Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Choice vs. Choose

In our debate, I argued that the dictionary definition of choose rules out determinism. In Paul's recent rejoinder he states: “I cited numerous dictionaries that didn’t include a PAP (Principle of Alternate Possibilities) element”. (link) This is true, but misleading. Paul defined choice, but not choose. My argument was based on the verb choose, not the noun choice. In this post I would like to revisit the dictionaries, and explain why it's important to distinguish between choice and choose.

The Dictionary Definition of Choose

The American Heritage College Dictionary (3rd edition) defines choose as: to select from a number of possible alternatives. defines choose as: to select from a number of possibilities; pick by preference defines choose as: To select from a number of possible alternatives; decide on and pick out.

The Oxford Compact English Dictionary defines choose as: pick out as being the best of two or more alternatives.

Merriam-Webster's defines choose as: to select freely and after consideration

Encarta World English Dictionary: decide from among range of options

Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary: to decide what you want from a range of things or possibilities:

The Wordsmyth English Dictionary: to select from two or more alternatives.

I could go on, but you get the point.

Why Not Choice?

Choose is an action verb; choice is a noun referring to the completed action. What is special about choosing isn’t the resultant state after the action, but rather the action itself. In choosing one must prefer on alternative to another. While the resultant state is the willing of only one thing; the process of getting to that state involves two things.

On the TV show Smallville, Lex Luther finds one of Clark Kent’s crystals. He has it tested and finds out that it’s made from a special material not found on earth. The question isn't how it coexists with other elements on this planet, but how it got there. Similarly, the verb choose involves twofold possibilities and the noun choice gives the resultant one actuality.

Alternatives and Lowest Common Denominator

Turretinfan provides some definitions of the verb ‘choose’ that don’t use the word possibilities. (link) He thus concludes using a least common denominator method that ‘possibilities’ should “hardly be viewed as the actual "common man" meaning of the term”. The problem is his statement “none of these definitions included the word "possible" or an equivalent concept.” His definitions includes the word “alternatives” which is an equivalent concept. Alternatives are possibilities or things we can choose.

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language - The choice between two mutually exclusive possibilities.

Encarta World English Dictionary - possibility of choosing: the possibility of choosing between two different things or courses of action

Merriam-Webster's - a proposition or situation offering a choice between two or more things only one of which may be chosen b: an opportunity for deciding between two or more courses or propositions2 a: one of two or more things, courses, or propositions to be chosen b: something which can be chosen instead

Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary: something that is different from something else, especially from what is usual, and offering the possibility of choice:

The Wordsmyth English Dictionary - one of two or more possibilities; option. - The choice between two mutually exclusive possibilities - a choice limited to one of two or more possibilities

Oxford Compact English Dictionary - one of two or more available possibilities

Hopefully it's clear that the 'dictionary definition' of choose includes at least two possibilities. But determinism prohibits twofold possibilities, so the dictionary rules out determinism.


Robert said...

Hi Dan,

Let me see if I can briefly state your argument concerning free will, determinism and the dictionary.

You assert that the common understanding of free will, the understanding held by most people across the board, is that we have free will if when we engage in the action of choosing we had at least two different and available and accessible alternatives.

Or put simply: we have free will with respect to a particular choice if we had a choice. If we have a choice then both alternative possibilities are available and accessible to us (we could choose to do one, or choose to do the other).

So you are arguing that the action of choosing (the verb not the noun which refers to a completed act of making a choice) only occurs or exists if we have free will, if our action is not determined or necessitated.

You bring in the dictionary as support of this common sense and simply understanding of choosing, because you believe the dictionary reflects common usage of the word.

So both the common sense understanding of free will as choosing between alternative possibilities that are available and accessible and the dictionary argue against determinism (because in determinism if everything is necessitated and we have to do what we do and it is impossible for us to do otherwise, then we never ever have a choice, we never engage in the action of choosing between available and accessible alternative possibilities).

Am I presenting your argument properly Dan?

If so, then what the determinist must prove, rather than merely mocking your argument, rather than attacking the common understanding of choosing, what they have to show is that WE NEVER EVER HAVE A CHOICE.

Prove THAT and you prove exhaustive determinism to be true. ***FAIL*** to prove that and they have not met the burden of proof of their own position (the legal maxim applies – whoever makes an assertion has the burden to prove that assertion; so if you are going to assert that everything is exhaustively predetermined then your burden of proof is to prove that we never ever have a choice).

That every time when we engage in the action of choosing from alternative possibilities, that while one possibility was available and accessible [the one we were determined to select]there is never ever a case where two possibilities are both available and accessible.

If that is their view, then they’ve got an enormous mountain to climb. They have got to prove the UNIVERSAL NEGATIVE that we never ever have a choice. Have fun with that! Considering that we daily have and make choices. Considering that the bible clearly presents situations where people had a choice. The available evidence is overwhelmingly against them. But I don’t think that they really care because it is not about reality and the available evidence, it is about them supporting, defending, “proving”, and maintaining a false and man-made system of theology (i.e., calvinism, the assertion that “God ordaineth whatsoever comes to pass”) which claims that everything is necessitated, everything is predecided by God, and so we never ever have a choice.


Godismyjudge said...

Hi Robert,

Humm... it's close. While the have a choice/make a choice is all well and good, I still think that even making a choice rules out determinism. 'Choose' is basically making a choice and choose rules out determinism.

There's more response to Paul coming, but the rest brings in the bible. The bible uses the common notion of choose, so the bible rules out determinism.

God be with you,

A. Friend said...


I am truly baffled why this belief system is making a comeback...