Monday, April 20, 2009

The measurability of responsibility

The idea that there is a gliding scale of responsibility supposes implicitly that it is clear how to ascribe responsibility and in what degree. Remember that we are still talking about responsibility for the side effects of an action or, as in my last blog, about my responsibility for what another person did in reaction to an action of mine. Now, if it would be the case that someone acted and there is a clear idea of responsibility in the sense mentioned, then it would be fundamentally possible to know after a thorough research whether an agent was responsible for an action and how much, maybe even as exactly as for say 20, 37 or 69 per cent. However, when we look in the philosophical literature the actual view is far from that. Or look around yourself and you’ll see that people disagree in their judgments about the degree of responsibility of an agent for his or her acts, a fact that has been confirmed by recent research. When we compare people in different cultures, the differences in judgment will certainly be bigger. The upshot is that responsibility exists and that we can say a lot about it but in practice we are far from being able to give it a clear interpretation.

5 comments:

Xopher said...

The idea that there is a gliding scale of responsibility supposes implicitly that it is clear how to ascribe responsibility and in what degree. The fact that, in practice, we are far from being able to give a clear interpretation of responsibility tells us that the idea of a gliding scale of responsibility is essentially misguided. To ascribe responsibility, to point the finger, misses the point of beauty and goodness, in which responsibility is only incidental to the precious consequence, which is Beauty. Proof of this irrelevence lies in the fact that the process of determining responsibility is ugly and drawn out, in comparison to the ease and immediacy of the beautiful and good. Determining the responsibility of a criminal requires one to neglect all the rest of humanity. To philosophize about responsibility is to find ways of rationalizing this neglect. I say, do beauty and goodness unto all, and forget such trifling matters as with what measure to blame, what finger to point. These considerations are unwise and unphilosophical. Organize your heart in the following way, beauty first, goodness second, and then you will become a true philosopher. Only then and no sooner.

HbdW said...

Hello Xopher,
Thank you for your reaction. However, that there is no gliding scale of responsibility is just what I say. Responsibility has many aspects and many sides. However, I find it very important to ask for the responsibility of a person and to ask him or her to account for what he or she did. If we don't, we open the way for criminality and for the end of beauty and goodness.
Henk

Xopher said...

"If we don't, we open the way for criminality and for the end of beauty and goodness."

Ah, fear is a wonderful tool in theoretic theory, but in practice, beauty and goodness are achieved only in action, in our primary dedication to the causes of beauty and goodness. How are criminals caused, but by a lack of the essential nourishment that a healthy human requires to be naturally and self-assuredly secure and content and able to act in ways that are outwardly beautiful? To cultivate good people in common society, by our association, and by actively seeking the harmony implicit in beauty, this is the first thing on our mind. One thing your theory leaves out is the characteristic defiance of life. People do not want to be held responsible. Irresponsible people are the biggest criminals. That is their character. But they only turn to crime because it is part of their culture. These are the constraints our society puts people in. We are dominated by the immediate and inescapable Truth of our personal realities. Responsibility only continues the cycle of this truth we all are trapped in. I have had a tiny bit of experience talking to people, and one thing I recognize is that everyone reacts positively to shows of goodness and consideration, but everyone, and I mean everyone that I know does not like to be judged. Even if the judgement is true. That is the paradoxical thing about people. They all believe they are right, and they all are blind to some crucial point of truth. Perhaps one must be blind of some things in order to see others. Perhaps we must all be defiant against the truth in order to protect ourselves. I know that in my own actions, I can make the world better and more beautiful by being actively considerate whenever I can. If justice is the common good, and the common good is in harmony with the universal good, then justice is the power of the good and the beautiful. These are the considerations of law. The only way to prevent evil criminal behavior is to counter it with an equal and opposite force of positivity.

Do you see what I am saying?

HbdW said...

Thanks again for your thoughtful reaction. However, I think that you see responsibility too negative. Responsibility has a negative side, indeed, but it has also a positive see. One cannot only be blamed for what one does but also be praised. One feels responsible for another person, for example; for a child, for a parent, for a neighbour or a colleague, and one wants to help him or her. Or one wants to do good things, make beautiful things, maybe just because one likes it, but maybe also because one wants to mean something for other persons, the persons around you. That is also responsibility and that is also responsible behaviour. This side of responsibility is more in line with the way you see it, I think. But one cannot hide the negative side for the simple reason that we do not like it to be judged. Life is such that people do things that we do not like, that hurt other people and so on, and then it can be necessary to blame them and maybe to punish them. In order to do that in a fair way, one must know what responsibility is and involves.

Xopher said...

Praise is a good point. We can exact our logic of responsibility on the art of giving praise, and in doing so, we might unleash a force of good will, because it is rewarding good, not punishing bad, that leads to good consequences. Too often, responsibility boils down to an aggressive negation of negativity, and the weak-willed, confused child of an adult, that is the criminal, reacts negatively, polluting the undercurrent of opinion among common men. We should treat all adults as children, that is, not be too hard on them, and shower them lavishly with our projected interest. If the point of praise is to reward, then the best praise is a sustained attention, of such that we give to children, and no one else. Who knows if most criminals are not driven to depravity out of loneliness and want of the singular assurrance of an open ear and eye?