Thoughts on Free Will, part 7
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Thoughts on Free Will, part 7

Three weeks ago, I argued that, even if we have difficulty locating the source of free will, the existence of consciousness suggests that free will exists. The ambiguity about whether or not we have free will has moral and practical implications.

If we did not have free will, we would not be morally accountable for our actions. There might be a place for punishment as a practical matter, because a fear of punishment would alter people’s behavior, but there would be no moral basis for retribution. On the other hand, if we did have free will, then punishment for bad behavior would seem appropriate for both practical and moral reasons.

Most of those who believe in human free acknowledge that there are limits on our choices. They recognize that early childhood experiences over which we don’t have control influence our behavior, and they recognize that different people have different options. Mocking the oft-made claim that everyone has the same opportunities, novelist Anatole France once quipped, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

Even if humans have a degree of free will, our culpability for bad behavior is limited if our choices are largely beyond our control. This has relevance to animal issues. We are inclined to condemn those who contribute to animal abuse directly or indirectly. Such condemnation, which has significant social implications for ourselves and for animal abusers, presumes that animal exploiters are largely free to do otherwise. Is this presumption reasonable? I will explore this in future essays.

Go on to: Thoughts on Free Will, part 8
Return to: Reflection on the Lectionary, Table of Contents

Return to Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion