Adulting is hard. Thankfully, we have memes, T-shirts, and mugs to sympathize with our daily struggles. But the difficulty extends beyond mundane tasks like paying bills. Life is full of complex and hard choices, and we could all use some advice on how to make good ones.
Dr. Larry P. Arnn gives a free lecture in one of his online classes for Hillsdale College about this topic. Teaching on the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s “Nichomachean Ethics,” Arnn says that our choices are the product of deliberation, which lead us to action. Yet it is not the result of our actions that makes a decision good, it is rather our intention behind that choice.
“It is in your choosing that your character is formed, which gives you the right kind of direction in your life,” Arnn said.
Aristotle says there are two ways to know if a choice is good. The first is our innate sense of what is right. For example, we all know to tell the truth. But there are also much more complex choices. Determining whether these complex choices are right relies on the nature of our intentions. To determine intentions and understand the formation of character, Aristotle walks readers through the process of choices in Chapter III of “Ethics.”
Complex choices are different in each situation, like deciding which college to attend or what house to buy. The unifying factor in each case is that you want something and there is some good you are aimed at. The complexity arises when those two factors are at odds with one another.
Aristotle uses the key words “choice” and “deliberation” to solve these complexities. Deliberation produces choice and, when a choice is made, there is action. This process begins with what you desire or should desire and deliberation on how to get there. Hard choices have benefit but also unavoidable suffering. Thus the right choice requires sacrificing certain desires, which ultimately forms our character.
Our deliberation produces actions comprised of what we want and an estimation of the circumstances. What we want is achieved by practice and thinking about the right way to live. Estimating the circumstances means our decisions are constrained. If they were not constrained, they would not be formative of our character.
Actions can be a bit of a guessing game as the consequences are often unknown, but what makes actions good is the intention behind them. The more you have experienced making these decisions, the more you understand that how you remember a choice is more important than the outcome of the action.
“No matter our success, we will always question our intentions,” Arnn said.
The key to making good choices is having good intentions. Consequences of our actions are unpredictable, so it is our character-forming choices that count.