Without real freedom there would be no ethical decisions to make Essay Sample

Without real freedom there would be no ethical decisions to make Pages
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“Without real freedom there would be no ethical decisions to make,” Discuss. In making ethical decisions you are exercising an ability to make moral judgements and take moral responsibility. How does freedom tie in with this? Does an action have to be undertaken freely for you to be morally responsible for it? If an action is taken intentionally and consciously then surely he who took the action is responsible for the consequences of the action. So long as action was taken as a choice between various other actions and was a deliberate choice then the agent is accountable for the choice he made. If we can describe the action as being either right or wrong or good or bad then we assume that the agent took these factors into account when choosing to act. This shows that he had the capacity for deliberate choice, and acted freely towards his intentions. It was because he acted freely that he became responsible for the act and because he chose to act in that way when he was faced with a number of other choices he accepted his own free will as an autonomous moral agent.

If an action is performed unintentionally or against will, then surely the agent is not responsible for the consequences? He did not have the freedom to decide and was unable to choose his actions and so, a difference is specified between voluntary actions and involuntary actions. Voluntary actions are those done through the initiative of the agent out of free will and choice, whereas involuntary actions are carried out through coercion or taken without knowing the consequences of the act i.e. ignorance. The nature of an involuntary act, in that it is done with a lack of reason or intention, limits the extent to which the act can be described as ethical. J.L.Mackie suggests that, “an agent is responsible for all and only his intentional actions. [1][1]” When an agent is not undertaking an action through choice and reason, the factors other than his own free will influencing the decision can be physical, i.e. violence or mental and based on emotions such as fear, passion or just out of force of habit.

If these factors limit your ability to make decisions based on your own initiative then they are limiting to freedom, so, are we free to decide? Each one of us experiences restrictions to our individual freedom and there are many ways in which our freedom, in reality, is limited. By law we are restricted to acts that systems of government deem acceptable, and further than that our actions and decisions, are influenced and controlled by a number of social pressures. Social conditioning requires the majority to act within a bracket of normality and within bounds of what is socially acceptable and it could be argued that what is considered and thought of as socially acceptable, is basically so as a direct result of what is lawful. It would be easily possible for people’s morals to be largely influenced by what is set out as right and wrong by the law as they have grown up with that moral code in their mind. Someone who through no other device than the law of their society has been told that smoking cannabis is wrong, is still likely to consider it wrong if it is suddenly made lawful, even though they do not seem to have any moral or ethical reason to believe this.

In this way this process of indoctrination effectively limits us by influencing our morals and giving us an accepted ethical code to take as your own. Other limits to our freedom can be found within our own personalities. Personal and psychological differences within people will provide them with different abilities and hence different freedoms and limitations. People can only act in the way that their personalities allow them, by causing them to react to situations in a specific way. We can define these types of restrictions as internal and external. Internal freedom is that which allows us to think, analyse and decide the way in which we want, and think it appropriate, to act. Our external freedoms, offered by society, law and any factors other than that of our own mind and conscience allow us to physically act on these decisions. This ties in with moral responsibility. Without the internal freedom which allows us to deliberate, non of the decisions we make can be truly ethical and we shouldn’t be held responsible for actions which have been taken with a compromised sense of morality.

Likewise, you can’t be held responsible for an act that you were prevented from taking, or similarly be held responsible for the consequences of not taking it. Freedoms and restrictions discussed here are done so within the bounds of human society and are what we take as limitations to our own free will. But what if free will is non existent and we are only convinced we have self control because we are in fact controlled by devices beyond our own perception. In this case everything is pre determined and the choices we face are pre decided for us leaving us with the illusion that we have chosen ourselves and decided our own fate; exercised free will. This deterministic concept can be looked at from three main perspectives, the first, hard determinism, considers everything in the present to be directly caused by events that preceded them. Everything including the actions we take and the choices we make are caused directly by another event. Once the cause of an event has occurred the event itself is destined to happen, it is a constant chain of cause and effect which renders everything, in principle, predictable[2][2].

People are just products of their upbringing and social environment. Everything a human mind has experienced is a cause and so everything it does is the result, even though in theory we can make our choices based on conscience and deliberation, the decisions we make are inevitable. Psychological and sociological studies back this view up by investigating the subconscious and looking motivations for our actions, possibly beyond our conscious control. Each human mind is the product of its experiences and in every situation will react according to what it has learnt, in a similar way to a computer that has been programmed. Warnock compares the human response to ones environment to animals saying that if the theories suggested within hard Determinism are true then humans can be trained, as animals can, to act differently. However this links back with responsibility, if a human is trained to perform a certain task they should receive no praise for correctness in taking the action, as what they have done was done not out of free will, but because they were programmed, or trained to do so.

The action says nothing about the moral worth of the agent as it had an external cause, and was not done through free will and intention. The hard determinist view that everything is decided by a constant line of causes, and that humans are not free simply because every thing we supposedly decide is already caused and so determined, ultimately means that human free will is an illusion. Free will is something we feel we experience when making decisions and choosing but is really non existent, the actions we partake in are already set and what we feel we decide is irrelevant to anything that actually happens, Johns Locke’s locked room scenario[3][3] is an example of this. The man decides but ultimately his decision is inconsequential. We appear to have decisions to make we can claim no responsibility for. If an ethical choice is one that carries moral consequence it will require moral deliberation and carry some form of moral responsibility.

Determinism removes this moral responsibility and so removes ethical decisions. If a freedom which makes human free-will relevant doesn’t exist, making ethical choices is impossible. Imcompatibilists realise that determinism creates a situation where free will is obsolete and see an incompatibility between hard determinism and moral responsibility. Because of this, they would argue that universal causation is not necessarily relevant to human actions. They do not deny any influence to the human mind that could have an effect on the way in which one might act, but they claim that there is still a large aspect of freedom of choice involved. John Locke’s scenario can argue as well for this idea as it can for the concept of determinism which it was intended. In the situation the outcome is set by means of the door being locked, but the human is still able make the choice between option A or B whether he is able to act on it or not.

The arguments Libertarianists give for the existence of human free will are largely based on the defined different between ones personality/psychological self and ones moral self. The former, being developed largely as the result of personal experiences and a product of a social environment, limits the choices you have by defining the way your mind works, but it only works to make some choices more likely than others and is not in anyway thought to restrict freedom. The latter however, provides a mechanism of altering the way someone can react to a situation even if their psychological condition made a specific reaction inevitable, and could lead to a decision completely against self interest and against all the odds. Libertarianism provides a very definite conclusion to the ideas raised by the question.

The compromises to freedom, suggested in a deterministic point of view, by means of everything being predestined, according to libertarianism are actually irrelevant to human free will. No matter how much the events around us may be pre determined the human mind still has the capability of acting in a completely unpredictable manner without any specific cause being suggested for actions. Soft determinism is the third deterministic standpoint and one where determinism and free will are completely compatible. The soft deterministic concept relies on realising the difference between Fatalism: Everything is set and we are completely powerless to change the course of events, because they are forced upon us, And Determinism: The idea that everything is caused and that once the cause has occurred the action is destined to happen (theory of universal causation). Soft determinists argue that, though incompatible with fatalism, free will is completely compatible with determinism, therefore the decisions we are free and able to make in our own minds count as the causes by which everything is made to occur.

All the desires and emotions we experience, are causes of other actions even though it could be argued that they are based largely on upbringing and experience and can be themselves described as caused. The soft determinist argument says little for the question of moral responsibility because though they have managed to defend free will, they have provided no argument against the view that the human mind and so its desires and emotions are as a consequence of upbringing and experience. Overall it says very little different to the determinist argument and the free will it argues for in the context it argues for it seems morally inconsequential. As Schopenhauer says, “A man can surely do what he wills to do but he cannot determine what he wills.” If one cannot be anymore than the product of your environment then you are only free to act within the reason of your own mind which has developed beyond your intention.

Even so are we in control of our own minds, it is as yet impossible to prove whether we decide consciously or whether our subconscious plays a large role in decision making[4][4]. To what extent we are being coerced by our own sub conscious is unknown. In a situation like this the responsibility for what was apparently consciously taken ethical action would be left with the physical and conscious self to deal with, whereas the action was taken by the subconscious, as a natural reaction or other phenomena. Responsibility is handed to an individual who readily accepts it as he saw and experienced himself act, though it was by no means what we would reasonably call intentional. Surely we can’t be free until we can in someway mould our own mind and morals think and act in the way that we would prefer. In this situation we are free in the capacity that we could make our own ethical decisions, but I can’t see it as being completely free. The mind with which we make our decisions has in been influenced by a whole range of external factors. These must reduce our moral responsibility and hence be restricting of true freedom.

In both hard determinism and the concept of sub conscious decision making, we see free will become little more than an illusion to our conscious mind. As far as we are aware we are acting on and making our own decisions. In reality we are unable to control them, but we are completely conscious of them. If we are experiencing these ethical decisions and as far as we are aware, making them through choice, then we are accepting the moral responsibility for them and seeing that it is us that is to blame for them. If we are capable of justifying them to ourselves and making them seem reasonable in our own mind, then surely we can accept the responsibility others place upon us. Peter Geach summed up a similar concept by commenting that, “If my “mortal mind” thinks I am miserable then I am miserable, and it is not an illusion that I am miserable. [5][5]” Whether the free will we feel when we think and act is an illusion or not, if we feel it and justify it to ourselves then what we feel should be considered as real as anything else.

We are capable of experiencing mentally the freedom to make ethical decisions even if we are not actually capable of making them and so it would seem that an individuals belief in their own free will when acting is as good as them carrying the act out freely. They do it expecting the responsibility. Whatever freedom we are offered, be it internal or external, it seems we can not be held responsible for actions that we did not consciously, reasonably and intentionally decide to take, simply because it wasn’t taken without the influence or coercion of another factor. “Real freedom,” as mentioned in the question seems to suggest the freedom to take these fully conscious, and reasoned ethical decisions, (an ethical decision being that which requires the consideration and deliberation to make the decision fully intention and to pre-empt the acceptance of moral responsibility for the action). If this is the case then the question uses simple tortology to suggest that, what we say is the ability to make ethical decisions (freedom), is needed to make ethical decisions, and without it we can’t. _______________________ [6][1] J.L.Mackie Ethics Inventing Right and Wrong (Penguin 1977) Page208 [7][2]

The theory of universal causation. [8][3] Locked room scenario- A sleeping man is placed in a room with a locked door. When he wake he consciously decide to remain in the room and make no attempt to leave, not knowing that The door is locked. It is a decision made by him and he could have decided to try and leave. In reality he has no choice, he only believes he has a choice because he is ignorant to the truth-This scenario fails to cover the fact that the mans decision to stay was merely convenient and if he had actually decided to leave the chain of events, if only mentally, would have been different.

The hard determinist view point would surely be that his decision to stay in the room would be pre determined by previous events and the fact that the door was locked would be irrelevant. [9][4] Theories based on Freudian ideas suggest that “behaviour is wholly determined by the unconscious parts of our minds”. The conscious part of our mind has very little to do with the way we operate and essentially we are not in control. This would be a strong argument for determinism but there is little evidence to suggest it should be the case and at present is obsolete. ((Quote from J.L.Mackie Ethics inventing right and wrong, (Penguin 1977) Page224)) [10][5] Peter Geach Logic Matters (Oxford1972) Page305


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