We choose to do what we do. Or do we? The issue of free will is a bread and butter one for philosophers. We’ve been arguing for thousands of years about this sort of thing. Some argue that we are free to choose as we wish. Others say we are not. To some, our actions are determined by an all-powerful supreme being. Calvinists, for example, believe that all of our actions are pre-determined by the divine. Today, there are those that suggest that the brain is merely a matter of electrical impulses, that our actions are determined by biology. And still, most believe that we choose to do what we do. The real payoff here lies in the notion of moral responsibility. We don’t blame people for doing things where they have no choice. If your friend gets pushed by a bully and bangs into you, do you blame your friend for the accident? Your friend will rightly say, “It is not my fault. I did not mean to do that.” We don’t blame people or even praise them, for doing things that they do not do voluntarily. There is one part of voluntary action that has always intrigued me—namely, non-voluntary action. I’ve always been interested in the situation where one is coerced, or forced to choose to do something. In this section of the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle sets out the first understanding of coercion and moral responsibility. Explain what Aristotle means in this text. Why is it important to distinguish between actions that are voluntary and involuntary? Put this in a concrete context. Have you ever been concerned with an action that was less than fully voluntary? Have you ever seen a case where one was wrongly accused of something that was less than voluntary? Be creative here. In particular, you might want to look into the legal arena. Have you ever heard of a case where someone was forced to commit a crime against his or her will?
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