The act of the will that is concerned with means to an end; as such, it is distinct from the act of deliberation that precedes it and from the act of execution that follows it. (For a discussion of the interrelationships between these acts, see human act.) This article discusses the teachings of various philosophers concerning choice and is divided into two parts: the first is devoted to ancient and medieval thought on the subject, the second to modern and contemporary views.
Ancient and Medieval Thought. According to aristotle, when one wishes an end, which he sees as his good, his choice must necessarily be concerned with the means to that end, that is, with the actions that will attain it, insofar as these lie in his power. "Wish relates to the end, choice [προαίρεσις, meaning preference] to the means; for instance, we wish to be healthy, but we choose the acts which will make us healthy …; for, in general, choice seems to relate to the things that are in our own power" (Eth. Nic. 1111b 27–29). From this he deduces that choice in man must be voluntary: "The end, then, being what we wish for, the means what we deliberate about and choose, actions concerning means must be according to choice and voluntary" (ibid. 1113b 3–5).
St. augustine, reflecting on the concept of choice within the context of Christian revelation, sees it as being vitiated by sin; in his view, it was a perfection of man before original sin, a perfection that can be restored only by the gift of divine grace. "From the bad use of free will, there originated the whole train of evil, which, with its concatenation of miseries, convoys the human race from its depraved origin, as from a corrupt root, on to the destruction of the second death, which has no end, those only being excepted who are freed by the grace of God" (Civ. 13.14).
According to the doctrine of St. thomas aquinas, "choice is substantially not an act of the reason but of the will; for choice is accomplished in a certain movement of the soul toward the good which is chosen. Consequently, it is evidently an act of the appetitive power" (Summa Theologiae 1a2ae, 13.1). Aquinas follows Aristotle's teaching on choice's being concerned with means to an end: "Just as intention regards the end, so choice regards the means" (ibid. 13.4). He likewise sees in man's faculty of choice the proper explanation of his freedom, or freewill: "Man does not choose of necessity… Now the reason why it is possible not to choose or to choose, may be gathered from a twofold power in man. For man can will and not will, act and not act; and again he can will this or that, and do this or that… Man chooses, notof necessity, but freely" (ibid. 13.6). Most scholastics are in basic agreement with this teaching. The Franciscan school generally accords more autonomy and primacy to the will, and thus sees free choice more as the will's prerogative than something it obtains from its dependency on the intellect (cf. Duns Scotus, Opus Oxon. 184.108.40.206). Jesuit writers generally follow Thomistic doctrine, although they dispute over the precise relationship that obtains between choice and the last practical judgment (see St. Robert Bellarmine, De gratia et libero arbitrio 3.8;G. Vázquez, in Summa Theologiae 1a2ae, 44.3).
Modern and Contemporary Thought. R. descartes makes the important point that liberty of choice is not to be confused with indifference toward various alternatives, which he sees more as a defect of knowledge than as a perfection of the will: "In order that I should be free it is not necessary that I should be indifferent as to the choice of one or the other of two contraries; but contrariwise the more I lean to the one … the more freely do I choose and embrace it" (Meditat. 4.5). G. W. leibniz associates choice with the will's being induced to act by the element of goodness in what it chooses. "The will is never prompted to action save by the representation of the good, which prevails over the opposite representations… For that very reason the choice isfree and independent of necessity, because it is made between several possibles, and the will is determined only by the preponderating goodness of the object" (Theodicy, Essays on the Justice of God 1.45).
Thinkers in the British empiricist tradition locate liberty or freedom in man's ability to choose, which they regard as being without external constraint or coercion. This is stated quite clearly by D. hume: "By liberty … we can only mean a power of acting or not acting, according to the determination of the will; that is, if we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may" (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding 8.73). J. locke further discusses the case of choice with respect to an end. "Liberty, it is plain, consists in the power to do, or not to do; to do, or forbear doing, as we will… In most cases, a man is not at liberty to forbearthe act of volition… Yet there is a case wherein a manis at liberty in respect of willing; and that is the choosing of a remote good as an end to be pursued. Here a man may suspend the act of his choice from being determined for or against the thing proposed, till he has examined whether it be really of a nature, in itself and consequences, to make him happy or not" (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding 2.21.57).
For I. kant and the German idealist tradition that followed him, freedom of choice is derived from the exigencies of the practical reason and from moral law; thus choice is nothing more than man's autonomy in legislating for himself. In Kant's view, freedom does not consist in being able to choose one alternative or the other, but in the will's not being passively determined; will is a law unto itself independent of any quality in the object presented to it. "The principle of autonomy then is: 'Always so to choose that the same volition shall comprehend the maxims of our choice as a universal law"' (Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals 2).
William james accepts free choice as a pragmatic option, although he argues that man has an immediate awareness of his ability to choose. For those who have scruples about introspective aspects of consciousness he writes: "Let there be no such consciousness; let all our thoughts of movements be of sensational constitution; still in the emphasizing, choosing, and espousing of one of them rather than another, in the saying to it, 'be thou the reality to me,' there is ample scope for our inward initiative to be shown. Here, it seems to me, the true line between the passive materials and the activity of the spirit should be drawn" (Principles of Psychology ch. 26).
It is among the existentialist thinkers, however, that choice has received the greatest emphasis as a philosophical concept. For S. A. kierkegaard, choice is so fundamental that without it there can be no such thing as good or evil. "My either/or does not in the first instance denote the choice between good and evil, it denotes the choice whereby one chooses good and evil/or excludes them… It is, therefore, not so much a question ofchoosing between willing the good or the evil, as of choosing to will, but by this in turn the good and the evil are posited" [Either/Or, ed. R. Bretall, A Kierkegaard Anthology (New York 1946) 107]. M. Heidegger is even more emphatic; in his view, both the present state and the ultimate potentiality of Dasein (that is, of human existence) are rooted in the attitude toward choice. "Dasein makes no choices, … and thus snares itself in inauthenticity. This process can be reversed only if Dasein specifically brings itself back to itself from its lostness in the 'they.' … This must be accomplished by making up for not choosing. But 'making up' for not choosing signifies choosing to make this choice—deciding for a potentiality-for-Being, and making this decision from one's own Self. In choosing to make this choice, Dasein makes possible, first and foremost, its authentic potentiality-for-Being" [Being and Time, tr. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson (London 1962) 312–313]. (see existentialism).
See Also: free will; freedom; voluntarity; voluntarism.
Bibliography: m. j. adler, ed., The Great Ideas: A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World, 2 v. (Chicago 1952) 2:1071–1101, 1309. g. pedrazzini and g. masi, Enciclopedia filosofica, 4 v. (Venice-Rome 1957) 4:333–337. w. h. roberts, The Problem of Choice (New York 1948). j. grenier, La Choix (Paris 1941). r. z. lauer, "St. Thomas's Theory of Intellectual Causality in Election," New Scholasticism 28 (1954) 299–319. h. renard, "The Functions of Intellect and Will in the Act of Free Choice," The Modern Schoolman 24 (1947) 85–92.
[w. a. wallace]
choice / chois/ • n. an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities: the choice between good and evil. ∎ the right or ability to make, or possibility of making, such a selection: I had to do it, I had no choice. ∎ a range of possibilities from which one or more may be selected: a sofa in a choice of fabrics. ∎ a course of action, thing, or person that is selected or decided upon: this CD drive is the perfect choice. • adj. 1. (esp. of food) of very good quality: he picked some choice early plums. 2. (of words, phrases, or language) rude and abusive: he had a few choice words at his command. PHRASES: by choice of one's own volition. of choice selected as one's favorite or the best: champagne was his drink of choice. of one's choice that one chooses or has chosen: the college of her choice.DERIVATIVES: choice·ly adv. choice·ness n.
Hence as adj. chosen, selected. XIV.
a choice or picked company of people.
Example: a brave choice of dauntless spirits, 1595.