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Moral Responsibility as It Relates to Freedom

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Moral Responsibility as it Relates to Freedom

Freedom, in philosophical terms, is not a foregone conclusion. There is much debate as to what freedom entails, whether it exists and to what extent we are responsible, both morally and legally (separately or together) for exercising it should it exist. There are quite notable persons who have spoken out in reference to it with mixed conclusions, sometimes by the same individual. Einstein, for example, wrote:

'I do not believe in freedom of will. This...protects me from taking myself and my fellow man too seriously as acting and judging individuals and losing good humor. I do agree though...we have some control...but less than we realize.'

This apparent contradiction in his statement shows how we have not come together on an absolute resolution to this age old issue.

For the point of this essay, any reference to freedom or freewill is intended as the ability to choose our own actions based on outside influences and personal deliberation. A choice that we exercise, not a causal event. Hobbes defined it thusly:

'I conceive that in all deliberations...the last is that which we call the will and is immediately next before the doing of the action, or next before the doing of it became impossible...though the intentions change often.'

I would put forth that not only are our wills free, they need to be exercised like any other more physical part of our person. Take for example a young, thin man faced with a large object in his yard. The object is unsightly, and weighs about two hundred pounds. The young man does not want it in his yard any longer. Since it weighs more than the young man does, he is not free to move it, or so it would seem. On the contrary, if he has the strength of will to do what needs to be done to make his physical ability match with his will (desire) to move the object, he can still be free. We come back to him three months later after he has dedicated himself to weightlifting and physical strengthening and he is now capable of maneuvering the object out of the yard. Because he exercised his will along with exercising his body, his next obstacle will not seem so insurmountable.

Now according to the hard deterministic philosophical view, there is no choice. No freewill. No freedom to do, or act how we decide. We only are capable of doing what we are going to do all along. Everything is cause/effect/cause/effect infinitely. The 'choice' we feel we are making is illusionary, and our final action is the only action that could have come about. If we are to assume this to be true, the question posed is answered. If we cannot choose any action other that the action that actually happens, we cannot be responsible, morally or legally for the outcome of that action. Honderich states, 'If determinism is true and if there is an institution of punishment...that is retributive...that institution should be abandoned.' This is a very narrow sighted view. Danto states 'this does not mean that actions cannot be caused, but only that whatever sense cause has application to actions does not entail determinism.' This is not to say that determinism is wholly false, but that it can coexist with freedom of choice as well. According to Lehrer '...we may with perfect consistency both know that a person could have done otherwise and deny...that the thesis of determinism is false.' These two statements agree on one thing, although we may be free of will, causes do effect how we exercise our will. At certain points the choices we make are not even feasible to become a physical reality due to causal issues which prevent our acting on them. Lehrer continues this thought. 'It is logically consistent to say both that a person can do something and that it is causally impossible for him to do it.'

Setting aside hard determinism, how does our now established will come into play? Farrer explains what an



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