Leibniz on "Lazy Reason"

from the preface to "Theodicy", by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716)

"...Men have been perplexed in well-nigh every age by a sophism which the ancients called the 'Lazy reason', because it tended towards doing nothing, or at least towards being careful for nothing, and only following inclination for the pleasure of the moment. For, they said, if the future is necessary, that which must happen will happen, whatever I may do. Now the future (so they said) is necessary, whether because the Divinity foresees everything, and even pre-establishes it by the control of all things in the universe; or because everything happens of necessity, through the concatenation of causes; or finally, through the very nature of truth, which is determinate in the assertions that can be made on future events, as it is in all assertions, since the assertion must always be true or false in itself, even though we know not always which it is. And all these reasons for determination which appear different converge finally like lines upon one and the same center; for there is a truth in the future event which is pre-determined by the causes, and God pre-establishes it in establishing the causes.
     The false conception of necessity, being applied in practice, has given rise to what I call Fatum Mahometanum, fate after the Turkish fashion, because it is said of the Turks that they do not shun danger or even abandon places infected with plague, owing to their use of such reasoning as that just recorded. For what is called Fatum Stoicum, was not so black as it is painted: it did not divert men from the care of their affairs, but it tended to give them tranquillity in regard to events, through the consideration of necessity, which renders our anxieties and our vexations needless. In which respect these philosophers were not far removed from the teaching of our Lord, who deprecates these anxieties in regard to the morrow, comparing them with the needless trouble a man would give himself in laboring to increase his stature.
     It is true that the teachings of the Stoics (and perhaps also of some famous philosophers of our time), confining themselves to this alleged necessity, can only impart a forced patience; whereas our Lord inspires thoughts more sublime, and even instructs us in the means of gaining contentment by assuring us that since God, being altogether good and wise, has care for everything, even so far as not to neglect one hair of our head, our confidence in him ought to be entire. And thus we should see, if we were capable of understanding him, that it is not even possible to wish for anything better (as much in general as for ourselves), than what he does. It is as if one said to men: Do your duty and be content with that which shall come of it, not only because you cannot resist divine providence, or the nature of things (which may suffice for tranquillity, but not for contentment), but also because you have to do with a good master. And that is what may be called Fatum Christianum.
     Nevertheless it happens that mose men, and even Christians, introduce into their dealings some mixture of fate after the Turkish fashion, although they do not sufficiently acknowledge it. It is true that they are not inactive or negligent when obvious perils or great and manifest hopes present themselves; for they will not fail to abandon a house that is about to fall, and to turn aside from a precipice they see in their path; and they will burrow in the earth to dig up a treasure half uncovered, without waiting for fate to finish dislodging it. But when the good or the evil is remote and uncertain, and the remedy painful or little to our taste, the lazy reason seems to us to be valid. For example, when it is a question of preserving one's health, and even one's life, by good diet, people to whom one gives advice thereupon very often answer that our days are numbered, and it avails nothing to try to struggle against that which God destines for us. But these same persons run to even the most absurd remedies, when the evil they neglected draws near. One reasons in somewhat the same way, when the question for consideration is somewhat thorny, as for instance when one asks oneself, quod vitae sectabor iter? what profession one must choose; when it is a question of a marriage being arranged, of a war being undertaken, or a battle being fought; for in these cases, many will be inclined to evade the difficulty of consideration, and abandon themselves to fate or to inclination, as if reason should not be employed except in easy cases. One will then all too often reason in the Turkish fashion (although this way is wrongly termed trusting in providence, a thing that in reality occurs only when one has done one's duty), and one will employ the lazy reason, derived from the idea of inevitable fate, to relieve oneself of the need to reason properly."

Adapted from a translation in the Open Court edition of Leibniz' "Theodicy"

Leibniz is often referred to as "the last universal mind." For an essay on politics, strategy, science, art, history, and culture, by Leibniz' modern-day successor, Lyndon LaRouche, click here.

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