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Free Will and Moral Responsibility

Free «Free Will and Moral Responsibility» Essay Sample

Many people believe that they act out of free will, though they are often not certain about what it means. It is important to care about the issue of free will because of its close relation to moral responsibility and freedom of action (Widerker and McKenna 120). Nonetheless, regardless of the close connection to these concepts, it is essential to determine the real reasons behind the behavior of certain people. There are different goals that contribute to the way people act. There are individuals who blame the society for the way they act. It means that their actions are not based on free will, but determinism. It means that the environmental factors undermine their freedom to act in the right way. If an act cannot be determined by moral interests or reasons, then the aspects of free will cannot exist. However, for an individual to be considered morally responsible, their actions should be based on right reasons and interests. People have free will and responsibility, but there are instances whereby their actions are determined by the environment which limits them from achieving freedom.


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According to David Hume, free will is the ability of a person to act based on their personal interests (Wolf 622). It means that their actions are determined by their will. Therefore, if a person decides to rest, it is because it is what they want and not because someone is forcing them to do so or there is a condition that prevents them from working. It means that for free will to exist, a person should not be in chains or a prisoner of another condition. A person needs to be an agent of freedom by selecting a course of action based on their personal interests. There is no external object or obstacle which is preventing them from acting in a way that they want.

A good example of this is a woman who is considering walking her dog. She has to decide what to do based on what she perceives to be beneficial to her. She feels that it is necessary for her to walk her dog because it needs to exercise. However, she also has to take into consideration the conditions outside, because they may not be appropriate for the dog or her. The action will be based on free will, but determined by the weather conditions outside at the same time. Nonetheless, this is not a limiting factor, because the decision solely relies on the woman (Widerker and McKenna 120). By deciding to go and walk the dog regardless of the weather condition, she will be exercising her free will. On the other hand, if she decides to avoid going outside because the conditions are not favorable, it will be based on her personal choice, meaning that there is nothing limiting her from acting. However, free will should be based on agency, autonomy, and rationality. Only then can it be seen as a morally responsible one.

Several people hold the belief that if psychological determinism is true, then an individual’s freedom cannot be satisfied. They argue that people do not have free will if hereditary and environmental factors determine their interests. In a world where determinism exists, an agent’s actions are based on their interests that are psychologically determined. The aspects of freedom can only be achieved when an action is not determined by an individual’s interests (Wolf 621). However, a person whose actions are not psychologically determined cannot be a moral agent. Therefore, in order for right actions to be performed, an individual must have the right reasons behind them to satisfy the condition of morality. An action should only be considered morally right if value exists. However, if the condition of freedom has to be achieved, then a person has to rule out satisfying the condition of value (Wolf 622). Wolf believes that philosophers are wrong regarding the concept of determinism that prevents free will. She argues that what an agent needs in order to be responsible for their actions is a combination of determination and indetermination (Wolf 622).

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Wolf believes that it is important to consider the fact that an individual who acts morally right could have done otherwise. It is determination that makes a person choose to be morally responsible by doing the right thing. When an individual does the right thing, the reasons must also be right. Thus, they should be given credit for acting responsibly. There are some individuals who cannot help but be good or responsible. However, it is important to know the real motives of a person by looking at their determinants. If a person does not formulate the reasons behind their good nature or responsibility, then it is not possible to determine if they acted out of free will.

There are individuals who discover that it is in their nature to be generous or responsible, meaning that they cannot help but have these experiences. Accordingly, their actions are beyond their control, creating the concept of indetermination. On the other hand, there are those individuals who find themselves responsible or generous because it makes it easy for them to develop friendships. Hence, this person does not choose to be the object of other people or become a victim of less virtuous people in the society. It is not necessary for them to act responsibly or become good. It is within their nature to do good, and they are able to make more friends through this. In this case, it will be absurd to assume that such an individual’s actions were not under their control. Therefore, the concept of freedom and responsibility becomes even more relevant because the acts were based on open mind frame and a good sense of value. The person in this case is not able to determine any reasons for their generosity with the exception of the old ones.

Nonetheless, in these conditions, an agent could have behaved in a different way or done otherwise. Free will involves separating the good acts from the bad ones. In this case, there are no sufficient or good reasons that could have prompted the individual to behave differently, which satisfies the conditions of freedom. In case the agent was bad, he could have done otherwise when faced with similar situations, because the acts of responsibility or generosity are engraved within them. The question regarding free not existing when there is a determinant has been perfectly answered by Wolf. She provides an example of a man who decided to embezzle money, but he is not coerced or bothered by his actions. He believes that the society made him what he is today. For instance, he never received any love while he was a child, was neglected by his mother, and was treated badly by his father.

This means that the people whom he grew up with were selfish and evil, which is the reason why he became evil. Therefore, he does not see any problems with embezzling money, which is an evil act. It means that the man’s actions cannot be considered morally responsible, because they were not based on free will. However, there is a need to blame the man for his actions, because the conditions of freedom should not be based purely on metaphysical terms (Wolf 627). It means that the good or the bad nature of an individual should not be determined by an individual’s past.

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A person should not do good because they were taught to act that way; instead, their actions should be based on free will, which will make them morally responsible. The man who embezzled money knows well that what he has done is wrong, but blames the society for his actions. The way he acted was not caused by the desire to be good of become free. Thus, if a person’s actions are determined by external reasons or causes, they cannot be considered free. The agent in this case was taking freedom to be a determinant of a compatible view. Therefore, he cannot be seen as morally responsible because his actions were psychologically determined. Wolf claims that in order for moral blame and moral praise to be justified, psychological determinism must not exist to explain free will. Indetermination cannot be a sufficient reason to justify any moral blame (Wolf 629). Moral quality can only be achieved if a person is able to direct their actions based on good interests and reasons.

In conclusion, people may have free will and responsibility. However, there are some factors that may limit their actions, such as an environment where a person grew up, which was not favorable. It may prevent people from achieving freedom. When a person cannot act freely, it becomes impossible for them to be morally right. However, free will comes about because of freedom of action and value. Freedom should not be based on psychological determinism but individual interests.

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