Leibniz on Rational Decision-Making

Dissertation, University of Helsinki (2007)
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Abstract
In this study I discuss G. W. Leibniz's (1646-1716) views on rational decision-making from the standpoint of both God and man. The Divine decision takes place within creation, as God freely chooses the best from an infinite number of possible worlds. While God's choice is based on absolutely certain knowledge, human decisions on practical matters are mostly based on uncertain knowledge. However, in many respects they could be regarded as analogous in more complicated situations. In addition to giving an overview of the divine decision-making and discussing critically the criteria God favours in his choice, I provide an account of Leibniz's views on human deliberation, which includes some new ideas. One of these concerns is the importance of estimating probabilities – in making decisions one estimates both the goodness of the act itself and its consequences as far as the desired good is concerned. Another idea is related to the plurality of goods in complicated decisions and the competition this may provoke. Thirdly, heuristic models are used to sketch situations under deliberation in order to help in making the decision. Combining the views of Marcelo Dascal, Jaakko Hintikka and Simo Knuuttila, I argue that Leibniz applied two kinds of models of rational decision-making to practical controversies, often without explicating the details. The more simple, traditional pair of scales model is best suited to cases in which one has to decide for or against some option, or to distribute goods among parties and strive for a compromise. What may be of more help in more complicated deliberations is the novel vectorial model, which is an instance of the general mathematical doctrine of the calculus of variations. To illustrate this distinction, I discuss some cases in which he apparently applied these models in different kinds of situation. These examples support the view that the models had a systematic value in his theory of practical rationality.
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