perceive as pleasant or uncomfortable are the same. Laughter, for example, is body language that sounds the same all over the world and that everyone understands.

Even then, philosophers recognized that evil cannot exist without good and that happiness can only be recognized as the exact opposite of unhappiness. Both conditions go hand in hand and are usually not permanent. In the following work, Leibniz’s view of the world and the terms good and evil are to be defined more precisely and to be examined whether and why there must be both components. For this purpose, Leibniz's theodicy is considered, which is a justification with regard to the evil in the world that God allows. Both the principle of pre-established harmony and the idea of ​​the best of all worlds will shed light on the necessity of evil in the world from this perspective.

2. General differentiation between the terms "good" and "bad"

If only the good is what people naturally strive for and the bad is something to be avoided; how can it come about that war, hardship and suffering are the order of the day in the world. Every person is confronted with both the good and the bad in his life and knows exactly about that feeling. First of all, however, a distinction must be made between what good and bad really mean and what is judged to be good or bad. On the one hand there are norms and values ​​that are culture-dependent and whose meaning is relative, and on the other hand there are standards that apply universally.

Thus, gratitude and generosity are everywhere viewed as "good," while the stingy is despised. But the cross-cultural similarities on the one hand and the serious differences between the various civilizations on the other, raise the question of a generally applicable standard.[2] It is by no means easy to generalize what constitutes a good action, because first of all, most people rate themselves and their own actions as good. This is a powerful mainspring. According to psychological egoism, "Our striving and acting as human beings, even the unconscious, are geared (...) to realizing our desires, interests and goals."[3] Plato asserted that without exception one could act only for the sake of good will. (Spaermann, p.86) It becomes problematic when the belief about oneself, or the image that someone wants to embody outwardly, is questioned by others and outsiders suddenly accuse one. The image that one has of oneself in this case can no longer be maintained because it collides with the image of the other person. In this case, conflict arises and different views collide.

Both the bad and the bad represent not only the exact difference to the good. So they are not only the omission of good, but even counteract it. Failure to do good does not necessarily mean doing bad. However, bad behavior is always associated with failure to do good.[4] Aquinas maintained that an evil itself can never be sought if it is not related to the good. In addition, there must be things that can fail because of the divine order. A supreme, perfect evil cannot exist because it could never completely destroy the good. The good functions as the bearer of the evil. If evil were to destroy everything, it would also destroy itself and withdraw its foundation, since it emerges from good.[5] Evil can be understood as something that acts against the divine order and the principle of creation and life and lives by itself alone, cut off from that from which it actually emerges, the good. Evil alone cannot exist. But it can be the antagonist of the good, since it itself emerges from this.


[1] Flower, UTB online dictionary

[2] Spaermann 1982, pp.12-16

[3] Behrendt, 2015, p. 153

[4] Dalferth, 2006, p. 96ff.

[5] Kochanek, 2002, pp. 60f

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