Came across a wonderful article about buddhist thought on karma and free will. It is interesting to note that Buddhism, like some other schools of "eastern thought" does not make sharp distinctions between conscious beings and unconscious beings, it recognizes the greyness of existence. In our context, this means that the free will that buddhism posits is not only present for humans or the "higher order animals/beings" but is present even in a stone, albeit to a much lesser extent.
This is increasingly being acknowledged by areas of science like quantum chaos (on the fundamental level of the role of chance and emergent complexity in creating macroscopic physical phenomena), and through our understanding of neuroscience and the dissolution of the mind-body seperation. I think it is pertinent to reinforce the concept of "free will" as a broader concept than it is usually viewed as.
Thus buddhist free will has more of a "natural" flavor than say "abrahamic free-will" which is denied even to other mammals. Physics is developing a model called Quantum Chaos that seems to explain how free will can from purely physical events, rather than from some esoteric "soul" concept or any necessity for the existence of a "God".
This also pertains to the question of how free will can manifest within dependent origination and a creationless universe, which at first glance to a limited mind might seem impossible.
This kind of free will does not entertain the possibility of a "self" seperate from the "environment", and thus is not under "my" control (and in the strictest sense is not really "free" will). If this is so, then what is the importance of ethics itself? It all boils down to a "maybe" then. So "here is a set of ethical guidelines, maybe they are useful"; is that all buddhism would say? I see nothing wrong in that, in fact a very mature abstinence from dogmatism. More a pragmatic "take it or leave it" approach than an attempt to argue right and wrong in black and white.