All choices restrict future choices

From the archives: Posted on 24th April, 1995

Recently I posted a question after reading Anthony O’Hear’s book, Education, Society and Human Nature. I said that I was pleasantly surprised by his defence of the open society (based on the ideas of Popper and Mill) …but then thrown by his apparently inexplicable conclusion. I questioned Anthony’s statement:

“…pluralism in adult life precludes too much choice for children while they are still being educated, for too much choice during one’s education may well restrict one’s range of choice and perspective later.”

Well… it seems that the idea is that children may choose to play all day rather than learn mathematics, and that therefore, when they grow up they will not have the qualifications to choose among many jobs.

But what this argument fails to take into account is that all choices restrict future choices. For instance once I decide to buy a certain computer, I have restricted my future choices of software, and indeed my choices of all other goods if the computer took a substantial proportion of my capital. If I were to spend the summer in America, I wouldn’t be able to go to the Henley Regatta or Glastonbury Festival. If I were to get married, I’d be restricting my future choice of partners. If I were a child choosing not to spend hours and hours every day playing the piano, in favour of studying medicine, I might well find it jolly difficult to become a concert pianist later on. But most people accept these sort of choices without any problem.

The real question is whether one is learning and growing through a choice, or not.

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, 1995, ‘All choices restrict future choices’,