Volume 76, Issue 4, Fall 2002
Leibniz on Knowledge and God
Scholars have long noted that, for Leibniz, the attributes or Ideas of God are the ultimate objects of human knowledge. In this paper, I go beyond these discussions to analyze Leibniz’s views about the nature and limitations of such knowledge. As with so many other aspects of his thought, Leibniz’s position on this issue—what I will call his divine epistemology—is both radical and conservative. It is also not what we might expect, given other tenets of his system. For Leibniz, “God is the easiest and the hardest being to know.” God is the easiest to know, in that to grasp some property of an essence is to attain a knowledge of the divine essence, but God is also the most difficult to know, in that “real knowledge” of the divine essence is not available to finite beings. There is an enormous gap between the easy and the real knowledge of God, but for Leibniz, this gap is a good thing, since the very slowness of our epistemological journey prepares us morally for its end.