Friday, October 10, 2008
Doing and allowing
Arendt defended, as we have seen, that a person can be guilty only of something he or she has actually done. So, a person can be held individually responsible for his or her own action. However, as Arendt also defended, we can have a collective responsibility for what we haven’t done, but what has been done by a member of our group. This difference between guilt (individual responsibility) and collective responsibility is useful, but in some ways and in practice it is often difficult to apply. On the one hand, how can we be held (collectively) responsible for something if we could have no influence at all on what other persons of our group did? It is a hot question as examples in politics show (the holocaust, Srebrenica). On the other hand, not having done an action does not automatically mean that we cannot be guilty of what happened. As far as I know, Arendt does not distinguish between doing and allowing. Most philosophers (including me) consider allowing also as an action. Then we can be guilty because of a wrong action that another person does, even if we did not take part in it. However, this guilt does not refer to the fact that the other person did something bad, but to the fact that we were in the situation that we could have prevented it: we can be guilty because we allowed what the another person did (on condition that we could do something in order to prevent it and that it was reasonable that we did; otherwise we cannot speak of allowance) and because allowing is also an action.