In terms of consequences and punishments, to what degree to you think that environmental factors and influences should be considered in holding one accountable for one's choices and actions?
While I clearly recognize and appreciate what choice and free-will are, I don't understand the influence of the larger environment on this process.
This is a big question with no easy answers. I'd advise you to put this on the discussion board in the hopes that you'll get many different perspectives.
On one extreme, we have a theorist like B. F. Skinner who dismissed the idea of free will and sought to explain all behavior in terms of conditioning (mostly operant). Skinner thought that humans did entertain thoughts and desires, but he believed that observable behavior was the only useful scientific data. And he believed that behavior is based on causes and effects from the environment.
Other theorists would argue that while the environment does have tremendous influence over an individual, that individual is ultimately responsible for his/her actions. In other words, we as individuals have free will. Or, at least we have some free will. (Nietzsche classified it as having strong will or weak will.) Such thinkers claim that each of us must be aware of the ways in which we are conditioned by culture, nature, and ourselves.
Generally speaking, society, nature, the environment, and our own biology (our own nature) have incredible influence about what we do. It is easy to see how one can analyze the ways all these factors (including our own bodies and senses) condition us to behave in certain ways. However, since I can see (understand) how these factors influence what I do, I therefore can choose to passively obey those influences or I can question them and, perhaps, rebel against them.
I would argue that environmental factors must be considered in any situation pertaining to a person's choices and actions. Different situations will require different degrees of importance placed on the environment or will power. For example, a child committing a crime is not as responsible as a mentally sound adult who commits the same crime.
Here's an example that incorporates the environment, consequences, and punishments. And in this example, "environment" includes social as well as natural influences. Bob's company moved overseas because the labor is cheaper. After months of failed attempts to secure a new job, Bob is broke and his kids are hungry. Although societal pressures have conditioned Bob to believe/know that stealing is wrong, he concludes that the only solution is to steal some groceries to feed himself and his family. So, Bob overcomes one societal condition in order to satisfy a natural condition. The only question is whether or not Bob's choice was the correct choice.
(This could clearly devolve into a political argument. But this shows how the environment can have complex social and natural impacts. Bob is ultimately responsible for his actions, but such environmental factors must be considered at least for Bob's difficult situation and at most, to solve what might be a larger economic problem with other complex social factors.)