3.9.1, On Costs of action as lost opportunity

The apriori of action is what makes possible the analysis of action in experience and in particular. If I want to understand any particular action it must be from an understanding of the elements of action. Ever action presupposes ends, means, values, preferences, choice, time, and now we come to costs. Cost is almost necessarily a burden. It is negative. It involves sacrifice. Indeed!

Necessarily, action involves cost. You and I must pay to act. There is much here. We want to think of cost very abstractly before moving to it in particular. What is done in the handing over of money in trade for consumer goods is done by you and me when we arise out of bed in the morning. Every action involves a cost. The first and most fundamental cost is the negation of other possibilities for action in preference and choice.

The first possibility is that is given up is the preservation of the present in non-action. I could continue to stay in bed. But, presumably the getting up presupposes that the change brought about by that action is worth more than preservation of the present. This is a risky bet. The future is never guaranteed. No matter. When I choose to get up I embrace that version of reality over the one involving lying in bed. The first cost is what is given up, which has its own value–lying in bed.

When I get up I do this rather than that. The options are indefinitely many even for a poor sap like me. I may engage in this or that activity toward this or that goal. When the choice is made my choice is primarily a negation. That is, there is much more that I cancel through my choice than that I embrace. This should not be overlooked.

I could turn on the screen. I could meditate. I could shower. I could eat a bowl of icecream. I could review the prior night’s plan for the day. I could run a mile. Each of these options and many more like them assume all kinds of more particular conditions which make them possible. That I could run a mile presupposes bodily condition, relative neighborhood or surrounding security, no crying infant neglected, etc. When I make the choice I make, and invest in this as opposed to that I negate an almost infinity of other things I could have done. Let us call this lost opportunity.

In each of the above options is value. Each individual, in order to be conceived as acting, must be conceived as taking on costs. What does it say that an individual acts this way instead of that way? Either, he is an atom moved like the grain of sand by the wave, passive, or he is more interesting than that, active. If he is active, and acting, we can begin to deduce from his choice and the surrounding options his preferences out of the range of values, given the range of means available to him.

The notion of sacrifice is present here in cost. The piper must be payed. There is no action without paying cost. But there is also the expectation of profit or one kind or another. And there is the risk of loss. Those latter categories must be understood in reference to cost. It is always whether the results of acting, the effects, are greater or lesser compared to the cost, that action ultimately bears profit or loss.

If we are to understand action as action we must understand costs from the view of the agent choosing and acting. The value of money, of labor, of attention, of effort, of restraint, of consumption, of saving, of investing, of doing anything, all have a cost to the agent who chooses to do that rather than all the other things that could be chosen.

Before moving on to profit and loss I want to spend time reflecting on more on cost. After the opportunity cost is payed there must be an allocation of scarce means to ends desired. This further deepens the notion of cost and sacrifice.

Published by Purilib

Anonymously interested in grasping the good life.

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