Advertisement

The limits of decision and choice

  • Gabriel Abend
Article
  • 101 Downloads

Abstract

Concepts of decision, choice, decision-maker, and decision-making are common practical tools in both social science and natural science, on which scientific knowledge, policy implications, and moral recommendations are based. In this article I address three questions. First, I look into how present-day social scientists and natural scientists use decision/choice concepts. What are they used for? Second, scientists may differ in the application of decision/choice to X, and they may explicitly disagree about the applicability of decision/choice to X. Where exactly do these disagreements lie? Third, I ask how scientists should use decision/choice concepts. What are they correctly and incorrectly used for? I argue that scientists must responsibly attend to a methodological demand: you have to have a principled, non-ad hoc, well-argued-for way of telling where decision/choice applicability ends. Thus, I aim to minimize the risk of conceptual stretching and foster responsible conceptual practices in a large body of scientific work.

Keywords

Choice Decisionism Decision-making Logic of inquiry Philosophy of social science Social theory 

Notes

Acknowledgments

Being thankfully free to choose, I am thankfully free to choose whom to thank and whom not to thank for their help with this article. I would like to choose to thank the Theory and Society editors, reviewers, and managing editor Karen Lucas. Thanks also to Avner Baz, Michael Brownstein, Carrie Figdor, Nicholas Mark, Nigel Pleasants, Michael Sauders, Patrick Schenk, Stephen Turner, and graduate students in my theory seminar at New York University. People who did not help me with this article and therefore I choose not to thank are too many to list here. I wish I could say, paraphrasing Jon Elster, that any defect or fault in this article is intentional and part of the design. They are not.

References

  1. Abend, G. (2008). The Meaning of Theory. Sociological Theory, 26, 173–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Abend, G. (2014). The moral background: an inquiry into the history of business ethics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Abend, G. (2017). What Are Neural Correlates Neural Correlates of? BioSocieties, 12, 415–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Abend, G. (2018). Outline of a Sociology of Decisionism. British Journal of Sociology, 69, 237–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Abend, G. (2019). Moral Decisionism and its Discontents. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour.Google Scholar
  6. Adams, G., Watson, K., Pearson, J., & Platt, M. (2012). Neuroethology of decision-making. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 22, 982–989.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Anscombe, G.E.M. [1957] (2000). Intention. 2nd edition. Harvard.Google Scholar
  8. Ariely, D., & Loewenstein, G. (2006). The Heat of the Moment. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 19, 87–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Baluška, F., & Mancuso, S. (2009). Plant neurobiology: from sensory biology, via plant communication, to social plant behavior. Cognitive Processing, 10, S3–S7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Berliner, P. (1994). Thinking in Jazz. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bhalla, U. (2014). Molecular computation in neurons: a modeling perspective. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 25, 31–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bonnefon, J.-F., et al. (2016). The social dilemma of autonomous vehicles. Science, 352, 1573–1576.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bruch, E., & Feinberg, F. (2017). Decision-Making Processes in Social Contexts. Annual Review of Sociology, 43, 207–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bruya, B. (2010). The Rehabilitation of Spontaneity. Philosophy East and West, 60, 207–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Burley, N., & Wilson, M. (1983). Mate choice in plants. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Camic, C. (1986). A Matter of Habit. American Journal of Sociology, 91, 1039–1087.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cappelen, H. (2018). Fixing language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Chalmers, D. (2011). Verbal Disputes. Philosophical Review, 120, 515–566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Collier, D., & Mahon, J. (1993). Conceptual ‘Stretching’ Revisited. American Political Science Review, 87, 845–855.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Collins, S. (1982). Selfless persons. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Daipha, P. (2015). Masters of uncertainty. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Davidson, D. (2001). Essays on actions and events (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Davis, K., Hendershot, C., George, W., Norris, J., & Heiman, J. (2007). Alcohol’s effects on sexual decision making. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 68, 843–851.Google Scholar
  24. Dewey, J. (1896). The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology. Psychological Review, 3, 357–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Dijksterhuis, A. (2004). Think different: the merits of unconscious thought in preference development and decision making. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 586–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Dovidio, J., & Fiske, S. (2012). Under the radar: how unexamined biases in decision-making processes in clinical interactions can contribute to health care disparities. American Journal of Public Health, 102, 945–952.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Doya, K., & Shadlen, M. (2012). Decision making. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 22, 911–913.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Dworkin, R. (1996). Objectivity and Truth: You’d Better Believe It. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 25, 87–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Figdor, C. (2018). Pieces of mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fingarette, H. (1972). Confucius. Long Grove: Waveland Press.Google Scholar
  31. Flanagan, O. (2017). The geography of morals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Fleck, L. [1935](1979). Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact. Chicago.Google Scholar
  33. Gabel, C., Gabel, H., Pavlichin, D., Kao, A., Clark, D., & Samuel, A. (2007). Neural circuits mediate electrosensory behavior in Caenorhabditis elegans. Journal of Neuroscience, 27, 7586–7596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Gagliano, M. (2017). The mind of plants: thinking the unthinkable. Communicative & Integrative Biology, 10, e1288333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ganeri, J. (2017). Attention, not self. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Gold, J., & Shadlen, M. (2007). The Neural Basis of Decision Making. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 30, 535–574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Gold, R., Skinner, M., & Ross, M. (1994). Unprotected anal intercourse in HIV-infected and non-HIV-infected gay men. Journal of Sex Research, 31, 59–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Grant, E. (2010). The nature of natural philosophy in the late middle ages. Catholic University of America.Google Scholar
  39. Griffith, S., Pryke, S., & Buttemer, W. (2011). Constrained mate choice in social monogamy and the stress of having an unattractive partner. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 278, 2798–2805.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Gross, N. (2009). A Pragmatist Theory of Social Mechanisms. American Sociological Review, 74, 358–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Harper, R., Randall, D., & Sharrock, W. (2016). Choice: the sciences of reason in the 21st century: a critical assessment. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  42. Haslanger, S. (2000). Gender and Race: (What) Are They? (What) Do We Want Them To Be? Noûs, 34, 31–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Haslanger, S. (2005). What Are We Talking About? The Semantics and Politics of Social Kinds. Hypatia, 20, 10–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Heekeren, H., et al. (2004). A general mechanism for perceptual decision-making in the human brain. Nature, 431, 859–862.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Heekeren, H., et al. (2008). The neural systems that mediate human perceptual decision making. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9, 467–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Heimer, C. (2013). Wicked ethics’: compliance work and the practice of ethics in HIV research. Social Science & Medicine, 98, 371–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Hoehne, A., Richard-Devantoy, S., Ding, Y., Turecki, G., & Jollant, F. (2015). First-degree relatives of suicide completers may have impaired decision-making but functional cognitive control. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 68, 192–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Humphries, M., Gurney, K., & Prescott, T. (2007). Is there a brainstem substrate for action selection? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 362, 1627–1639.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Huxley, A. (1969). Letters of Aldous Huxley. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  50. Johnson, J. (2006). Cognitive modeling of decision making in sports. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 7, 631–652.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Johnson, J., & Latour, B. (1988). Mixing Humans and Nonhumans Together: The Sociology of a Door-Closer. Social Problems, 35, 298–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Kalinin, Y., et al. (2010). Responses of Escherichia coli bacteria to two opposing chemoattractant gradients depend on the chemoreceptor ratio. Journal of Bacteriology, 192, 1796–1800.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Kounitsky, P., et al. (2015). Bats adjust their mouth gape to zoom their biosonar field of view. PNAS, 112, 6724–6729.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Leff, G. (2009). Bradwardine and the Pelagians. Cambridge.Google Scholar
  55. Lukes, S. (2004). “Invasions of the Market.” Pp. 57–78 in From Liberal Values to Democratic Transition. Central European University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Marshall, D., & Folsom, M. (1991). Mate Choice in Plants. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 22, 37–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Mele, A. (1997). Passive Action. Pp. 135–143 in Contemporary Action Theory. Springer.Google Scholar
  58. Meunier, H., Leca, J.-B., Deneubourg, J.-L., & Petit, O. (2006). Group movement decisions in capuchin monkeys: the utility of an experimental study and a mathematical model to explore the relationship between individual and collective behaviours. Behaviour, 143, 1511–1527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Meyer, J. (2010). World Society, Institutional Theories, and the Actor. Annual Review of Sociology, 36, 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Meyer, J. (2017). Reflections on institutional theories of organizations. Pp. 831–852 in The Sage Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism. 2nd edition. Sage.Google Scholar
  61. Meyer, K., Soldaat, L., Auge, H., & Thulke, H.-H. (2014). Adaptive and Selective Seed Abortion Reveals Complex Conditional Decision Making in Plants. The American Naturalist, 183, 376–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Meyniel, F., Sergent, C., Rigoux, L., Daunizeau, J., & Pessiglione, M. (2013). Neurocomputational account of how the human brain decides when to have a break. PNAS, 110, 2641–2646.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Milford, M., & Schulz, R. (2014). Principles of goal-directed spatial robot navigation in biomimetic models. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 369, 20130484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Nagel, T. (1974). What is it like to be a bat? Philosophical Review, 83, 435–450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Norris, J., Stoner, S., Hessler, D., Zawacki, T., George, W., Morrison, D., & Davis, K. (2009). Cognitive mediation of alcohol’s effects on women’s in-the-moment sexual decision making. Health Psychology, 28, 20–28.Google Scholar
  66. Oliveira, F., et al. (2010). Transcranial magnetic simulation of posterior parietal cortex affects decisions of hand choice. PNAS, 107, 17751–17756.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Palacios-Huerta, I. (2014). Beautiful Game Theory. Princeton.Google Scholar
  68. Pearson, J., Watson, K., & Platt, M. (2014). Decision Making: The Neuroethological Turn. Neuron, 82, 950–965.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Peirce, C.S. [1903]1998. The Ethics of Terminology. Pp. 263–266 in The Essential Peirce. Indiana.Google Scholar
  70. Pleasants, N. (2006). The Question of the Holocaust’s Uniqueness. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 33, 297–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Putnam, H. (1981). Reason, Truth and History. Cambridge.Google Scholar
  72. Rosenblat, A. (2018). Uberland. California.Google Scholar
  73. Rosenfeld, S. (2014). Free to Choose? The Nation, June 3.Google Scholar
  74. Rosenfeld, S. (2018). Of Revolutions and the problem of choice. Pp. 236–272 in Rethinking the Age of Revolutions. Oxford.Google Scholar
  75. Schüll, N. (2016). Data for life. BioSocieties, 11, 317–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Schwartz, O. (2018). Cultures of choice. British Journal of Sociology, 69, 845–864.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Scott-Sheldon, L., et al. (2016). Alcohol Use Predicts Sexual Decision-Making. AIDS and Behavior, 20, S19–S39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Shadlen, M., & Kiani, R. (2011). Consciousness as a decision to engage. In S. Dehaene, Y. Christen (Eds.), Characterizing consciousness: from cognition to the clinic? Research and perspectives in neurosciences (pp. 27–46). Berlin Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  79. Slingerland, E. (2003). Effortless Action. Oxford.Google Scholar
  80. Sterzer, P. (2016). Moving forward in perceptual decision making. PNAS, 113, 5771–5773.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Sylwanowicz, M. (1996). Contingent Causality and the Foundations of Duns Scotus’ Metaphysics. Brill.Google Scholar
  82. Tatler, B., Brockmole, J., & Carpenter, R. (2017). LATEST: A model of saccadic decisions in space and time. Psychological Review, 124, 267–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Thaler, R., & Sunstein, C. (2008). Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  84. Topalli, V. (2011). Offender Decision-Making and Motivation. Oxford Bibliographies Online. Google Scholar
  85. Topham, A., et al. (2017). Temperature variability is integrated by a spatially embedded decision-making center to break dormancy in Arabidopsis seeds. PNAS, 114, 6629–6634.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Trommerhäuser, J., Landy, M., & Maloney, L. (2006). Humans Rapidly Estimate Expected Gain in Movement Planning. Psychological Science, 17, 981–988.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Vaisey, S., & Valentino, L. (2018). Culture and Choice. Poetics, 68, 131–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Whitford, J. (2002). Pragmatism and the untenable dualism of means and ends. Theory and Society, 31, 325–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Williams, B. (1981). Moral Luck. Cambridge.Google Scholar
  90. Wolpert, D., & Landy, M. (2012). Motor control is decision-making. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 22, 996–1003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Wright, G., & Schiestl, F. (2009). The evolution of floral scent: the influence of olfactory learning by insect pollinators on the honest signaling of floral rewards. Functional Ecology, 23, 841–851.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Yarrow, K., Brown, P., & Krakauer, J. (2009). Inside the brain of an elite athlete: the neural processes that support high achievement in sports. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10, 585–596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Zhu, J. (2004). Passive Action and Causalism. Philosophical Studies, 119, 295–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universität LuzernLuzernSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations