Regarding the availability of options... I have not been able to take any formal philosophy classes so far, but I am lucky to have friends with whom I can debate at lunch. One abstract question that I thought was interesting, and I do wonder if it is a common one in philosophy, is whether or not it is necessarily better or necessarily worse to have multiple options as opposed to one option. One can easily see that a student early in life may prefer to be able to study anything that he chooses instead of being forced into one option of subject to study. At the same time, there are instances in which the ethical pressure brought upon by the availability of options may force a person into an unpleasant internal conflict that, had the other options not been available, would otherwise have been avoided. For example, a nation that changes its military policy to one allowing women into the military, during the times of a demanding war, may distress some women who had not previously felt the obligation (for the purpose of the example, a woman in the country is not forced by draft, but is only offered the option of serving her country). In this sense, I suppose that one could put both dilemmas in terms of liberty. While I consider the scenario of the young student, limited to only one subject to study, to be one of restricted negative liberty, the woman who enters the military reluctantly out of feelings of obligation appears to be acting under restricted positive liberty. My knowledge of the liberty dichotomy is limited to an entry from the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I am curious to know if the subject of available options has been interpreted in different terms by philosophers. Thank you.

The significance of options, or, as they are sometimes called in contemporary philosophical work on freedom, alternative possibilities, has received considerable attention. However, most of the attention has focused on the question of whether an agent needs to have options in order to be free. The reason for this focus is due to the fact that, intuitively, it seems that an agent must have options in order to be free, yet if determinism--the view that every event, including choices, is caused by some preceding event--is true, then it might seem that agents do not have options available to them. In the context of this debate, philosophers have sought to determine whether alternative possibilities are indeed necessary for freedom, and, if so, whether the commitment to alternative possibilities may be reconciled with determinism. This sort of attention to alternatives derives from their relation to the metaphysical question of free will; the question, however, in which you are interested, is distinct from the metaphysical question of free will, and seems to me to have to do with the value of alternatives, a topic that has received considerably less attention from philosophers. While both questions have to do with the nature of choice, the former question is, roughly, the question of what the conditions for free choice are--whether human beings are free--whereas the second question, the one raised by your very interesting question, assumes that agents do make free choices, and seeks to determine the significance of the scope of choice.

Prima facie, it might seem that it is better to have a greater scope of choice, that is, to have more options available to one: a person who, whether through the pressure of external or internal circumstances, has fewer options available to her, seems to be more constrained than one who has more options available to her. (Consider the difference between someone, who, due to the fact that she comes from a poor family, has not completed high school, and then seeks a job, with someone who has completed a higher degree: the latter person, it would seem, has more possibilities available to her than the former.) Yet you rightly highlight the fact that a person with more options may be faced with a more complicated choice than one who lacks options (for ease of exposition, let's suppose that the one person has only one option available to her, whereas the other has two): when faced with competing options, an agent must make a decision as to which is most important to her, and, in certain circumstances--Sartre gives an example of a young man who must choose between joining the resistance and caring for his sick mother--must make a very difficult choice indeed, a choice that may shape her whole life. (Sartre calls this a 'radical choice'.) An agent who lacks such options is spared such difficult deliberation.

The topic of the significance of the scope of choice has received some attention from philosophers--T. M. Scanlon, for one, treats it in What We Owe To Each Other; the topic of ethical dilemmas, too, has received considerable attention--there is a classic article on the topic by Bernard Williams. Your question, however, interestingly brings these two topics together, and I myself don't know of any work that has approached the question in precisely the way that you frame it.

You thus bring out a deep philosophical issue about which I hadn't previously thought and that certainly merits considerable attention, given that the issues it raises are central to our lives as agents....Central to its resolution, I think, would be determining just how valuable it is to have a greater scope for choice, and whether the value of the scope of choice can trump the difficulty of choosing among different options available to an agent. Which one takes to be more valuable will, I suspect, shed light on just what one's deep underlying values are.

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