Spinoza and Leibniz on Faith and Reason
Adelson, Madeleine C.
- The relationship between faith and reason raises many questions. Does faith imply a belief that is contrary to reason, or outside of reason? Do our beliefs based on faith bring us closer to truth, as reason does? Are truths about the divine accessible through reason, and if not, does it do us any good to try to comprehend them?Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz were concerned with the relationship ... read morebetween faith and reason, and come up with very different answers to these questions. While Spinoza argues in his Theological-Political Treatise that the common man's faith is absolutely divorced from reason, as only reason leads us to truth, Leibniz argues in his Theodicy that faith and reason go hand in hand, as both are paths toward truth. Both philosophers acknowledge the existence of truths (such as truths about the divine) beyond the average person's level of comprehension; however, Spinoza thinks the philosopher can reach these truths through extensive study, while Leibniz thinks no human is capable of understanding them. For Spinoza, then, faith becomes nothing more than the consideration of incomplete ideas in lieu of better understanding, a sort of lack or error in reasoning. For Leibniz, faith is a necessary step towards explaining the divine and involves more understanding rather than less. In my thesis, I intend to show that Leibniz's account proves more useful and charitable in describing faith. While Spinoza's complete separation of faith and reason is initially tempting, his views as expressed in his Ethics ultimately lead to the conclusion that the average person's ideas regarding the divine are not just incomplete, but false despite numerous attempts to avoid this conclusion. Leibniz, on the other hand, allows for varying degrees of depth in understanding, giving us a more charitable picture of what faith is to the faithful. By comparing each philosopher's treatment of the relationship between faith and reason, we can also gain insight into the advantages and disadvantages of their respective theories of knowledge more generally.read less