Is it good for persons to have “effective” free will?

  • About this question

    Is it good for moral agents to have dominion, a sphere of influence where they are responsible for themselves and others, able to make free choices and exert some control over the world around them? Is it good for us to be able to make a difference with our free decision, affecting things for good or for ill? That is to say, while free will may itself be good, is it also good (or better) to have that free will be effective, able to make a difference? After all, “it seems perfectly reasonable to claim that one can choose freely without being able to actualize that choice”.1

    Debates this affects:

    1. Andrea Weisberger, “The Argument From Evil” in ed. Martin, The Cambridge Companion to Atheism (Cambridge, 2007), 178.
“Yes, after all…
  • It is instrumentally good

    It seems instrumentally good, being required for many good things.

    For example, in the context of eternity, these are some especially valuable goods:

    1. As argued by one philosopher:

      John Hick: “[Virtues] which have been formed within the agent as a hard won deposit of her own decisions in situations of challenge and temptation, are intrinsically more valuable than virtues created within her ready made and without any effort on her own part.” ["An Irenaean Theodicy," reprinted in Mesle, John Hick's Theodicy, xxii.]
      John Hick: “[One] who has attained to goodness by meeting and eventually mastering temptations, and thus by rightly making responsible choices in concrete situations, is good in a richer and more valuable sense than would be one created ab initio in a state either of innocence or virtue … [It] is an ethically reasonable judgment, even though in the nature of the case not one that is capable of demonstrative proof, that human goodness slowly built up through histories of moral effort has a value in the eyes of the Creator which justifies even the long travail of the soul-making process.” [Evil and the God of Love (Harper and Row, 1977), 255-56.]

    2. For example, God's becoming incarnate and sacrificially atoning for our freely chosen sins is good.
  • Our being in the “image of God” is good

    Our being in the “image of God” is good. This is relevant because being in the image of God refers at least to our ability to have dominion on Earth and to reflect God as his viceorys and representatives, where we exert some power and have responsibility.1

    1. Genesis 9:6 -- “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.
      Genesis 1:25-27 -- “God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
  • Free will by itself good

    The ability to freely choose between right/wrong courses of actions is already good by itself.

    Consider a few arguments for this:

    This is relevant because if free will in general is good, then this specific kind of free will should also be good.

    1. This is important to us as persons made in the “image of God.” In other words, it is good to have some stewardship/dominion/responsibility/jurisdiction of our own. Conversely, it would be demeaning to us if for our entire existence we had only ever been relegated to a toy world where our good or bad decisions never significantly mattered, even if we were systematically deceived into thinking they did matter; this would be an eternal tragedy, and we would be a cosmic joke.