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Does "Choice" Exist?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/20/2011 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 2,305 times Debate No: 17142
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (8)
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My position is that the idea behind the word "choice" is implausible within the boundaries of current human logic. I will first define "choice" as best I can (I am willing to hear semantic debates about the validity of this definition). I will then suppose three scenarios which I believe encapsulate all logical possibilities of existence, and proceed to argue that in each scenario "choice" remains an illogical concept.

Choice - the conscious and willful introduction of an un-caused event into a causal chain, which thereafter becomes part of the causal chain, capable of creating effects.

#1 - Assuming the universe is entirely causal (i.e. that every effect is the result of a prior cause and that nothing happens un-caused). This assumption is often called mechanism, which is a type of determinism. It can also be called fatalism.

In such a universe "choice," as I have defined it, immediately becomes impossible because there would be no un-caused events. Any effect that humans might confuse as being caused by them (i.e. by their choice) are actually caused by some prior effect of which they are unaware. For instance, in "choosing" some type of food, where multiple options are available, a human may be inclined to think they could have "chosen" any of the options available, when their "choice" was actually determined by the chemistry of their system, combined with their system's awareness of which materials are contained in which foods. Being mostly unaware of the specific chemical compulsions of their system, the human may only feel that they want a particular type of food, and that this want is the source of their decision.

#2 - Assuming the universe is entirely random (non-causal).

In such a universe, even if something like consciousness could arise, that consciousness could never be directly responsible for anything it does because everything is happening randomly, with no connection to prior events. To many, this seems an implausible scenario, but I include it because there is some suggestion by modern science experiments that random events do occur, possibly all around us, all the time. It also must be considered because without the possibility of an un-caused event, we must assume that the universe always existed, which contradicts the laws of thermodynamics, specifically entropy (since if the universe had been around forever, entropy would already have prevailed and complex energy would not exist).

#3 - Assuming the universe is a mixture of causal and random events (i.e. there is a causal chain of events, but it may be interrupted by un-caused events). This idea is sometimes called soft-determinism.

In such a universe the idea of "choice" might seem plausible, since un-caused events being introduced into the causal chain seems to be the very definition of "choice." However, even if humans possessed some aspect to their system which allowed the introduction of un-caused events, they could never be said to be producing results that they had intended, since those events (being random) would be unrelated to any prior events, thus to any intentions the individual might have had before introducing them. A person might, for example, intend to get up and get a drink, but instead be transformed into a rabbit. This negates the "conscious and willful" aspect of "choice," making it just a random event which may or may not have anything to do with the individual.

Those are my arguments. I welcome your debate.


I welcome my opponent to his first debate on this website.

My opponent has not put out the terms for this debate so I will attempt to do so. If my opponent has any problems with the terms I set out I ask him to feel free to point them out.

Burden of proof.

As I am trying to prove the existance of something I accept the BOP to rest most heavily on me.

My opponent, however does have some degree of the BOP to rest on him as in any debate. But in debates on the existance of something, the BOP usually rests on the one trying to prove it's existence.

I also hope we both keep this civil and I hope that there will be no hard feelings whatsoever in this debate.

For the voters I ask that you fully read the whole debate. And not be bias when voting, but to vote on who you think did a better job.

Normally I would have my arguments and my rebuttal separate but in this debate I found it necessary to put them together.
I will now lay out my contentions.

C.1) I will agree that there are certain things in life in where choice does not exist. I will set out an example.
When a bug flies into me eye I automatically blink. It's not my choice to move my eye lash, I automatically do it. Even if I try not to blink I will do it because it's not my choice. In that case my body does something without my consent.
But when a fly lands on my arm I make the choice to shoo it away.
In the first scenario I am not conscious of what my body is doing, but in the second scenario I am conscious of what I am doing.
Choice exist every time there are multiple paths to take. When there is only one path (such as with the first example) there is no choice. When there are multiple paths (such as the second example) there has to be a choice because without choice there is no way to take a certain path.
Now my opponent says it is fate that makes our choices. But let me ask this what is fate? And why is there such a thing as fate? Or at least why does fate have complete control of our lives? Isn't it more logical that we control our selves rather than something that seems illogical to exist?

C.2) The idea that fate controls our every choice is illogical.
Why is it illogical? Well if we are not able to make choices why are we not aware of it?
Our choices are often determined by who we are. But that doesn't mean choice doesn't exist because who we are is often determined by the choices that we make.

Almost every thing you do is a choice. I chose to take this debate. The idea that something else made the choice for me is illogical.

You do have to be conscious when making decisions.

If you blind folded your self and then were asked to pick a food is it likely you would pick the right one? The point is you have to be conscious of what choices are available for you to make the right choice.

We ourselves are the machines. We are not controlled by anything other than ourselves. We aren't the gears on the machine as my opponent says and if we are he gears of a machine what is the machine?

To say choice does not exist is to say we have absolutely zero control over our body. This is illogical because for us to have zero control over our body would mean that something else has total control over us us. My opponent claims fate is what makes or choices. But if fate controls us why is it not evident? When I chose to take this debate the thought entered my mind that it would be a fun debate. It is illogical that anything other than myself made that thought enter my mind; or that anything other than myself makes every thought I make enter my mind; for if choice did not exist it would rid us of the ability to think for our selves in all or at least most cases.


My arguments are almost purely orignal, therefore I have no sources to put down.

I have run out of characters so I will now hand it over to con.

Debate Round No. 1


I agree to the terms you have inferred. I also agree that the burden of proof should be shared here because, although you are taking the pro-side, yours is the side that is most commonly held to be true.

1. Addressing your first contention - compelled vs. conscious decision making, and the concept of multiple possibilities. I agree that being conscious of an action is when people tend to distinguish between choice and compulsion. When we become conscious of the decision process, and imagine that the process could have gone differently, most of us call the result a choice. However, I will firstly point out the growing number of experiments which demonstrate that a decision is often (possibly always) determined before the consciousness has caught up to it [see reference 1,2,3 at the bottom]. Secondly, I will argue that multiple possibilities may not actually exist, and the idea that they do could be just the result of being an observer within the system we observe, therefore being required to compute with statistics rather than facts (uncertainty principal). I specify 'may not' exist because only a completely deterministic universe negates multiple possibilities (the 1st of the three scenarios listed in my opening arguments). Otherwise, the universe simply falls into one of the latter 2 scenarios, in either of which the idea of "choice" still faces problems. In those scenarios there are multiple possibilities, but as they occur randomly we could not be said to be choosing them.

2. Addressing the question in your second contention, I suggest as an answer that it is an evolutionary imperative to be confused into thinking we have choice. It's a rather sinuous thought process to describe within a character limit, but I will summarize by saying that I suspect those who conclude the non-existence of choice also tend to be those who are not as strongly motivated to survive, so that it has become a relatively rare anomaly to perceive the nature of our compelled and/or random existence, and much more common to think that we have some power over what we do. I will also flip the question back to you: if we have choice, how is it motivated and why can we not locate its source? When you "choose" one type of food over another, is it your wants that motivate the choice? And what causes you to want, etc? For millenia, the answers to those questions have fallen into the category of dualism, positing the existence of something like a soul or spirit, which exists independent of the body but which can somehow reach in and redirect the body when it wants. But how? Through the heart? The pineal gland? (for those who don't know, that's a joking reference to Descartes suggestion that the pineal gland was the locus of interaction between the soul & body - mostly because we still didn't know anything about the function of that brain region at that time).

3. Addressing your contention that we are not machines, I direct you to reference #4 at the bottom, ironically titled You're Just a Machine & There's No Free Will, in which magnets were used to manipulate a brain, which in turn compelled motor function in the body. [references 5 & 6 are of a similar ilk to #4]

We limit our definition of "self" to the parts of existence of which we are aware, but we are still causally connected to and compelled by the rest of it, and since we did not start existence (at least I don't think I did), we cannot claim to be choosing that which initially compelled us. It was all set in motion before we were even a twinkle in our galaxy's black eye. Or maybe from some random event that happened in the interim. Either way, you or I didn't make it happen.

I seek the nothing; the calm; the still,
But I am moved against my will.
I am trapped outside my dreams
And cannot be no thing, it seems.

Due to lack of characters, see comment #6 for my reference links. Sorry, phantom, I know you hit the character wall too. I'll set it longer next time


phantom forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


My opponent has forfeited the 2nd round, so I will try to anticipate further objections, and give my closing remarks. If my opponent gives no further response, I will re-post the debate and ask for a new challenger.

The argument of soft-determinism/ compatibilism:
This argument was first put forward by David Hume in the 18th century. In essence, it asserts that free will and choice are not incompatible with determinism; that although all things are determined, a human is responsible for those effects determined by internal causes, or causes originating in the self. There is, however, no explanation by Hume or any later compatibilists as to what those internal causes are, if indeed they are not the same types of causes that govern all motion and change. If not electromagnetism, gravity, or some other force which humans have observed, then what force is it within a human that can generate changes for which the human is responsible? And if there is not an extra force that exists only in humans, then the physical forces in humans that are compelling actions are merely the conserved energy, spin and mass of previous forces that long predate the existence of that individual. So the soft-determinism argument is simply the dualist argument in sheep's clothes, with a similar lack of definition about the supernatural component of supposed human "choice."

Faux quantum mechanics argument:
There is a common misinterpretations of quantum mechanics that has generated support for the idea of "choice:" indeterminism, which stems mostly from misunderstanding the Uncertainty Principal and the thought experiment called Schrodinger's cat. It is the idea that reality exists as statistical wave functions that only congeal into real things when they are observed. This misnomer was created by the shift in science from using facts to define reality, to that of using statistics to describe reality (note that I changed my wording from "define" reality to "describe" reality. Description is a more accurate idea of what science can tell us about reality. Most scientists no longer believe that reality can be defined, ever, because of the Uncertainty Principal). When scientists accepted the implications of the Uncertainty Principal and began describing reality in terms of statistics, the lay public got the idea that reality was actually like that; a collection of indeterminate wave functions that only become one of many possible states when they are measured/ interacted with. But this is not at all what was meant by these aspects of quantum mechanics, it was merely a description of a limit of the human perspective of reality (or the perspective of any observer within the system they are observing), because all we can ever have to describe reality is statistics; estimates, that may describe reality in greater and greater detail, but that can never actually define it. That does not mean there is not a definite reality out there, it just means we cant know what it is because we change it by looking at it.

The reason some people use the argument of indeterminism to combat the idea of pre-determinism, or fate, is because they think it means that nothing is real, or determined, until it happens. But the argument is flawed one that only holds water for those who have misinterpreted these aspects of quantum mechanics.

In closing, another poem:

Now's a new chapter
On this, a new day.
I wonder will it go the way
That I would choose,
If I could choose.

But I cannot,
So I'll just muse instead.
And in my head, the places;
The forking roads
And people's faces

That find my eye,
Then pass me by,
Are not to make me laugh or cry;
Are not to make me cheer or sigh.

They just are the fingers I cannot reach;
The great many lessons I cannot teach.
They just are the feet that don't stand in my shoes
These choices of mine that I cannot choose.

Thank you all for taking the time to read. I hope you have no choice but to vote for me :-)


phantom forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
8 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 8 records.
Posted by phantom 7 years ago
Really sorry I couldn't finish the debate. I've had like zillions of paperwork to go through. :(
Posted by Chamaeleon 7 years ago
Awww man, he forfeited. I'm going to assume it was because he recognized the superiority of my logic and was unable to find any holes in my theories.....yeah. Anyway, I'll end up re-posting this debate later. Thanks for reading, and look for me again soon.
Posted by phantom 7 years ago
Sorry I'm taking so long to post my argument. I'm going to have to cut it close.

Oh and Chamaeleon I didn't mean my first debate here, this will be my 20th. I meant my first philosophical debate.
Posted by Chamaeleon 7 years ago
Phantom, this is my first debate here too, so no pressure.

Kinesis, no difference between 'introduce' and 'cause' there. What I mean is that, in order for something to be called a 'choice,' a consciousness would have to be aware of causing it, but would have to cause it in a way that was not itself caused. If that sounds like a ridiculous concept, I agree, which is why I don't think choice is possible. Essentially, I think we would have to be like a god, capable of purposefully creating something from nothing, in order for the concept of choice to work. This would be equivalent to a controlled random action, which is of course an oxymoron. I think, instead, that we are more like a gears in a machine, moving other things because we have been moved ourselves, and that in failing to understand how we have been moved, we often attribute the movement of other things to our self.
Posted by phantom 7 years ago
This will be my first philosophical debate.
Posted by phantom 7 years ago
Thinking about it.
Posted by Kinesis 7 years ago
"the conscious and willful introduction of an un-caused event into a causal chain, which thereafter becomes part of the causal chain, capable of creating effects"

What does 'introduction' mean? How does it differ from 'cause'? In what sense can something that is 'willfully introduced' be uncaused? Isn't the willful introduction the cause?
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Vote Placed by U.n 2 years ago
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