The political tradition of liberalism tends to associate political liberty with the individual’s freedom of choice. The thought is that political freedom is intrinsically tied to the individual’s ability to select one’s own path in life – to choose one’s occupation, one’s values, one’s hobbies, one’s possessions, and so on – without the intrusion or supervision of others. John Stuart Mill, who held a version of this view, argued that it is in choosing for ourselves that we develop not only self-knowledge but autonomy and personality. Yet we now know that the image of the individual chooser that Mill’s view seems to presuppose is not quite accurate. It is not only the case that environmental factors of various kinds exert a great but often invisible influence over our choices; we must also contend with the limits of our cognitive resources. Sometimes, having to choose can be a burden, a hazard, and even an obstacle to liberty.
In Choosing Not to Choose: Understanding the Value of Choice (Oxford University Press, 2015), Cass Sunstein examines the varied phenomena of choice-making. Bringing a range of finding from behavioral sciences, Sunstein makes the case that sometimes avoiding or delegating choice is an exercise of individual freedom.