Book 03
Chapter 03
What it is to deliberate, and how that differs from choice.

Next let us look at deliberation and see how that relates to choice. In the last chapter we saw how choice and wish were different by looking at what kinds of things we could wish for. Now let us do the same with deliberation and ask what kinds of things we can and cannot deliberate about.

So, is there anything that we cannot or do not deliberate about or is it possible to deliberate about anything and everything? OK, but by "anything", let us first set aside the things that crazy people go through in their minds. Next, we can also set aside things that will never change. What things? Well, for instance, that everything in the universe is made out of matter or that all the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees. When we cannot imagine things any other way, we cannot deliberate. Next is things that do change, but they are always the same in the way that they change. The sun does change where it is in the sky, but it is always going the same and so there no point in thinking about whether it will keep doing the same as it always does or if suddenly today it is going to stop in the middle of the sky and start going back the way it came.

We also do not deliberate about things where there is no telling when or how they are going to change. Here would be something like whether there is going to be a drought this year. Likewise also for things for where there is no telling how they are going to come out, I mean deliberating about matters of chance, like the winning lottery number (though we may have fun with making believe we can). Finally, we can say that we do not deliberate about things that are not even our own affairs. For instance, we do not deliberate about who it is that we are going to vote for in some foreign election where we are not even able to vote.

Now, what can we say that all these things that we do not deliberate about have in common? If we can find the answer there, then we should also be able to say what the things we do deliberate about have in common as well.

The things we do not deliberate about are things where there is nothing that we can do that will make any kind of difference. The opposite is true for what we do deliberate about. What we do deliberate about is things we can do something about, things where whether we make an effort matters, and what effort we make matters. On the one hand, nature and what must needs be and what may chance to be are causes of things happening in the universe. But on the other hand, human reason and human will and human action are also causes as well.

Now, each class of people (e.g. doctors, lawyers, etc.) deliberate about how best to do the things that they especially do. But here we do not count those things where there is an exact science to it or there is exactly one way to do it and it has already been set down beforehand. (For those things there is nothing to deliberate about; there is only to take care and make sure you do it correctly.) For things where there are different ways to go (e.g. how this patient is to be treated or whether to loan this business some money) then there is deliberation as to which way is the best and so it ought to be taken. The less there is that has already been worked out in advance, the more there is to deliberate about. First consider a case where a patient has to be treated, and the doctors know what causes the illness and what is the medicine, but they must deliberate over how much to give this patient. Next consider a case where the cause of the illness is a mystery, and the doctors must deliberate over what to prescribe, how much, and any follow-up. In the first case, they have already worked out the cause and so there is less to deliberate about when compared with the second case. And in cases where there is more doubt about which way is best, there should be more deliberation in order to try to figure that out. Consider also the earlier parts of the Odyssey where Odysseus has to follow the instructions of Teiresias and Circe and Calypso (and in each case there is no doubt that what they tell Odysseus is right and he should follow what they say) versus the later part when he makes his homecoming and he must work out for himself not only how to work his revenge on the suitors when the odds are against him, but he also must keep himself and his son alive and escape from retaliation. At those times, Odysseus must deliberate; he must sift his options, and see which way seems best to him.

Matters of deliberation are about things where we can well guess how things should turn out if we were to do this or that, but still there is no telling how they really would turn out, and so often we call on people and talk the case over with them and see what they think (and this especially so when we are not sure of ourselves).

We do not deliberate about where to go (ends), but rather how best to get there (means), which includes what we do to get there. When a doctor has a sick patient, the end is the health of the patient. The doctor does not deliberate whether or not to heal the patient, but rather how best to treat this patient in order to heal them. A public speaker does not deliberate about whether to try to persuade his audience or not, but rather what is the best way to persuade them. Before they deliberate, they already have in mind what they want and they are deliberating about which way will be the best one to take in order to actually get the thing. This looking into the details of the case is called investigation. Since deliberation is always involves the facts of the case, we can say that all deliberation involves investigation (but not the other way around).

Anyhow, the way they figure this out is by going backwards from the end until they get to the beginning. This is kind of like how people solve math problems of the kind "find x such that x + 10 = 20". The end is already set down (the sum is 20), and it has to be worked out how to get there (what x must be in order to make the sum).

Now this is interesting: the end of deliberation is the starting point of action and the end of action is the starting point of deliberation. Consider it well.

When we are deliberating, if we find the thing is impossible to do, then we quit (e.g. if we need so much money for some thing, but there is just no way we could ever get that much), but if we find it is possible then we try to do it. And by "possible" I mean anything we can do which will make the thing happen in the end. This includes things like getting friends to help, since the thing that causes our friends to be moved to help us is us ourselves, and so in the end we do make it to happen.

Now, sometimes we have to figure out what things we will need in order to get something done. For instance, suppose you wanted to throw a party or put on a show, and you know what effect you want it to have on the people that come, but still you have to work out what you are going to need to make people feel that effect (e.g. what kind of music). Other times, even though we have all the pieces we need, we still have to work out how to make use of them. Here think of trying to win a game of chess, you know what it is to win, but how to move your pieces to get a win is something that you have to work out.

But however or by whatever means the thing is to be done, the starting point is always the person themselves. Even if it is, like we said before, asking someone else to do something as a favor, the starting point is still the asking for the favor. In any case, the point is that when we are talking about causes, it is the person that both does the deliberation as to what moves to make, what actions to take to get to the goal, or end, and it is also the person that takes some action at the starting point to set everything in motion. Say again, people cause movements to happen in the world, both from their willing their own actions and also because those actions are part of a plan to get to some goal, or end; people do not take actions only for the sake of the actions themselves, they do not do things without purpose.

People do not deliberate about the end, only the means to it. We do not deliberate about the facts of the case (e.g. is this thing a loaf of bread?) or things that come down to perception (e.g. has this loaf of bread been baked right?); we are not going to deliberate about every little thing on and on up to infinity.

The thing that is deliberated over and the thing that was chosen are always the same thing. You can see this in a chain-of-command where a higher-up decides what is to be done, and then gives an order to do it, and then that order is carried out, though the people carrying out may deliberate as to the means by which the job gets done.

We make our purposes to be suited to what powers we have. We deliberate about what is the means that is in our power that will best get for us what we would choose. Once we have decided what we want and how we will get it, we will next choose to do the first thing we need to do in order to get what we want.

And now we are finished with our sketch of deliberation; we have shown that deliberation is all about what is the means to the end, or how the thing may best be got at.


« index »

« subscribe »

« home »