Liberty & Virtue

Does a free society encourage immoral behavior? Prof. James Otteson of Yeshiva University argues that moral or virtuous behavior can only grow in a climate of individual liberty. The decisions individuals make can only be called virtuous if they are made freely, without compulsion by someone else. Individuals will make mistakes and may sometimes act viciously, but they can only develop good judgment about moral matters by practicing and making some mistakes, which will only happen in a free society.


  1. Matt Wavle

    If I’m not free to be bad, then I can not prove that I would have chosen to do what is right, if I weren’t forced to chose it.  There’s no virtue in being forced to do what is right.

    This is a great video for parents of teenagers.  Virtuous behavior, or Good Judgement requires practice and feedback.
    Thanks James Otteson, you’re making me a better parent (and with 6, I need all the helpful advice I can get).
  2. Greg Gauthier

    "Nudged" or not, you are missing the fact that you’re defining VIRTUE, in terms of a personal preference. Since when are the personal preferences of those who are thin, more virtuous than the personal preferences of those who are fat? And even if they ARE more "virtuous" (which is an impossibility, but let’s just suppose it for argument), how do you get from that, to the moral goodness of threatening people with theft, assault, kidnapping, or murder, if they refuse to participate in the "encouragement" of virtuous behaviors?

  3. mikeknightofdawn

    The trick is that when governments institute barriers to choice, that requires manipulation and coercion. So who are the puppet masters who get to decide what is legal and illegal. Many liberals would argue that it is the people who decide, through their representatives. But should the people have the power to give representatives more power than they possess themselves?

    What an individual cannot do himself, but gets government to do legally through the power of legislation, that is the source of all sorts of legalized plunder; be it plunder of property, freedom, or life, it is plunder all the same.

  4. Ade

    Is there really any free society? is there a society that is free from manipulation and coercion either directly or indirectly? Individuals should be allowed to make decisions freely by themselves and in this way can develop virtuous attitudes.

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