Thursday 6 January 2011

Choice and Future

Dear Philosophers,

You have probably made resolutions for the New Year. We all do, or we ought to. Resolutions manifest that we take our happiness seriously and stir our lives in the direction we choose rather than allow it to drift aimlessly. Is it a choice, though? Our personal stories appear as series of crossroads, from which paths opened up, and we went down this one and that one, not knowing where they ultimately led and forfeiting the opportunities that the other destinations might have offered. Because no map shows the journeys ends, and our bodies, our education, our circumstances restrict our possibilities, many thinkers claim we didnt choose. We lacked the necessary information. Our decisions were the mechanical results of a concatenation of previous events and social constraints.

It is a rather incoherent way of reading our lives narratives, is it not? The only information we would need to make secure life choices is knowledge of the future, and that will forever be lacking. In the Hassidic tradition the past is spatially represented in front of the subject, where she can see it; the future is in her back, invisible an accurate depiction of our human condition. If the future were knowable, we would not be making choices; we would let ourselves be unfailingly guided by our interest.

And the reason we can make choices at all is because our possibilities are restricted. Imagine that out of the blue a voice commanded you Choose! Your reaction would be: between what? Tea or coffee? Stay or leave? Hang on or dump my partner? Chamonix or the Maldives? Take the job or keep searching? The blue one or the red one? Without a given historical context decisions are impossible. There must be a menu for us to choose from. So the issue is not whether we make choices, but rather that certain menus are less palatable than we would like. It may be the consequence of wrong turns at previous crossroads, or physical and social limitations, but, however restricted, choices still are possible.

Lets choose the right resolutions for the New Year. It is about our happiness, after all.


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