Locke and Leibniz on the Balance of Reasons

  • Markku RoinilaEmail author
Part of the Logic, Argumentation & Reasoning book series (LARI, volume 2)


One of the features of John Locke’s moral philosophy is the idea that morality is based on our beliefs concerning the future good. In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding II, xxi, §70, Locke argues that we have to decide between the probability of afterlife and our present temptations. In itself, this kind of decision model is not rare in Early Modern philosophy. Blaise Pascal’s Wager is a famous example of a similar idea of balancing between available options which Marcelo Dascal has discussed in his important 2005 article “The Balance of Reason”.

Leibniz, however, was not always satisfied with this kind of simple balancing. In his commentary to Locke’s Essay, Nouveaux essais sur l’entendement humain, II, xxi, §66, he presented an alternative model which is based on an idea of plural, mutually conflicting inclinations. This kind of model, called as vectorial theory of rational decision by Simo Knuuttila, fits well with Leibniz’s theory of the soul where volitions are formed as a kind of compromise between different inclinations to different goods.

I will present these two models and show how they illustrate the practical rationality of Locke and Leibniz and how their moral philosophies differ, although being similar in certain respects. The topics include Leibniz’s criticism of Lockean hedonism and the discussion of akratic behaviour in II, xxi of Essay and Nouveaux essais.


Locke Leibniz Decision-making Decision models Moral psychology 



I would like to thank Professor Marcelo Dascal for inviting me to work in the Leibniz-Locke project at the University of Tel Aviv in September-October 2009 and the Academy of Finland and the University of Tel Aviv whose grants made the visit possible. The research done during the period forms the core of this paper. Thanks are also due to the scholars present in the Nordic Workshop of Early Modern Philosophy (Uppsala, Sweden, 2010) who commented on an earlier version of this chapter.


  1. Dascal, M. 2005. The balance of reason. In Logic, thought and action, ed. D. Vanderveken, 27–47. Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Hájek, A. 2008. Pascal’s wager. In The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Fall 2008 edition), ed. E.N. Zalta.
  3. Knuuttila, S. 1998. Old and new in Leibniz’s view of rational decision. In Meeting of the minds, ed. S.F. Brown, 333–346. Turnhout: Brepols.Google Scholar
  4. Leibniz, G.W. 1962. Sämtliche Schriften und Briefe, Reihe VI, Band 6. Berlin: Akademie. (A)Google Scholar
  5. Leibniz, G.W. 1996. New essays on human understanding. Trans. and eds. P. Remnant and J. Bennett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (RB)Google Scholar
  6. Locke, J. 1975. An essay concerning human understanding. Edited with an Introduction, Critical Apparatus and Glossary by P.H. Nidditch. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (E)Google Scholar
  7. Roinila, M. 2007. Leibniz on rational decision-making. Helsinki: University of Helsinki.Google Scholar
  8. Thompson, G. 2001. On Locke. Belmont: Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  9. Vailati, E. 1990. Leibniz on Locke on weakness of will. Journal of the History of Philosophy 28: 213–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art StudiesUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland

Personalised recommendations