Monday, December 19, 2005

Where are all the boulophils?

Boulophils love to make decisions. They aspire to excellence in decision making, a virtue Aristotle called euboulia. Boulophobs are people who don’t mix well with boulophils. They fear and hate making decisions.

As it happens, I have taught decision making for more years than I care to remember. About 15-20% of my students were borderline or full-blown boulophobs. Oddly, I cannot attest to the existence of one true boulophil. Rara avis! Some people I taught were certainly good at making decisions, but none of them would ever confess or agree that they were boulophils.

Stoics should be boulophils. Judgments and choices are the primary things that are up to us and our business. Choices and judgments alone are good or evil. We cannot be hindered or frustrated in our choices or judgments if we make the right choices & judgments. We are fully responsible for our choices & judgments. Judging and choosing well should be the cardinal Stoic virtues, even more so than for Aristotle.

So where does Epictetus discuss the art of decision making? That is not a rhetorical question. Epictetus was, I think, a closet logician, though he repeatedly professes a lack of interest in the logical problems he seems to know so well. He taught syllogistic and Chrysippean propositional logic to his students, and at several points in the Discourses ( e.g., I.17 ) he gives a qualified endorsement of the value of these logical studies. But where is his treatment of the logic of decision making? Where do we glimpse his distinctively Stoic logic of decision making?

“A distinctively Stoic logic or art of decision making, you say? What's that? Why would there even be such a thing?”

Because decision making will be different if the most important thing is the decision process itself and not anything aimed at or actually obtained. Good decisions will not be those that achieve some sort of maximal return of externals, preferred or otherwise. Good lies in flawless execution of the process of identifying the objective(s), compassing and comparing the alternatives, selecting the best one by the appropriate decision rule, etc

“So a good decision for a Stoic does not aim at or achieve anything good? Is that what you’re saying? That sounds odd.”

Think about the implications of saying that our choices and judgment are the only things are good. What do my choices aim at? If at externals, then not at things that are good or evil. Obviously a choice amongst externals must prefer some external to others, but the primary thing must be to choose well, not to obtain whatever is chosen. In Aristotle’s language, deciding is more of a doing than a making, and doing for its own sake, like a performance. ‘I have just performed a wonderful choice of a new job.’ Well, congratulations. By the way, what job did you select?

“I see. The Stoics & other boulophils value decisions primarily as a kind of performing art, and they see themselves as artists in this discipline. That’s different.”


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