“Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to decide” (Napoleon Bonaparte).
DECISIONS ARE AN EVERYDAY REALITY, AND SOMETIMES THEY ARE HARD TO MAKE. In some instances, they are hard because we don’t have all the information we need. But at other times, our decisions are difficult because we aren’t sure what criteria ought to be applied in making the decision. A criterion is a standard, rule, or test by which a decision can be made. It is, as we say, a “deciding factor.” Suppose a recent college graduate has two job offers. Which will he accept? The decision will have to be made on the basis of some criteria. Selecting what criteria are going to be used is very important.
The criteria that a person uses in making decisions says a good deal about his or her character. In our example, let’s say that one job will be more lucrative, but it will require lying on behalf of the company. When the candidate selects one of these to be the deciding factor — money or honesty — we will learn something about his character.
Unfortunately, many people have no higher criteria than their own experience or their own preferences. “The accepted philosophy of today . . . emphasizes meaningful experience as the criterion for truth. Facts are considered irrelevant, except insofar as they ‘turn us on’ ” (Erwin W. Lutzer). But I want to suggest that there are some objective standards by which our decisions can be made. When we are deciding what is true, what is right, and what is good, there is far more to consider than “whatever works for me,” to use the popular lingo. Personal experience can be misleading, and personal preference is notoriously fickle. Are there no higher and better criteria? Yes, there are!
As a species, we are distinguished by our moral faculty. We are capable of deciding between right and wrong, but unfortunately, we don’t often consider rightness as a criterion in our decisions. Frequently, we make crucial choices using no higher criteria than pleasure, social benefit — or worse, economic benefit. In a materialistic, capitalistic culture like ours, it is hard to keep in mind that there is more to think about than the mere question of monetary advantage. But if that is hard to keep in mind, we need to keep it in mind anyway.
“Every act of every man is a moral act, to be tested by moral, and not by economic, criteria” (Robert Maynard Hutchins).