Do our experiences result in our choices or do our choices shape our experiences? Is one more influential than the other?

Philosopher's reply

Dear Elizabeth,

I think experience and choice influence each other. The word ‘experience’ can mean ‘perceptual experience’ (i.e. what we see, hear, taste, etc) or ‘accumulated knowledge or know-how’ (e.g. ‘this doctor has experience treating insomnia’). Both kinds of experience influence choice. You may choose not to do something because you see it would be dangerous. Similarly, a teacher’s professional experience may influence her choice of teaching methods. But equally, our choices affect what we get to perceive and the life experience we accumulate (bad choices may limit our experience in both senses). So choice and experience shape each other. I don’t think one is more influential except that sometimes your past experience may make it obvious to you what you do now, and so you don’t have to choose at all. In such cases, experience can silence choice.

Thank you for your question, yours,

David Bakhurst

Philosopher's profile

David Bakhurst

Queen's University, Canada

Reading Murdoch, I am constantly impressed by her vision – she sees further and more clearly than so many of her contemporaries – and by her courage to confront the philosophical orthodoxies of her time. So many of her ideas are arresting in both their novelty and their enduring perspicacity – the wonderful concept of “unselfing” is one such. In all this and more, her work is a continual source of insight, inspiration, and hope.

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