The Purpose of Freedom
Recently, I gave my students a test in which a multiple-choice question asked for the purpose of free will. The two choices most picked by students were: 1. To do good and evil; and 2. To do good. During our review of the test, we arrived at this question and an argument broke out amongst my high-schoolers as to who held the correct answer. Before we continue, why don’t you answer the question anonymously:
The argument for the first answer spoke to an ambiguity that rests within the idea of freedom: Humans were given free will so that they could choose between good and evil and because of this, freedom itself is a generic enough concept that it is not directed toward one goal or another. Indeed, this is quite a libertarian conceptualization of free will.
The argument for the second answer appealed to free will as an intended creation rather than a natural consequence: Humans were given free will by God so that they would have the ability to genuinely love Him, since it isn’t real love if a person has no choice in the matter. While Adam and Eve were able to choose good or evil, the purpose of their freedom was specifically to love God and to avoid sin.
Unfortunately, the students who made the first argument must have missed my class when we discussed the details of man’s first sin; letting trust in his Creator die in his heart, abusing his freedom, and disobeying God’s command (CCC #397). If freedom is an amoral thing that is to be used for good or evil, then there would be no way to abuse it. Only when freedom’s sole purpose is to do good can it be abused – abused by doing evil. For example, the purpose of a car is to get from point A to point B, not to hit pedestrians – hitting pedestrians would be an abuse of the purpose of the car. The idea that the purpose of a car is transportation and hitting pedestrians is ridiculous.
Since the purpose of freedom is to do good, what does that say about the concepts of Libertarianism, the legislation of morality, or moral relativism? We are charged by God not to abuse our freedoms, but rather to recall their purpose when evaluating our own ethical and moral decisions.