The role of human freedom in the development of the virtues
The term “character” can be defined in different ways but generally it is understood to refer to the distinctive and individual way of being developed by a person based on the initial temperament they have received at conception, as modified by the moral habits that the same person has acquired through his free choices and activity1. These moral habits are qualities of the person that make him act usually in a particular manner. The good qualities are also known as virtues, while the negative or “bad” qualities that a person may have developed are normally known as the vices. When we speak of “forming” a person’s “character” we are referring to a process in which the person is encouraged to develop the virtues, or good qualities proper to a human being. We do not speak of forming character in a dog or a cat or a monkey. Why is this? It is because they are not capable of developing virtues due to the fact that they do not have a spiritual soul with the capacity to know what they are doing and to choose to act in one way or another. In other words, the animal is not free to choose the type of activity he will carry out. Whereas the human being is free and can decide how he will act in each and every circumstance! This is an interesting consideration because when speaking of “forming character” or character-development, the emphasis can often be on the task of parents and teachers who try to teach or educate children in virtue through the small day to day acts that the child carries out2. This is certainly an important step in the process of character-building,however the development of the virtues is not merely an “outside job” of parents and teachers. Ultimately, to develop real virtues each human being needs to take on the task personally and want himself to acquire those good qualities through the exercise of his freedom. We are saying, then, that human freedom comes into play in the process of developing the virtues and thus of forming character. The person concerned has to want freely to develop those virtues; he has to know what virtues are, be attracted by their goodness, and so freely want to develop them in himself. In this way he participates freely in the development of his own personal character. In this article we will delve a little more deeply into the role of human freedom in the development of the virtues and character-formation. To achieve this we must start by looking at the human being as a whole and in his individual features, in order to understand who and what the person is and how he acts.