The reception of the Theodicy in England

In Wenchao Li (ed.), Leibniz, Caroline und die Folgen der englischen Sukzession. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag. pp. 69-91 (2016)
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Leibniz wished that his Theodicy (1710) would have as great and as wide an impact as possible, and to further this end we find him in his correspondence with Caroline often expressing his desire that the book be translated into English. Despite his wishes, and Caroline’s efforts, this was not to happen in his lifetime (indeed, it did not happen until 1951, almost 250 years after Leibniz’s death). But even though the Theodicy did not make quite the impact in England that Leibniz had hoped it would, it did draw some attention from the English intelligentsia. In this paper I shall focus on two responses to the Theodicy that were made in England in the years immediately following its publication. First, I shall consider the response of Michel de la Roche and his efforts to promote the book to an English audience in 1711 (efforts which only came to Leibniz’s attention much later, in 1713). De la Roche’s response was broadly positive, though his admiration for the Theodicy was tempered by his belief that Leibniz had struggled – unsuccessfully – to reconcile free will with divine foreknowledge. Second, I shall consider the largely negative response of George Smalridge, the Bishop of Bristol, who delivered his verdict on the book in a letter to Sophie written in 1714. Leibniz subsequently wrote a point-by-point rebuttal of (most of) Smalridge’s criticisms in a letter to Caroline, conceding only one very minor point to the Bishop. As we shall see, some of the points of substance raised by de la Roche and Smalridge have loomed over the Theodicy ever since.

Author's Profile

Lloyd Strickland
Manchester Metropolitan University


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