Freedom and Responsibility an Ethical Analysis Thesis

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Freedom and Responsibility: An Ethical Analysis

There are many who suggest that from an ethical point-of-view, freedom and responsibly are in essence one and the same thing. In other words, this refers to the view that freedom implies responsibility in a moral and ethical sense and that true freedom cannot be understood without a concomitant and relational connection to an understanding of the meaning of responsibility. This view also has theological and philosophical antecedents. From this point-of-view or stance the understanding of freedom is also dependent on responsibility in that freedom is never truly freedom when it is selfish or suppresses or deprives the rights and freedoms others. Therefore, this discussion and ethical analysis of freedom and responsibility will be undertaken for the point-of-view that these two terms are intimately linked from an ethical, as well as philosophical and theological point-of-view and that an understanding of the one impacts on the other.

Ethics and the concept of freedom and responsibility

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There are many definitions and views about what constitutes ethics and ethical actions. From a very basic and rather simplistic point-of-view, ethics is the study and understanding of certain forms of behavior as either right or wrong. "The field of ethics, also called moral philosophy, involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior." (Ethics) This view however does not deal adequately with the complexity of many ethical concepts and terms - such as freedom. One could also turn to more traditional views of ethical actions and insight - such as the writings of the philosophers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill in the 19th Century. This refers to the view of ethics as providing for the.".. The greatest balance of good over evil." (Ethics)

There is also the view that sees ethics as the study of what determines the greatest amount of good for most people. The ethics of freedom falls within the ambit of these various debates but has also been understood as being determined by ethical limits and constraints in terms of how it affects others.

Thesis on Freedom and Responsibility an Ethical Analysis Assignment

Freedom is in common parlance a state where there are no unnecessary obstruction to human aims, goals and desires. However, there is also the realization and acceptance of the view that freedom is not ethically neutral. (Tielman) Freedom that is not contained by ethical factors can easily become a form of tyranny - as history has shown time and again - when the freedom of one individual or society becomes the slavery of another.

Therefore, in the first instance, the relationship between responsibility and freedom is understood as the need to prevent freedom from becoming ethically unbalanced. (Solomon) in this sense responsibly and freedom falls into the ambit of the fundamental ethical debate about right and wrong. Ethically, freedom can exist only to the extent that it is co-existent with a sense of responsibly and does not negatively affect others.

In this context, the meaning of freedom in an ethical and philosophical sense should be examined. Freedom is usually seen as the opposite of determinism. This refers to the view that we do not live in a mechanistic or deterministic world and that as human beings we have free will. (Total Self-Determinism) We are not limited by constraints and are born essentially free. Therefore, from this perspective, " incompatible with freedom." (Bok 3)

However, from an ethical perspective, at the same time that this view of human freedom exists, so does the responsibility to use that freedom in a correct or moral sense. In other words, the acceptance of the reality of freedom begins with the ethical aspects of right and wrong and the understanding that freedom cannot morally or ethically be used to subjugate or harm others. This negative use of freedom is seen as a failure to understand the component of responsibility, and in fact reduces the value and meaning of freedom. This is a view that will be explored further below.

The relationship between freedom and responsibility can also be understood from a more theological and philosophical standpoint. In this view the understanding of freedom is intimately connected with concept of the 'Other." By this is meant that a moral and ethical understanding of freedom in the religious dimension is one that is in fact determined by that which stands beyond freedom or which transcends it. Therefore, freedom only attains its true value in relation to religion or God. This relationship also determines the meaning of responsibly.

For the philosopher Levinas, the ethics of freedom is much more than just an intellectual inquiry into the nature of actions and behavior. It is an "existential" response which must take into account the full range of human rights and justice as well as the larger relationship with religious reality. "Ethics is the spiritual optics... The work of justice -- the uprightness of the face-to-face -- is necessary in order that the breach that leads to God be produced." (Drazenovich) in this view, freedom becomes much more than a relationship only at the human level. Rather it is through human relationships that we understand the higher theological ethics. As Levinas states, "There can be no 'knowledge' of God separated from the relationship with men." (Drazenovich) From this perspective all of ethics and human actions relate to a higher purpose or to the 'Other'. Drazenovich points out that, "Levinas is interested in developing a phenomenology of the Other, and resting all other structures on the ethical response." (Drazenovich)

This view places freedom as well as responsibility in a theological and ethical light and suggests that we are only free when we display a sense of ethical responsibility that is based on an adherence to the tenets of God's will. In this context it follows that our responsibility is to a higher order of understanding. This is an extremely important aspect to understand if the link between freedom and responsibility is to be understood in terms of the history of ethics in the West. This view is clearly outlined as follows: " for Levinas it is precisely in the free ethical response to the other in the world that our selfhood emerges. The absolutely other (God) does not at all limit our freedom, it calls it to responsibility, founds it and justifies it. (Drazenovich)

However, in a more modern, humanist and secular context the analysis of freedom and responsibility has taken on a more social and less religious flavor in modern society. Modern ethical critics and thinkers view a central aspect in contemporary society as the loss of meaning that pervades the world and which is result of modern types of determinism that reduce our sense of freedom and responsibly. This refers to the modern view that we have little freedom or responsibly in the light of aspects such as economic determinism and genetics - which we can no nothing about as Sardar, remakes.

The loss of a product of modern thought. From Marx and Freud to neuroscience and evolutionary psychology, western thought has systematically undermined responsibility. We have no choice, we are constantly told, because of economic forces, our unconscious, or our genes." (Sardar)

In this modern context there is also the criticism that we have become too self-centered and selfish and that "...Our obsession with individuality and self-interest further erodes personal and collective responsibility." (Sardar) Therefore, as our freedom has been eroded and even denied by social forces and factors, so our responsibility to ourselves and other has declined. In terms of modern ethics this means that there is an ethical imbalance that must be adjusted. For example, we are free in most countries to exercise economic actions and activities but at the same time we also have the responsibility to ensure that these actions do not adversely affect others.

The modern view of the ethics of freedom and its relationship to responsibly can be summarized as follows:

Why do we act? Because we choose. We choose because we form intentions. We form intentions because we are free. And because we are free, we have responsibility. Freedom is both a gift and a challenge. It has value only when we respect it and enhance it individually and collectively.


The above extract suggests that freedom implies and even necessitates responsible action - otherwise it is not freedom but merely self-indulgence. As one critic writes; "The best answer I know to the meaning and meaninglessness of life... is "the ethics of responsibility." (Sardar)

There are many contemporary examples that can be quoted to show the ethical interdependence between freedom and responsibility. A good example is academic freedom and responsibility. On the one hand the researcher is allowed the freedom to purse research and this freedom is seen as important for the advancement of knowledge. From an ethical point-of-view research is positive and adds to the common good. However, researchers and institutions also recognize that with freedom comes responsibility, including the responsibility to ensure that research involving human subjects meets high scientific and ethical standards. The researcher's commitment to the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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