Moral Freedom: The Search for Virtue in a World of Choice.

Wolfe, Alan. Moral Freedom: The Search for Virtue in a World of Choice. Norton, 2001.

Alan Wolfe’s study of the moral landscape in contemporary America is the result of (1) a national public opinion poll designed in cooperation with the “New York Times Magazine” and conducted in March 2000, and (2) in-depth interviews with people chosen from eight distinct communities embodying across the nation embodying different ethos. Taken together, the opinion poll and the interviews sought to find what people thought about morality in general, how it impacted their everyday choices and how people arrive at their moral convictions or lack thereof.
The book reports the result of Wolfe’s research and is organized thematically along the following topics: virtue and vice, loyalty, self-control and discipline, honesty, and forgiveness. The range of responses to each of these themes from people Wolf interviewed was spread over a broad spectrum. There were disagreements over virtues. Despite differences over how and why virtues ought to be applied, Wolfe notes that when it came to fundamental questions about, the formation of character, qualities of good and evil, and the sources of moral authority, the respondents had roughly the same views. Wolfe asserts that there is a common American moral philosophy broad and inclusive enough to incorporate people who differ significantly on moral issues. Belief in both nature and nurture as it relates to formation of peoples’ moral views and life is by far the predominant strand in contemporary American philosophy.
The notion of moral freedom, Wolfe asserts, is the predominant attitude that characterized the respondents’ outlook on issues of morality and virtue. The idea of moral freedom is based on the high value placed on the individual’s freedom to choose their moral ideas and actions – as high as 85 percent of the people surveyed by a New York Times poll believe that they could be anything they wanted to be. There is however a preponderance of the belief that human beings are inherently good. In Wolfe’s view political and economic freedom is necessary accompanied by moral freedom and is bound to have some of the consequences which will be regretted.