Leibniz on God Part 2: God is Personal
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Leibniz on God Part 2: God is Personal

Kastin Carroll

Here we continue Leibniz’s second of four contingency arguments for God. If you missed Part 1, find it here.

Argument 2: God is Personal

From Theodicy[1] and On the Ultimate Origin of Things.[2]

So what if “God exists”? That phrase proves nothing toward the biblical God if “God” is impersonal (an “it” rather than a “He”). If at least one necessary thing or “brute fact” must be accepted, why “God” and not the universe? Consider Leibniz’ second argument:

The Syllogism:

  1. Selection among possible alternatives requires a spontaneous (free) act of will.
  2. The universe’s existence is a selection among possible alternatives.
  3. Therefore, the universe’s existence requires a spontaneous (free) act of will.

The Reasons:

  1. By definition, selection is impossible where no alternatives are possible, and no alternatives are possible within an unbroken causal sequence. Therefore, selection requires a break in causal sequence, or a spontaneous act.
  2. Because the present state of the universe follows a past one, which follows another, yet past states cannot follow ad infinitum or the present would never succeed in existing. Therefore, the series of past states is finite, meaning the universe once did not exist but now does, making the universe’s existence a selection among at least two possible alternatives (existence and nonexistence) and perhaps more (existence in a different way). Note that Leibniz does not commit a composition fallacy (suggesting the universe must be contingent because its components are) but a correct appeal to the impossibility of infinite regress: “a succeeding state is in a certain way only a copy of the preceding, and to whatever anterior state you may go back you will never find there a perfect reason why, forsooth, there is any world at all”.[2]

3) It therefore follows that the universe’s existence is contingent upon a spontaneous (free) act. Thus, the “God” behind the universe cannot be an impersonal “thing” or “force” incapable of particular will, otherwise God could not have selected the universe’s existence over its nonexistence, giving the universe a finite past. Moreover, this necessary “God” cannot be the universe itself, since by definition “nothing is necessitated, whose opposite is possible”[3] yet universe once did not exist, and now does exist, and therefore both opposites are possible.

The Bottom Line:

Due to the impossibility of infinite regress, nothing without free agency for spontaneous action can be the “brute fact” or “necessary thing” behind the finite timeline of the universe. Among the possible alternatives (existence and nonexistence) of which this is one, “to fix upon one of them can be nothing other than the act of the will which chooses”.[1] Therefore neither the universe itself, nor the impersonal “god” of pantheism, can be the necessary thing. The necessary “God” must be personal.

So what if a personal God willed the universe once? That doesn’t mean He cares about it now. Supposing God stepped away from the universe after creating it, every claim of divine intervention—that is, every Abrahamic religion—would be entirely false. Can we reasonably believe it possible for this necessary and personal “God” to remain in contact with the universe He caused? Stay tuned for Part 3!


[1] Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil. Project Gutenberg, 2005.

[2] Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. “On the Ultimate Origin of Things.” Discourse on Metaphysics, On the Ultimate Origin of Things and Other Principal Essays. Translated by George Martin Duncan, George R. Montgomery, and Robert Lattar, Ukemi Audiobooks, 2019.

[3] Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. “Discourse on Metaphysics.” Discourse on Metaphysics, On the Ultimate Origin of Things and Other Principal Essays. Translated by George Martin Duncan, George R. Montgomery, and Robert Lattar, Ukemi Audiobooks, 2019.

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