Human nature is a topic of debate stemming back to ancient philosophers and has been disputed by just about every school of thought since. For that reason, these thoughts, as I must maintain, are focused more on the state of human nature, with the idea that humans are essentially good and with the perception that humans have freewill, while holding there exist moral codes regardless of human opinion. Otherwise, it's a Lockean /libertarian /moral objectivist viewpoint. The intent of this essay is not to debate the merit of these philosophical foundations, but rather the clarification provides the framework from which these views are expressed.
Freedom versus Control
A dichotomy exists within humans as it pertains to freedom. From my understandings of human nature, coming from the viewpoint of the above mentioned philosophical underpinnings, humans want to be free to do as they please, even though they may feel a sense of social obligation. Humans also have the desire to control, whether it is themselves, their possessions, their surroundings or environment, their families, their communities or societies at large.
When it comes to control, it can be good for humans to control themselves, their possessions and to a limited extent their families, as long as the morally objective value of not initiating harm is respected. The dichotomy arises, as it pertains to freedom, when the desire to control extends beyond the personality to environment, other individuals, communities or societies. To put it simply, the conflict rears its head with the assertion, "I love my freedom. It's just yours I'm not too fond of." When force is used to exert control, as opposed to persuasion, it becomes a question of morality.
So how does one balance that dichotomy? Half the battle is just being cognizant of the values themselves. When an individual takes time and dedicates some brain cells to understanding the concept of freedom, one will inevitably question how the interplay with others affects his or her freedom, as well as how his or her actions affect others' freedom. Action is the exercise of control.
The nature of freedom is a negative concept. A negative concept is measured by the absence of an opposing positive concept. For example, cold is measured by the degree of heat that is absent, and dark is measured by the absence of light. Conversely, control and force are a positive concepts. The positive concept is actually what is quantifiable or measured against. Freedom is measured by the absence of coercion, or control forced by others. However, a negative concept does not imply it is a negative value, nor does a positive concept imply a positive value.
By this definition, freedom can’t be given; it can only be taken away. Liberating a man from captivity is not making him free; it is removing a level of control that impeded the freedom he had before that state of control. Freedom is restored by removing control. This, of course, does not consider whether or not the man ought to be in captivity or controlled. But it does propose freedom is the natural state existing in the absence of an opposing force. This lends to the notion that humans are born free, until they are forced or persuaded not to be.
As creatures possessing freewill, humans have to make choices. With regard to freedom and control, a human must choose which value will dominate. The extent one is valued will have a converse effect on the opposing value. If freedom is valued more, then control must be valued less and vice versa.
Humans must make a choice, whether or not they are cognizant of it. This personal choice invariably has implications on the personal choices of others. This is to say, if one chooses control over others, one must accept other's control, and if one chooses freedom from others, one must accept other's freedom. Moreover, if one values freedom, he or she must give up a level of control over others, and if one values control, he or she must give up a level of freedom from others. Due to the negative nature of freedom, it cannot be forced upon others, though it can be defended from force of control from others.
Which is the better value: freedom or control? Are these values constant, or is there some fluidity depending on circumstance? If one chooses freedom as the dominant value, are there not times when control must be exerted and freedom must recede? This is where morality comes into play.
The Moral Distinction
There are two camps of philosophical thought regarding morality; one is subjective and the other is objective. Subjective morality holds that morality exists as a condition of conscious thought, and that morality would not exist with the absence of conscious beings. Thus, all morality is of human opinion, for which ideas of morality cannot be judged as more right or more wrong since there is no objective criteria to make assessments against.
Objective morality holds that there is a natural moral code or law, much like gravity, that exists independent of conscience beings, and that morality is not a human fabrication; morality merely awaits detection from conscious beings. Thus, human attempts to approximate the reality of morality are subjective, and the rightness or wrongness of that approximation can be valued since objective criteria exist to make assessments against.
Either camp makes strong arguments, but the point of this essay is not to debate the philosophical nature of morality. By addressing the viewpoints of these different approaches, I am simply including a frame of reference to the view of morality expressed herein, which is in favor of objective morality. By that standpoint, the objective moral view articulated in this essay is that initiation of harmful force upon others, whether it is murder, rape, theft or fraud is inherently bad, and that freedom from the initiation of harmful force from others is inherently good. By stating “harmful” as a condition of “force”, I am conceding that there may by instances where initiating force is morally appropriate, so long as that force is not harmful.
In terms of the freedom versus control dichotomy of human nature, moral objectivity dictates that freedom is ultimately the better value. Regardless of religious views, whether theistic or atheistic, reason and rational self-interest brings one to the same self-evident conclusion that freedom is the ultimate morality to contend with.