Today, some friends and I were having a discussion about "nature vs. nurture", specifically with regard to whether or not people choose to be gay. One friend suggested that he believes it's more "nurture" rather than "nature", i.e. that maybe some event occurred in a person's early childhood that caused them to tend towards homosexuality, as opposed to their homosexuality being inherent in their DNA.

It seems to me that in either case, it's not the person's choice. He responded by saying, "Yes, it is a choice--it's a subconscious choice."

The Oxford English dictionary defines 'choice' as "An act of choosing between two or more possibilities", and it defines to 'choose' as to "Pick out (someone or something) as being the best or most appropriate of two or more alternatives". This tells me that there's no such thing as a subconscious choice, and so, if my friend's belief is true, people still don't choose to be gay.

Am I correct? Or is there such a thing as a "subconscious choice"?

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    Just so you know, there is Philosophy Stack Exchange for this. – NVZ Feb 23 '17 at 18:59
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    When your body chooses to breathe in, is that a conscious choice? – Jim Feb 23 '17 at 19:01
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    Can you imagine how the phrase "subconscious choice" could make sense to your friend? The meaning of a word is not derived from dictionary entries; dictionary entries are derived from the way words are used. If enough people like your friend use the word "choice" this way, it's misguided to tell him that he's "incorrect" because the dictionary doesn't explain this use of the word. – herisson Feb 23 '17 at 19:04
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    @villapx It sounds a lot like "Unconscious thought theory", which is psychology, not English usage. I'm not sure what type of answer you expect; you should clarify that. – Laurel Feb 23 '17 at 19:41
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this isn't really a question about word usage, but about the topics of free will and cognitive science that can't be effectively adjudicated here. – jimm101 Feb 24 '17 at 12:40

Trying to answer this question without straying too far into medical science, philosophy, or dictionary definitions is complicated. I think it might be easier to use terms a little less associated with psychology, specifically psychoanalytic Drive Theory.

For conscious decisions, I'll call this free will. And for "subconscious choice" I'll use underlying cause (or decision). Whether these are fair synonyms is certainly open to debate, but I feel they minimize confounders as above. A term frequently used with homosexuality is latent. I won't use that either.

An example above was breathing. Breathing is involuntary, it happens whether we want it to or not, but we can use our free will to alter the rate, volume, and mouth v. nasal. Involuntary actions and reflexes are related to genetics, and I don't believe them to be synonymous with subconscious.

You asked, Can a choice be subconscious?

Let's use a classic example of the husband having had a bad day at work, comes home, and kicks the dog for a minor slight. His wife asks, Why did you do that?" The guy says, "I wasn't really thinking about it. It just happened. I hope I never do that again."

So even if claims he wasn't using free will in his decision, the underlying cause is obvious. The man is still culpable for his decision (without getting into legal logistics). In order for him to promote a kick-free lifestyle, he needs to do something prior to coming home to arrive with less aggression OR his wife can keep the dog in a separate room.

In this regard, there is still a choice. One would hope the man develops the free will to avoid kicking the dog even under the most stressful of times. However, by being proactive, even an underlying decision can develop the nature of free will by altering the variables responsible for the action.

With regards to homosexuality, there are some clearly making free will choices, such as bisexuals and the transgendered (obviously some will disagree with me but whatever), and there are those who have never found a member of the opposite sex attractive in their life.

In the latter, I find the underlying cause, the "subconscious choice," to be unknown. The free will choice is whether or not to engage in sexual relations.

To answer your question, yes, there are subconscious choices, but they must be separated from reflexes or involuntary actions. If a man has never found a woman attractive, how can his homosexuality be a choice on any level? If a man comes home and kicks his dog, there are things that can be done to promote a different action.

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This is somewhat a question of semantics. Choice has a number of meanings.

Selection: an act or instance of choosing. Under this definition, even if you argue "nature", that qualifies as a choice. Any selection the person makes, or their body makes for them, could be called a choice.

A number of other definitions include or imply a cognitive process:

Option: the right, power, or opportunity to choose

Preference: something that is preferred or preferable to others

Selection based on thought: a carefully selected supply, e.g., This restaurant has a fine choice of wines.

So you can choose a definition to support either case. If you choose simple selection, it can be subconscious. If you choose a definition based on thinking, it can only be conscious. Beyond that, you're getting into the realm of medicine or philosophy and this is really the wrong site to tackle that question.

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