Freedom, among humans is defined as the power to determine one’s actions. Morality on the other hand is the extent to which behavior is considered to be wrong or right. Right behavior is considered to be moral and wrong behavior immoral. For authentic morality, freedom is essential. Virtuous character may be influenced and guided by upbringing and culture, but it cannot be coerced of forced upon an individual. The following contradicting positions have emerged from philosophers as a result: determinism, free will, and compatibilism.
Determinism appears to contradict the role of free will in moral behavior. It states that human action is determined by their past and pre-existing causes. As such, this theory argues that a person cannot help but behave the way they do. Therefore, there is a cause and effect relationship between behavior and past events. This theory stems from the explanation of atomic motion being the result of causal determinants, and since the human mind is made up of atoms, its function is also determined by existent causal factors. Determinism has be criticized as being too dismissive of a person’s free will as it insinuates that a person is unable to freely determine their behavior. This theory however counters that a person’s behavior is informed by their knowledge which determines their perception and ultimately their behavior. The absence of free will makes the enforcement of consequences for bad behavior and reward for good behavior duly unfair.
The compatibilist theory however supports the role of determinism in the determination of human behavior and states that human freedom and determinism are compatible. People is this school of thought observe that there is usually a causal connection between action and free will. This theory therefore states that human beings can both act out of free will and still peg their action to a causal determinant. Hume, a compatibilist philosopher states that the universe operates on the basis of necessity. He observes that as a result, things follow from other things based on necessity. Therefore it makes sense that human behavior would be the direct result, or follow out of, human nature (Sartre 501). This theory has been criticized as being inconsistent with the concept of free will. This is because, compatibilists determine free will as being inherent in human’s capacity to think intellectually as opposed to merely succumbing to mindless wiring from nature. Yet free will is more than intellectual capacity and largely the result of choice.
The concept of free will is at its most basic the ability to make a conscious choice to act in a certain way regardless of the consequences of the action or pre-existing related factors. This means that based on several aspects including conviction, influence, perception, and motivation among other things, a person may choose to act differently from what they are expected to (Frankfurt 77). For instance, a person may choose to overlook an offense when provoked because they simply prefer not to get into an altercation even when they have never had a problem doing so in the past. If free will was not based on choice, then a person could not be held responsible for their choices. This means that it would make no sense to punish wrong doing seeing as the person could not help it or to reward right for the same reason that the person was acting out of causal determinants.