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I've heard a lot of people get confused about the differences between free agency, free will, and moral agency. What really is the difference?

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3 Answers 3

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Moral agency means: free willed persons having the ability to choose between good and evil, and they willingly choose good and defend good.

Free will means: the ability to choose between good and evil. A person having free will may choose evil.

Thus, all moral agents have free will, but not all free willed have moral agency.

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  • Not sure I understand. So, Agents are those who make the 'correct' choices? It just sounds like a definition, or a "No True Scotsman" statement. Is there more to it?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 14:34
  • @ScottRowe Perhaps there is a confusion not owing to "agents", but rather to the qualifier of "agents", namely, the term "moral". An agent can make choices; by contrast, let's qualify an agent as moral insofar as she wilfully chooses to make (morally) 'correct' choices. In such case the contrasting sentence makes sense if the term "moral" is taken to mean "characteristically or behaviourally good" (approximately), but in such case the contrasting sentence may inspire a different attitude if the term "moral" is instead taken to mean "with respect to the branch of philosophy that is ethics".
    – Mr Pie
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 16:33
  • @MrPie so, you are saying we need to rewrite the OP title question as: "What is the difference between free will and moral free will?" You say the answer is: morals. I could find more interesting things to puzzle over.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 16:39
  • @ScottRowe I am not intending to say that we need to rewrite the OP title question. I am intending to say that there may be a semantic ambiguity over the meaning of "moral" in the expression "moral agents". I am saying that there exists a standard interpretation of the term "moral" which non-fallaciously motivates salah's description of moral agents as free-willed persons who willingly choose good choices. That standard interpretation is "characteristically or behaviourally good". Under that interpretation, salah's description of moral agents works and does not sound like a No True Scotsman.
    – Mr Pie
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 16:55
  • @MrPie Ok. But then the word Agent falls out of the equation, so to speak, and the three way confusion of terms in the OP is just reduced to morals. I'm only saying this all because to me, the concept of Agency is more important than anything else in the universe, and it just includes all the concepts of freedom, choice, morality, etc implicitly. It's not really worth debating the sub-points, and Agency itself is a foregone conclusion. What else are we all doing making all these posts? Is it some kind of instinctive behavior, like a bird building a nest?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 17:09
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The following are from my faith tradition. In a more general sense, the difference between "free will" and "moral agency" might be illuminated by the difference between a natural right and a natural responsibility.

"Elder Bednar: Mormon Moral Agency - You Are Not Free To Do What You Want" is a video by David A. Bednar. He talks to church members about what moral agency is. It may be helpful to recognize that in our church we make covenants with God and with the church and with others. A covenant is a sacred promise.

"Moral Agency" By Elder D. Todd Christofferson uses the term "free will" and "moral agency".

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  • Agree. "Freedom is not free" say the Veterans who fought for it. They gave up limbs and life for others. So, no one just can do whatever they feel like.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 14:30
  • @ScottRowe And still ironically the world would be a lot more free if the universal soldier would not exist.
    – haxor789
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 14:41
  • @haxor789 "What if they had a war and nobody came?" But, I'm pretty glad that WW2 ended the way it did. Aren't you?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 14:46
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    Well as a German in Germany I'm pretty glad that Germany did not win WWII. Though it would have been even better if Germans refused conscription, didn't volunteer or defected. One could argue if a military intervention in 1933 might have prevented things or if the military aided the rise of the Nazis. But either way burning pacifist books and glorifying soldiers up to a death cult and military hierarchies as the foundation of society is a pretty dystopian nightmare. So no the first line of freedom are civil rights movements, when it comes to soldiers it's no longer about freedom...
    – haxor789
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 18:06
  • @haxor789 "Because when Love is gone, there's always Justice. And when Justice is gone, there's always Force. And when Force is gone, there's always mom - Hi Mom!" - Laurie Anderson, O Superman
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 19:53
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Free will is the same thing as agency: the ability to decide what you do.

Moral agency is the ability to choose whether you act according to or against the moral standards of your social environment.

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  • Maybe we could remove the noise words free will and agent and just say moral or against moral?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 16:42
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    Agency is the key word here. Morality is just one property of a decision, its relation to the moral standards of the society. Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 19:25
  • I guess I would say that morality is my relationship to the future. So all people, the environment and all consequences are included in it. I simply do the best I can toward that future with the knowledge and abilities I have right now. I suppose that makes Agency and Morality the same thing, along with everything else I can perceive and affect.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 20:20

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