What is Free Will ethics?

Free Will describes our capacity to make choices that are genuinely our own. With free will comes moral responsibility – our ownership of our good and bad deeds.

That ownership indicates that if we make a choice that is good, we deserve the resulting rewards. If in turn we make a choice that is bad, we probably deserve those consequences as well. In the case of a really bad choice, such as committing murder, we may have to accept severe punishment.

The link between free will and responsibility has both theological and philosophical roots.

Within theology, for example, the claim that humans are ‘made in the image of God’ (a central tenet of major religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam) is not that they are the physical image of their creator.

Rather, the claim is made that humans are made in the ‘moral image’ of God – which is to say that they are endowed with the ‘divine’ capacity to exercise free will.

Of course, the experience of free will is not limited to those who hold a religious belief. Philosophers also argue that it would be unjust to blame someone for a choice over which they have no control.

Determinism is the belief that all choices are determined by an unbroken chain of cause and effect. Those who believe in ‘determinism’ oppose free will, arguing that that the belief that we are the authors of our own actions is a delusion.

Whereas scientific evidence has found there is brain activity prior to the sensation of having made a choice, we’re unable to resolve the question of which account is correct.

Should that gap close – and free will be proven to be an illusion, then the basis for ascribing guilt to those who act unethically (including criminals) will also be destroyed.

How could we justify punishing a person who claims that they had no choice but to do evil?