Every person has free will, allowing one to act as they please. As a result, the person that acted is held responsible. People make choices every day, which lead to different outcomes, all driven by intention. A person’s intention makes them morally responsible. Alex is a character from “A Clockwork Orange,” in which he commits a crime and is later punished. Alex questions whether he deserved punishment as severe as his since he lacked free will due to the Ludovico Technique (Burgess). Taking free will and choice, which is a part of human nature, away from a person is wrong because it takes away any moral responsibility.
Without choice, a person has no intention, which cannot make him responsible for their actions. In “A Clockwork Orange,” F. Alexander states, “But the essential intention is the real sin. A man who cannot choose ceases to be a man.”(Burgess 233). For example, if a person is held at gunpoint and told to rob someone, they are most likely going to rob that person not because they want to, but because they are scared for their life. No choice is given to them. They are simply forced to act. The intention of wanting to commit an act is the crime and not the person. Essentially, this means that choice is a key aspect of moral responsibility. If a person does not choose to commit a crime, why should they be held responsible?
Moral responsibility is also conditional upon a number of factors, which include decision-making and, therefore, choices a person makes in life, and cannot be considered apart from these notions. According to Alaoui, free will, which is essential in terms of making choices, is “the ability to make decisions independent of any factors beyond our control” (21). From this definition, it can be concluded that while choosing punishment for the main character, it was crucial to consider the factors influencing his choices. These factors relate to the external environment and are not controlled by the person committing a crime. Hence, the definition of a crime and appropriate punishment should include the possibility of interference from other people and their manipulative actions.
Moral responsibility comes only when it is proved that the person did not experience any influence on his choices from the people around him. The inclusion of choice as one of the principal factors, which have an impact on the outcome of one’s actions, should be complemented by the inclusion of external circumstances. The consideration of the decision he makes as “a product of factors beyond our control” allows us to see the real situation (Alaoui 21). Moral responsibility would take place only if the absence of such factors is apparent. However, this task is challenging, as it is difficult to distinguish the influence of society from the person’s motives. Therefore, even the lack of choice would not indicate the responsibility of a criminal as all of the circumstances cannot be revealed.
The fact of moral responsibility is conditional upon the absence of influence from other people, either direct or indirect, on the person who committed a crime. It defines the degree of his free will in the matter. According to Mele, one would be directly morally responsible only in the case if it is proven that the outcome was the result of his directly free action. In the situation of Alex, he was both directly and indirectly influenced by the people around him as well as society. The direct influence was from the company he belonged to, as it was essential to act the way everyone does to be one of them. As for indirect influence, it was from the people who chose the punishment for him being aware of its possible consequences.
Such a direct or an indirect impact on a person can be characterized as manipulation, and this situation provides for the lack of free will and, consequently, moral responsibility for one’s actions. Murray and Lombrozo state that manipulation “lowers attributions of responsibility to manipulated agents” (447). Therefore, moral responsibility should be shared between the criminal and the people who had an impact on such an outcome of his behavior and choices, which were defined by it. Indeed, being in other circumstances, the main character would act in a different way and perhaps would not commit any crimes at all. Considering the evidence provided above, Alex’s moral responsibility can be characterized as indirect and influenced by the people who manipulated him. In this case, the manifestation of absolutely free will does not seem to be possible.
The correlation of free will and moral responsibility is reflected in the aspects of attentiveness and, therefore, should not be considered separately. Alex, who committed a crime, corresponds to the three aspects, which are being a human being, acting intentionally, and foreseeing the effects of his actions (Murray and Lombrozo). His company, in turn, has an impact on the outcome and intentionally intervenes in Alex’s actions by instilling the necessity to act the way they all do. Therefore, this situation can be considered as a case of indirect manipulation leading to unfortunate consequences for the main character due to the lack of free will. Indeed, the process of losing his intentions started with the fact of belonging to such a company and progressed as the narrative went.
The actions of a person should be evaluated through the consideration of his environment and its impact on him, and Alex is no exception to the rule. His intentions were interfered with by the company he belonged to as well as his relationships with society, and therefore cannot be viewed as his sole moral responsibility. At the beginning of the story, the free will of the main character was already violated by the circumstances given above. In this case, the responsibility for his actions should be shared between him and other people involved in the matter. Thus, violation of one’s free will and choices results in the absence of sole moral responsibility for the committed crime.
Alaoui, Ali. “The Problem of Free Will and Moral Responsibility.” Questions: Philosophy for Young People, vol. 19, 2019, pp. 21-22.
Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange: Restored Edition. Penguin UK, 2013.
Mele, Alfred R. “Direct Versus Indirect: Control, Moral Responsibility, and Free Action.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 2020, pp. 1-15.
Murray, Dylan, and Tania Lombrozo. “Effects of Manipulation on Attributions of Causation, Free Will, and Moral Responsibility.” Cognitive Science, vol. 41, no. 2, 2017, pp. 447-481.