Monday, March 09, 2009

Objective and subjective responsibility

Given what I said in my last two blogs I think that we can distinguish two kinds of responsibility: objective and subjective responsibility. We do what we do, and we are the authors of what we do; not somebody else is. Therefore, in the end, only we are responsible that our actions have taken place. I want to call this kind of responsibility objective. However, that we are objectively responsible for our actions does not imply that we are also held responsible by other people for what we did. It is not necessarily so that we are made accountable or liable for the actions that were objectively our responsibility. Only when this is done, we are responsible in the subjective sense.
There are many reasons why we are not held subjectively responsible for what we did. One reason may be that our actions are simply ignored by other people. Another reason may be that everybody knows that we are the authors of certain actions but the idea of accountability or liability simply does not apply. What we did is just a normal action, like taking the train to Utrecht, and there is no reason to discuss it in terms of responsibility. Another reason that we are not made liable for what we did is that we were forced to do our action so that not we but the person who forced us to do what we did is made liable for our actions. And so there are other reasons for not being held responsible.In view of this distinction we can say now that we are objectively responsible both for the positive side effects and the negative side effects of our intentional actions, but we are subjectively responsible only for the latter.

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