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The ability to choose freely between several options for action is known as Free Will. The ideas of moral responsibility, praise, guilt, sin, and other judgments that only apply to actions that are freely chosen are strongly related to the concept of free will. The idea of personal freedom is strongly related to the theological idea that a person has “free will, with which to choose good or evil, and that this is the defining attribute of his God-given nature.”[1] Whether a person is free or determined is an issue that pertains more to moral than to political philosophy, but any thought that is promoted has repercussions for the adoption of political principles.

Since the eighteenth century, rationalist philosophers have contended that it is feasible to offer causal explanations for human behaviour and for natural phenomena that result in the establishment of determinism as the dominant belief. A new wave of utopias based on the idea that ideal social structures produced perfect people are created by its associated axiom, which states that social environment shapes human character.

Karl Marx’s materialist analysis is based on this premise. Many philosophers such as Berlin & Strawson always contended that an important aspect in social life is the assumption that we are all responsible for our actions, an assumption that is only possible in the context of a theory of free will.[2] This is central to the liberal theory, which accepts that individuals are capable of free and rational choice.[3]

As a result, Western political thought and culture are built on the tenets of free will and freedom. It should be emphasised that the majority of philosophers do not consider people to be completely decided or undetermined. Many people hold to the so-called “compatibilist” position, which describes people as partially free and partially dictated by the reality that things like training influence people’s decisions while yet leaving room for individual choice. In determining how to explain political behaviour and the decision of political values, the issue of free will as the foundation of human activity in political theory is crucial.

The boundaries of an ideology will be determined by the theoretical presumptions on freedom. Recently, communitarians have argued that adults just lack the capacity to make the kind of autonomous life choices that liberals feel a state should respect. They make the point that even people who are extremely clever and mature utilise their freedom to make poor decisions and value autonomy less than other qualities like stability. preservation of cultural traditions, the maintenance of social ties, and citizen safety.

Left-leaning and right-leaning collectivist thinkers both hold this perspective, which defines freedom as submission to a higher power. The first proponent of this viewpoint was Rousseau, who believed that true freedom consisted in adhering to the general will as expressed in a democratic assembly of equals and free from particularistic and selfish aspects. A rebel is “forced to be free” when they are made to follow the law.[4] A significant metric of social and economic equality is a necessary prerequisite. The other proponent is Hegel, who believes that freedom is conformity to one’s own rules and that political power is the “externalisation” of an individual’s will. The state is “completely rational” and stands for all-encompassing compassion.[5] Hegel does not see law as a hindrance to freedom; it is a characteristic of freedom.

A liberal speaks of submission to self-prescribed laws since freedom is not antithetical to law but he is skeptical of abstract mystical notions like general will or the state as a divine institution. A liberal defends the process whereby the majority rule is consensually arrived at and the need for the individual to accept it, though liberals since J.S. Mill also places considerable stress on the rights of the minority. Those who articulate the idea of freedom as obedience proceed on the assumption that there is a certainty about what is right and who is to be obeyed. Normally, such a view is accompanied by the idea that the whole is greater and wiser than the constituent parts.

Author’s Name: Kunal Gupta (Symbiosis Law School, Noida)


[1] Goodwin, 1992: p. 275

[2] Isaiah Berlin , 1969, Two Concepts of Liberty

[3] P.F. Strawson, Freedon and Resentment , 1968

[4] The Basic Political Writings, Jean-Jacques Rousseau

[5] Elements on the Philosophy of Right, Hegel (Pub. – 1820)

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