Ken Clatterbaugh has spent an inordinate amount of his career teaching Leibniz, the only philosopher immortalized in a cookie.

Leibniz, by all accounts, was an ambitious hypocrite who kept his best work secret and published only stuff that would make him popular with his employers. He deeply admired and was influenced by Spinoza, whom he denounced as soon as Spinoza became philosopher non grata.


One person attended Leibniz's funeral.

Leibniz opened himself up to unmerciful ridicule when he wrote, "This is the best of all possible worlds."

Voltaire was first with Candide. Candide is a the funniest of all possible novels about floggings, devastating earthquakes, epidemics, wrongful executions, injustice, more floggings and assorted unpleasantness. Throughout it all, his philosophical mentor, Dr. Pangloss, reminds the happy-go-lucky Candide, "Everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds."

It is no secret Pangloss is Leibniz. When Candide attempts to save a Dutch Anabaptist from drowning in the Bay of Lisbon, Pangloss stops him by proving that the bay had been "formed expressly for the Anabaptist to drown in."

Leonard Bernstein followed up two centuries later with his musical, Candide. The show's funniest song, "The Best of All Possible Worlds," featured Pangloss and cast singing the praises of war because it unites us all as victims.

Only in the best of all possible worlds is war a blessing in disguise.

Never mind that both Voltaire and Bernstein miss Leibniz's point entirely. Leibniz didn't think there wasn't a boatload of shit in the world; he simply believed that for God to create the world in any other way would have resulted in a bigger boatload of shit.

Which leads me to a story about Ken and the best of all possible worlds.

In the late 70s, Ken and I were walking across campus. In those days the campus was frequented by a lot of seagulls. Seagulls like to shit. It's what makes them seagulls. One seagull decided to shit on Ken's head.

It wasn't pretty.

I could only reply, "And to think this is the best of all possible worlds."

However, as we have learned, if it wasn't the best of all possible worlds there would have been a lot more bird shit on Ken's head that day.

Happy Birthday, Ken. It is the best of all possible worlds because you are in it.

NB: There is serious philosophical debate whether this best of all possible stories actually took place.

Jim Riswold