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Freedom and responsibility

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In this paper I have discussed the free will of human mind and their freedom in choice of action. It is said that we are responsible for our actions that we do out of our free will, thus I have discussed freedom of human mind and the responsibility that comes to us with the freedom of will. There are some doctrines in philosophy that opposes free will saying that all our actions are dependent on certain predetermined causes and thus no human is free to exercise his free will. I have written some points in favour and in against of the responsibility factor that is attached to free will and then I have also pointed out with the help of certain readings the existence and non existence of free will in this paper by my own understanding after reading few articles and essays on Freedom and Responsibility. I have also highlighted the conditions in which a person is held to be responsible in which he should be not.

The idea of Freedom and Responsibility itself states that Human beings have free will, that is, distinctive causal powers or a special metaphysical status, that separate them from everything else in the universe. They can act on the basis of reason(s). They have a certain set of moral or proto-moral feelings. They are the only rational beings in the universe hence with the free will comes to them the Responsibility, moral responsibility of their actions and decisions. Responsibility has also been classified in two different types. And the conclusion which gives a brief summary of what has already been mentioned in the body of the paper.

Freedom is one of the most debated terms in the world of philosophy. In its most basic Sense, ‘freedom’ designates a person’s ability to think or act in a way that is unhindered, or That expresses a source of activity proper to her (NIETZSCHE). Free will gives us choices to act in certain manner .Human beings inherently possess free will but they also possess the power of reasoning because they are rational beings hence the entire concept of linking freedom and responsibility becomes feasible for humans. Responsibility breaks down into two key words “response+ability”, which means ability to respond. But the question here arises “respond to what?”. It is the ability to respond to our own selves, to the situations which we come across in our daily lives, to the people around us, with things and
places around us. But in my thoughts I guess very few of us realize this that the ability to respond which is completely our own property comes from our family, society, which includes our colleagues, friends and largely our education system.

When a child is born he has no freedom, freedom of will basically because he is not able to think in the way we do, he lacks the ability to respond and thus he has no responsibility. But as he grows older he comes up with certain experiences in his life, certain teachings from parents and teachers. Now he has the ability to think and respond to certain situations and people around him and thus he has freedom of his will. With this freedom he becomes responsible for certain work like doing homework on time, petting animals, or anything else which comes under his ability. Freedom comes under the price of responsibility for every rational being. Being a responsible person is an attribute to be respected because responsibility builds our character, makes us successful and a wise person. This sense of responsibility is imparted in us by our parents since our child hood however when we grow up we are completely free to take any decision and we often do. But it is the duty of our parents to make us learn the right and correct use of freedom and hence the ability to respond to the outer world as well as the self.

There are many beliefs and thoughts that are fed to us since childhood either by our parents or our society at large but we remain unconscious about it and we avoid taking responsibility or in worst case we blame the society, people around us, education system, etc for anything which didn’t proved to be right. But we should understand this very simple thing that whatever happens is the result of our freewill, no one else is responsible but everyone in themselves are responsible every action that takes place in their lives and ultimately in the society. However there are some factors which determine that our will is not free.

Determinism: It is theory which states that human actions are not free. They are determined to happen by certain conditions in the society or the world. It is a belief that things caused before them are based on some causes and people have no real choices over them. These actions are determined by previously determined causes. Now the believers of determinism say that people are not morally responsible for the actions that they do because they are bound to do those actions as they are determined by previous causes and in such a way punishment for criminal acts are also unjustified. Determinism is also called necessitism because the cause is determined and there is no free will of the agent. This theory denies free will on three grounds: Psychological, Law of causality, Theological.

Psychological: A person’s decisions are determined by that same person’s reasons. This is true because the actions of every single person (agent) have reasons that determine them even though those reasons might not always be known to the person. For example, I might distrust someone because I have an unknown prejudice against him or her. This prejudice might arise from the fact that he or she may be too different from the group that I identify with. It is entirely plausible for me to distrust or dislike someone without being aware of the reasons why. In fact there are some situations in which people are bound to react in a certain way, they actually don’t have any control over their action or reaction in such cases. For example, when I am really angry at someone and I have lost my temper, then I might not know in that situation that what I am doing is right or wrong, I might shout at that person in anger which is bound to happen. Thus free will of a person doesn’t work in such situations.

Law of causality: the cause decides the result. Everything in thing in this world is dependent on some cause as we know through the law of causality. There are certain causes for certain effects, thus when we already have causes for every effect where does the place remains for free will. Hence the act of will like every event of the world is enmeshed in the causal nexus.

Theological: It states that God is the cause of everything in this world. He determines our actions, for, he has the knowledge of our actions and he alone is free in this universe, he is the creator and knower of all things. However atheist might not agree to this point of view. For them theological grounds of determinism won’t work. In one point of view if there is responsibility always attached to freedom then one is not and never free in exercising his/her choice. For example, if I want to listen loud music and I enjoy it but doing so will affect other people in the house, in such a case either I will listen to my free will and do whatever I want or I will think that, it is my responsibility to take care of the people who are there in the house.

If former is the case, then I have exercised my free will but in the case of the latter I couldn’t exercise my free will. And to prove this wrong I have another point, if in the case of the latter I thought of my responsibility and didn’t play loud music while people are there in the house and they might get disturbed then again I exercised my free will of not playing the loud music. Because, it was my reason, which explained me that playing loud music might disturb other people, also it’s their freedom to not to listen to music if they don’t wish to. It is very important thing to take care of is that our freedom should not hamper other person’s freedom also one more thing which is to be noted here is that, people should keep in mind the importance of situation that is the qualitative aspect of a situation. Like in the Utilitarian theory, Mill talks about the qualitative aspect of happiness not only the quantitative aspect. For example, if I want to play loud music and the other person sitting next to me wants to study, then I am the one who should be responsible enough to not to disturb that person by doing whatever I want.

A lot of people believe that freedom means doing whatever you want, whenever you want. This is a dangerous belief because your freedom stops as soon as you hurt other people. Being free never means taking other person’s freedom. Because of this there are regulations which prevent people from doing things which are harmful to other people. Like I stated in the above example, you are free to listen to music whenever you want but as soon as you annoy other people you must stop listening. Constructive criticism is another kind of freedom which, must be encouraged because this criticism may prevent people from doing wrong things. Hence the argument which is given here proves to be wrong that Responsibility takes away our freedom, because whenever we are free to think something we are also free to think that for what things we are responsible and for we are not and for this we use our reason. Thus whenever reason comes into light one has to think right and ultimately one will. But the idea of moral responsibility will not suit to an amoralist. Because he will not believe on any moral arguments.

Thus like all other theories Freedom of will and moral Responsibility also has the subjective side. Sartre has also talked a lot about freedom and free will, I would like to discuss few lines of sartre’s essay on freedom because it attracts me much I think that he is right. He has taken an example of a soldier who doesn’t wants to fight in the war, this is in the context of times of war. That soldier is compelled by the state to fight in the war without any choice, but this is not true he always had the choice of not fighting in the war, and running away from the state or commit suicide but he choose to fight because he knew this is the best option among others and to decide this he used his reason thus free will. This results in the theory that is exactly opposite to Determinism, and this theory is called Indeterminism.

Indeterminism: A theory that is in contrast to the theory of determinism. It says that human actions are not pre determined but they are results of free will and human reasoning. And these choices of actions and free will are not determined by predetermined causes. Thus an agent or a person is always responsible for the actions which he does. This is somewhat similar to the libertarian view which says that human behaviour is largely uncaused and they have their roots in social and environmental upbringing. There are circumstances or conditions under which a person is held responsible, they are as follows:

Continuity of character: If a person murders someone, he is still the same man physically before he committed that murder thus if any one gives this plea that he is a different person cannot be accepted because he used hi free will and committed that murder. In this case soundness of mind is very important before taking any legal decision because only a mentally sound person is capable of using his mind in the correct way before taking decision or making a choice of action. From it follows the next condition under which a person should be held responsible.

Agent’s mental soundness: The agent or the person should be intelligent enough to think what he is doing. Before acting he should be capable enough to take the responsibility of the actions which he is supposed to do. He should have the knowledge of the situation that is, should know the right and wrong act. For example, if a person does shoplifting in sound state with the knowledge of the legal actions that might take place if he gets caught, he is responsible for his actions. Even if he doesn’t have the idea of the legal actions and he knows that shoplifting is morally wrong action then also he is to be held responsible for his wrong actions. But if a 5 year old child picks up something from a shop without the knowledge of the shopkeeper then he cannot be held responsible for his action neither his action will be considered an action of theft or a morally wrong action. Because the child is not intelligent enough to know whether his actions are right or wrong. There is another dimension which decides the responsibility of the agent.

Reflex action, mechanical action: Actions which involve reflexes that is, involuntary actions are not held responsible because the agent is not free to exercise his free will. For example, winking and blinking, these two are two different actions, The former involves free will where as the latter does not involves freedom of will. There arises a very interesting contradiction, which Sartre has also talked about that “we are responsible for all our actions, but we are not responsible for any of them” this is basically because we didn’t create ourselves. We have the control over our free will and our actions but we cannot control the natural law. For this world is created by God. This is theological in the sense but a true fact. But the fact here remains that free will is considered a presupposition of responsibility which means when a person is accorded with free will he/she is expected to exercise his free will with utmost responsibility. There by not infringing upon somebody else’s free will. There are arguments both in favour and in against of free will but freedom itself is subjective in nature and this is the subjectivity of experience.

Responsibility can be of two types one is Retrospective and the other is Prospective responsibility. The former means that a person is responsible for other person’s feelings, praise or blame. Under he is morally or legally responsible for doing right or wrong to someone else. Whereas the latter says that one is also responsible for himself as well as others. One has to take care of his health and this is his moral and natural responsibility.


There are few things which came in mind after I completed this paper first is that, with freedom comes the responsibility, the moral responsibility. Which means that I am free to act in certain way so is the other person but we both are responsible to not to hurt each other’s sentiments or obstruct anyone’s convenience of doing anything. This moral responsibility which comes with the freedom of will also gives us power, power to act in any way, but as we know with power comes the great responsibility. This is the ideal condition; the actual situation is quite different with a few exceptions. For example, when a politician comes to power he has the power and the free will, with that he is responsible to work for the citizens of the country. But this does not happen the actual is quite far away from the ideal not everyone understands his or her moral responsibility which is the problem of the free will.

Second is that, What is a person responsible for? The answer might appear this way; parents are responsible for children, children are responsible for their task, teachers are responsible for their students, as whole a person is responsible for all those works, actions and decisions that he takes up or is entitled to, or he does in terms of acting or reasons in his mind and exercises in some forms of his action or words. Third thing which is to be noted is that, if responsibility is morality in terms of free will Responsibility is taken to be a virtue. Because despite being free if one is responsible and fulfils his/her responsibility he does a morally right action and whatever is morally right is virtuous. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Internet, J.P. Sartre’s essay on Free Will.

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