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The Best of All Possible Worlds

Steven Nadier (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: Oct 28, 2008), 320 pages.

The centerpiece of this intellectual history is a vicious
late-17th-century debate between three unlikely combatants: Leibniz, an
amateur metaphysicist and German secret agent; Malebranche, a gentle
French priest and theologian; and Arnauld, an ill-tempered and
opinionated monk. The differences in their positions were slight but
important: at stake was the very concept of God with potential
implications for the territorial wars between various Catholic Church
sects. Although the three men were concentrating on questions that had
long been the subject of philosophical inquiry, new scientific
discoveries were beginning to challenge the power invested in church
and monarchy in what became a watershed moment. Nadler (Rembrandt’s Jews)
demonstrates why the contentious discussions between the three
intellectuals remain relevant: "To the extent that one believes that
there is a universal rationality and objectivity to moral and other
value judgments, and that the foundations of ethics have nothing to do
with what God may or may not want, one has followed in certain
seventeenth-century footsteps." Nadler’s superb study makes for a
larger space for Leibniz, Malebranche and Arnauld alongside such giants
of the period as Descartes and Spinoza. ~ Publishers Weekly


Steven Nadler is the William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy
at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he has been
teaching since 1988. His books include Spinoza: A Life, winner of the Koret Jewish Book Award in 2000, and Rembrandt’s Jews, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2004.