The Decision/Decision-Maker Tautology

The distinction between decision-maker and decision is a tautology. The decision-maker is constructed by an observer; it’s a product of attribution. The distinction between decision and decision-maker is drawn by an observer so that praise or blame can be assigned to some “decision-maker,”or so that the causes or motives for the decision can be analyzed, or for some other reason.

From a systems-theoretical perspective, decisions are a form of communication. What might happen in the mind (or psychic system) of “decision-maker” is irrelevant. For instance, a person buys a particular automobile. Other than the fact of the purchase, nothing else can be known for sure.

The purchaser’s mind is a black box–an operationally closed system. Maybe the person went to the auto dealership and made a purchase without even looking at or considering any alternatives. Maybe he or she didn’t even intend to buy anything. Intentions don’t mean much. We might ask the person why s/he chose that particular automobile, but we then only know what the person tells us–that is, communicates. The person could lie or not even know why s/he purchased one particular automobile rather than another one. These things might be of psychological interest, but they aren’t relevant for a social theory based on communication. The purchase is all that matters, and a purchase counts as communication in the economy (or economic system). We might say that the purchase equates to the communication of a decision, but this doesn’t add anything.

In organizations, a decision must be communicated in order to count as a decision; so it’s not necessary to separate the decision from the communication of the decision. Just as decision/decision-maker is tautological, so is decision/communication of decision. Someone in the organization might say something like “We have decided to hire person X for the position.” But that’s not any different than saying “We are hiring person X for the position.” Bringing in language about decision-making serves to show that the act of hiring wasn’t arbitrary, that there was some reasonable or legitimate process behind the hire. Later, if the decision looks like it was a mistake, someone in the organization can say, “Well, we went through the proper decision-making process.”

Something similar happens when a patient dies on an operating table—“We did everything we could.”


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