We cannot understand action without understanding it as chosen by the agent. We cannot understand the choice as a choice about what to do or not do which involves an end and the allocation of means. Those ends and means have been preferred above all others relative to the agent. And so, once whatever amount of weighing or not weighing, analyzing or not analyzing, measuring or not measuring, the human animal chooses.
It must be so. The action is always performed, is is done, it is gone in for, it is chosen. Here we, as much as possible, avoid the slipperly slope into poetic metaphysics, though we may dip a toe in for it is so inviting in the right moment. Let us first, show the necessity of choice without metaphorical metaphysics.
The rock does not act. Were we to conceive of the rock’s position as a matter of action and non-action we would have to consider it a matter of choice motivated by preference for rest. The tree does not act. Were we to conceive of the sunflower’s turning daily to follow the path of the sun or the sun as galloping across the heavens, we would have to conceive of either activity as chosen.
There is much even in human life that does not involve choice. Humans never choose the evil (from the rational understanding of human activity). Choice is always for the good whether it is mistakenly understood or not. The decay of disease ravaged body is not a choice even if there is choice to act in ways that encourage the disease. The beating of the heart is not a choice even if I choose to act in ways that strengthen or weaken the heart’s capacity for beating. The passing of time is not a choice even if how I employ the time is.
My point? It is beyond obvious that we distinguish between the chosen and the not chosen. We cannot understand ourselves without the category of choice. It is necessary. It is not necessary to understand the sunflower, the sun, the heart, the cancer. There is motion, but there is not choice. But there is something different in the human. There is a capacity for self-directed direction. When it is active we call that which keeps the gate and sends direction forth choice (I waxed metaphorical…it was so easy).
Choice at its essence is a “Yay!” or “Nay!”. It is the voluntary unity and voluntary association with the rest of reality. It is that moment in which the manifold is reduced to a singular option, when all of THAT is left behind and THIS is grasped tightly. It is condensation. It is radical affirmation and negation.
Choice guides the strokes of the keys on the keyboard and the movement of the eyes from here to there. Without it as element the solipsism of determinism awaits. The only way even the Fatalist (Richard Taylor) can be understood, or the Materialist Atomist (Democritus), or any other denomination of minimalist materialism (your average scientifically serious sounding neuro-physicalist and reductionist about human activity such as Paul Churchland) is as asserting, affirming, arguing, defending, criticizing. Let those actions be themselves reduced to the determine expressions of waves washing on the beach and their significance disintegrates. It is with good reason that Democritus was called The Laughing Philosopher.
The criminal chooses because the criminal prefers because the criminal values these means to these ends. So does the child choose. We have not yet broached anything like responsibility which is a more robust concept generally involving choice but also knowledge. We will not go into ethics at this time. What we will affirm is that part of it which involves the impossibility of action (good or bad) without the choice of the agent acting.
The terror of choice is invariably in the responsibility for movement and change. It is ineliminable from human life. It is reduced by experience and trusted associations. But the finite animal with scarce means (supply) and bountiful options of ends and means (demand) always feels some trepidation in choice.