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Religion & Culture | 'The principle of sufficient reason'

Published:Wednesday | January 10, 2018 | 12:00 AMDr Glenville Ashby

Called a universal genius, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) and other philosophers, such as Immanuel Kant, introduced an intriguing concept that influenced 17th century thought called 'The Principle of Sufficient Reason'.

This concept argues that everything is grounded in reason, purpose and cause.

Leibniz wrote: "That of sufficient reason, by virtue of which we consider that we can find no true or existent fact, no true assertion, without there being a sufficient reason why it is thus and not otherwise, although most of the time these reasons cannot be known to us."

This great thinker based his argument on epistemology - a field of knowledge that promotes justified and sound reasoning over opinion.

Concern over free will, preordainment, life, death and the events that govern us has long preoccupied not only these thinkers but originally it was religion that preoccupied itself with these matters.

In simplified and practical terms, religion has attempted to rationalise and explain life's mysteries.

For example, Hindus have advanced that all life has a purpose through its doctrine of reincarnation. To Hindus that is their Principle of Sufficient Reason.

And for many mystics, it is this doctrine that comprehensively explains so much of life's inexplicable occurrences.

Reincarnation as practised by Hindus and Jains hold that our lot in life is determined by our thoughts, words and deeds (and) that we are bound by karma, a principle that teaches that for every action there is a reaction. Nothing happens arbitrarily.

Some have even argued that Jesus preached that very principle during his brief ministry. For example, in Matt 17: 12-13 we read: But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognise him ..." Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

Another more relevant example: As Jesus went along he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:1-2)

And of cosmology which attempt to explain the beginning, structure and patterns of the universe, the sacred books of every religion have addressed this complex subject in vivid, compelling detail.

Here is what Islam teaches: "Verily in the heavens and the earth are signs for those who believe. And in the creation of yourselves, and the fact that animals are scattered (through the earth), are signs for those of assured faith. And in the alternation of night and day, and that fact that Allah sends down sustenance from the sky, and revives therewith the earth after its death, and in the change of the winds, are signs for those who are wise." (45:3-5).

Divorced from religious jargon, these philosophers grappled with these intriguing subjects.

Leibniz reasoned that there is sufficient evidence that there is a purpose in all life even if it cannot be proven through measurable means.

Surely, the Principle of Sufficient Reason is a profound philosophical theory that commands the interest of philosophers, religionists and even atheists.

- Dr Glenville Ashby is an award-winning author. His books include: The Believers: The Hidden World of Spiritualism in New York, Anam Cara: Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity and The Mystical Qigong Handbook for Good Health. Feedback: or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby