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The Human Will and Character

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Part of the IESE Business Collection book series (IESEBC)


Human will refers to the human capacity to actively decide what to do instead of reacting automatically to stimuli. Although we sometimes act impulsively and without reflection, we have the ability to select different courses of action after rational deliberation, to choose one action from among two or more alternatives.

Freedom is often used in the social and political context, generally meaning the absence of external constraints. Such “freedom” refers to “freedom of action,” which is an “external freedom.” This is different from “freedom of the will” or “free will,” which is “internal freedom.” The latter expresses the idea that human will is not completely determined by stimuli, and therefore we are owners of our acts of choice — the desires accepted by our will — and thus responsible for them.

The existence of free will, however, has been questioned by some authors who consider it an illusion, not a reality. This position, called “determinism,” is analyzed and critically evaluated in this chapter. We argue that human persons have freedom of will, although it is not absolute but conditioned by both internal and external factors.

In social and economic thought, certain authors reduce freedom to “freedom of choice” with regard to subjective preferences. We argue that human will entails “self-determination” after rational deliberation on both ends and means. Thus, we have freedom to make conscious and responsible choices, not simply “freedom of choice.”

Decision-making — so crucial to management — is a matter in which reason and will coincide, but feeling and emotion also have their roles, as does the moral character of the decision-maker.

Character is shaped by traits or stable moral dispositions traditionally termed “virtues” (if they are good) and “vices” (if they are bad). Good, stable dispositions of character reinforce the tendency to choose what one ought to do. Moral character is the basis of those moral competencies or capabilities that are so valuable in the professional and organizational context.


  • Moral Responsibility
  • Moral Character
  • Practical Wisdom
  • Neoclassical Economic
  • Personal Freedom

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  • DOI: 10.1057/9781137462619_9
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© 2014 Domènec Melé and César González Cantón

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Melé, D., Cantón, C.G. (2014). The Human Will and Character. In: Human Foundations of Management. IESE Business Collection. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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