Decision Making


Alfred Mele in The Philosophers' Magazine:

You’re enjoying a leisurely walk in the woods when you come to a fork in the path. You pause to think about what to do, and you decide to go right. According to some philosophers, if free will was at work at the time, you could have acted differently.

Philosophers tend to be cautious about theoretical matters. Decided to go left is a different mental action from deciding to go right. But we might say that deciding a bit later than you actually did – say, deciding on the right fork after an extra thirty seconds of thought – is another way of acting differently. Other alternatives include deciding to turn back and deciding to sit for a while. The main point, according to the philosophers I have in mind, is that if you freely decided on the right fork, you could have done something else instead at the very time you made that decision.

What does the idea that you could have done something else at the time come to? According to some philosophers, it comes to this: in a hypothetical universe that has exactly the same past as our universe and exactly the same laws of nature, you do something else at this very time. In our universe, you decide on the right fork at noon. And in a possible universe that would have been actual if you had behaved differently at noon – one with the same past as the actual universe right up to noon and the same laws of nature – you do something else at noon. Having a label for this idea will save space: I’ll call it Openness.

Does Openness fit your experience of decision-making, at least in some cases? I predict you’ll say yes. I’m not saying that you experience other possible universes. The question is whether it sometimes seems to you that, when you decide to do something, you could have done something else instead – and not just in the sense that if the past (or the laws of nature) had been different, you would or might have done something else. Your answer, I’m guessing, is yes.

How do your decision making processes work if and when you have Openness?

More here.