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Early Modern Theodicy, Progress And Pessimism, Theodicies Of Suffering And Good Fortune, Bibliography

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz's (1646–1716) neologism théodicée (from Greek theos, God dike, justice) means divine justice, but the term has long been conflated with John Milton's (1608–1674) promise to "justify the ways of God to men." In 1791 Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) defined theodicy as "the defense of the highest wisdom of the creator against the charge which reason brings against it for whatever is counterpurposive in the world" (p. 24).

Many intellectual historians see theodicy as a specifically modern, perhaps even a more specifically eighteenth-century phenomenon, but the term has come to have broader meanings. Auguste Comte (1798–1857) described all natural and philosophical theology as theodicy. Scholars of religion call all efforts to answer a problem of evil thought to be universal theodicies. The Book of Job, the Indian doctrine of karma, and even capitalist faith in the market have all been seen as theodicies.

There is good reason to restrict the meaning of the term, however, if not to post-Leibnizian thought then at least to philosophical discussions of a certain sort. Works like the Book of Job do not offer philosophical justifications of God, or even accounts of his justice; slamming the door in the face of human demands for intelligibility simply cuts the knot. Much can be learned from examining the presuppositions that make the door-slam inadmissable in the modern age.

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