Intellectual Self Defence

Brains are delicate things…

Choice versus Decision

Ok, this IS going to seem like hair-splitting, unless you read it in the context of a really fascinating and useful paper by a guy called Daniel Hausknost. He’s trying to explain why nothing ever changes, and to do that needs to make distinctions between decisions, solutions and choices. So his distinction between decisions and choices – which he admits is tricky – is here….

You have to make a choice!’ and ‘You have to make a decision!’ are often used to mean the same thing. The act of choosing is intuitively understood to be a decision; on the other hand, a decision
requires a choice between options. Hence, there seems to exist a somewhat complicated relationship between the two terms that is rarely noticed, let alone theorised.
The definition of ‘choice’ I propose here is that every act of choice is characterised by the undecidability between the options involved, but that the options not selected are not eliminated from the pool. I argue, furthermore, that this mode of agency is the genuine mode of the marketplace. An example might illuminate this seemingly paradoxical definition: when a person wants to buy a chocolate bar at the corner
shop, she will inevitably go through the experience of undecidability in view of the choice of chocolate bars the shop offers. Different forces within the shopper might pull her in different directions: there is the rich and milky option, there is the dark and nutty one, there is the morally superior fair trade option, competing with the organic-
but-non-fair trade one, there is the ‘light’ and crispy one, and they all come at different prices; plus there are different levels of attachment to different brands conveying different values of image and identity that complicate the picture. After something between two seconds and two minutes an ordinary shopper will have made her choice and picked one of the various chocolate bars. Crucially, however, the other chocolate bars, those she had not chosen, will remain there in their shelves and will not disappear. The shopper could buy another one right now, or she could buy a different one the next day or every following day without her choice making any difference to the range of options she can pick from. Every time she shops, the range of options from which she can choose will be the same (or even greater, perhaps?) as the last time. Whatever choice she makes, it will never have the effect of eliminating the options she does not (want to) choose.

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3 comments on “Choice versus Decision

  1. Pingback: Links 2011-04-03 Coal, Egypt, Climate Camp, Agentic Deadlock «

  2. leavergirl
    March 4, 2011

    Errrr… say huh?

    • dwighttowers
      March 4, 2011

      The thing with a “choice” is that you can make a different choice the next day. A decision (to marry someone or not, to send someone to jail) creates a path-dependency/is irrevocable. And in politics, that means you have pissed some people off, and they will blame you for the shut-down options. This is difficult stuff – I remember having to read the guy’s whole essay twice to ‘get it’, and even now, when I’ve just gone over it again while beginning to bash a youtube script into shape, I am still learning things from it. Hopefully the youtube (out in the next coupla days?) should clarify. But may well not!!!

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This entry was posted on March 3, 2011 by in thinking tools and tagged , .
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