I frequently think about the following bit of sass from a letter that Voltaire wrote in response to Leibniz’s rebuttal to his argument that our world was the best possible world.
What is this, YouTube? Anyway in Voltaire’s response to Liebniz’s response to his response, he says the following:
I just think this is such a fantastically pithy response to a LITERAL BOOK that Liebniz wrote about Voltaire’s arguments against him. Imagine writing an entire book arguing against someone who disagrees with you, only to receive THIS as a response. It just… it delights me, so I think of it often.
Anyway it also highlights something about philosophy that I find both irritating and kind of beautiful, which is this: often, philosophers spend SO MUCH TIME hashing out the minutiae of their theories and arguments, splitting hairs and giving precise definitions, refining those definitions upon further investigation, then returning to the original definition having learned something new about where we started, and so on.
There is a lot of ink spilt in the name of “rigorous philosophical argument,” is what I’m trying to say. But quite often, when it comes down to it, it would actually take far fewer words to express the same argument in a way that was not only less pedantic and tiring, but also more grounded in reality. So what Voltaire does here is take the pages of Liebniz’s argument, which I’m sure had redeeming structural and rhetorical qualities, as most philosophical argument does, and level it all out with a single blow, grounded absolutely in the actual world of lived human experience.Continue reading “Is this the best of all possible worlds?”