BITE-SIZE PHILOSOPHY (48) – What has freedom got to do with responsibility?

Rev José Mario O Mandía

We have defined freedom as the ability to make conscious and intelligent choices. That is how we shape our lives. That is how we grow.

Let us talk about the consequence of this conscious and intelligent choice.

When I have chosen from among a variety of choices after weighing each choice carefully, I am aware that I am the one choosing, and the choice is mine, the action is mine. The act of choosing an action makes me the “owner” of that action, not someone else. This is why I often say that freedom brings ownership: it makes us owners of our actions.

Why is that important?

Let us say I own a car. Because I own it, I must take care of it. I am responsible for it. Ownership brings responsibility.

So if an action is mine, I am responsible for that action and for the consequences it brings.

Let us go back to the analogy of the car. If it turns out that the car was not as good as I expected, I basically blame myself for a bad choice. Oh yes, I might (as some people do) also pass on the blame to the person who convinced me to buy it.

In fact, there are some people who claim that our choices are necessary consequences of either (1) “nature” — the way we are made (our genes) or (2) “nurture” — the way we are brought up. There are psychologists who fight over which one of them influences us. In fact, they both influence us, but they fail to take into account a third factor: free choice.

If our actions were only a result of nature or of nurture, then we will never take personal responsibility for our actions. We would always pass on the blame to others.

The correct concept of freedom is much needed for effective education and formation. A person who has always been dictated upon, whose will has been substituted by the will of a superior or teacher, who has always been told to “do as I say,” is a person who has never been taught what freedom truly is. But because he has never learned what it means to make conscious and intelligent choices, neither will he learn to be responsible for his own actions.

“But he will make mistakes!” some will object.

Of course, he will. In fact, most of us learn only after we commit mistakes. Mistakes teach us lessons, unforgettable lessons. These lessons help us to make more intelligent choices in the future.

Let us take this discussion to a higher level.

God wants us in heaven. So he gave us the instruction manual (the Commandments). But the Commandments require free choice. God wants us free. Why?

When we have to make a choice between a good act and an evil act, the choice brings with it either merit (if we choose a good act) or guilt (if we choose an evil act). Merit brings a reward, and guilt punishment.

God wants to reward us. But to do that, we have to merit the reward. Meriting the reward implies that we acknowledge the act as ours (we take responsibility for it). But the act can only be ours if it is done freely. Reward implies merit, merit implies ownership, ownership implies freedom. Where there is no freedom, there is no ownership; where there is no ownership, there is no merit; where there is no merit, there is no reward.

Let us go back to the analogy of the car and use two situations to explain the above.

(1) Let us say I join a car-racing contest. Let us say my car wins. Good! Because the car is mine, I get the reward. Ownership > good act > merit > reward.

(2) Let us say that while driving one day, I bump another car. Bad! Because the car that caused the accident is mine, I have to answer for the damage. I am guilty, I get punished. Ownership > bad act > guilt > punishment.   

Featured Image: Photo by Dietmar Becker on Unsplash

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