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Thread: Responsibility and Cause
April 1st, 2006, 02:54 AM #16
Originally Posted by kahnovitch
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April 3rd, 2006, 03:28 PM #17
I've never seen that show. What does he do? Go back to old relationships and try to right his wrongs? I did see some previews of it.
April 3rd, 2006, 05:18 PM #18
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Do we need to examine the possible consequences in a formalized way in order to absolve ourselves of responsibilty? I know this may sound silly, but how often do you hear people say, "If only I hadn't..." or "I should have stopped him when...". We are attributing responsibility to ourselves for not acting. Lack of action can be as much of a cause as action.
I don't think there is anything silly about it at all – I don't think that we need, when making a decision, to somehow formally consider all of the alternatives, but I think we will old someone responsible for doing something that entails that they didn't do something when they should have. “Yes I heard my child screaming in the basement, I didn't do anything to her, I only went out for a beer”
So is it knowledge of possibilities that makes the difference? We are not omniscient, so we can't know everything that could occur when we take a stand or fail to act. What is reasonable?
I don't think there is a hard and fast standard here, the answer will be determined by a lot of things, just as in law. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reasonable_person
And we can generalize too. We all know what's happening to the weather patterns. We all hear about global warming. Are we all responsible? And if we are responsible by knowing and not doing anything, are we causing it to happen?
Not if we have no influence.
We can't fall back upon judeo/christian concepts of right and wrong here. A suicide bomber believes that he/she is doing what is right. Temporal sacrifice for the greater glory at the feet of god is a strong motivator. They cause the deaths of innocent people, but they do not believe that they are resonsible for those deaths.
I would say they are responsible and that the question of whether they acted rightly or wrongly is another matter.
So how do we define the relationship between cause and responsibility? Is it an epistemological issue? A logical one? Or maybe an ontological one?
Metaphysical and moral maybe.
If we knew the outcomes of every action, we would obviously do what's most beneficial.
That is not so obvious – for example, if the beneficial results could only be attained by doing something horrible.
Sure, we can't save the world all on our own and there's always going to be problems, but we can do our best to fix what we can, and be aware that we are problems we could but haven't decided to fix for whatever reason. And we live with that.
Thats all anyone can ask, isn't it, unless of course there was something you could have done to fix things.
So what constitutes enough thought and enough anticipation to change the analysis from responsibility to unforseen? What are our moral obligations in this regard? Can we list clarify them in any sensible way?
One way of approaching this would be with a sliding scale – the more likely you are to be involved in some activity, the higher the standard we hold you to. If all of a sudden, I find myself doing an emergency tracheotomy, the standard will be much lower than it will be for a physician.
I honestly think most of us don't have the power to really significantly alter that much around us in the first place.
Good point. I think it is very hard to know – one the one hand we seem to have little influence in the big scheme of things, on the other I know there are people who believe that I have had a very significant influence over their life.
In an every day situation I personally don't encounter that many potentially live changing decisions.
Londoners are quite defensive and tend to keep to themselves (the natives at least). There is a lot of apathy and the general mantra seems to be, "I don't want to get involved."
This is beginning to sound like rationalization though. Or perhaps a self fulfilling prophecy.
April 4th, 2006, 11:21 PM #19
Here in Australia we have some disturbing new laws that were rushed through Parliament last December. They include new anti-Terrorism legislation with some truly alarming Kafkaesque innovations. Among them are some changes to the Sedition laws, which have caused particular alarm to artists, among others (also lawyers, newspapers and so on, since it might now be illegal to have even a fictional character speaking against the government). One question is the definition of "criminal recklessness". This is where this question gets rather more than academic, because someone can be deemed to have been reckless if they incite discontent, even if that was not their intention. And you could go to prison for seven years.
By this kind of logic, Nietzsche could be held responsible for Nazism, despite the fact that (in say The Gay Science) he not only identified those fascist tendencies in German society, but condemned them.
April 5th, 2006, 09:40 AM #20
NIetzsche was very provocative. Was he responsible? NO! Of course not. Not in any sensible way. But what about Robert Oppenheimer? How do we judge him?
The geneticists today working on new forms of life; what will their legacy be? Do they have responsibilities beyond their quest for knowledge? Should they examine the ethical implications of their work? Will they regret what they discover, as many of the Manhattan Project's scientists did? Now we're confronted with the acutal creation of life? Are there any moral arbiters in this arena? Should there be? The prospects are so life-altering, beyond what we can even imagine.
April 5th, 2006, 02:38 PM #21
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NIetzsche was very provocative. Was he responsible? NO! Of course not. Not in any sensible way.
That isn’t obvious to me. If a person says something, knowing (perhaps even intending) it could be misconstrued in a way that could bring about a certain set of consequences, I think the person is responsible.
But what about Robert Oppenheimer? How do we judge him?
Should they examine the ethical implications of their work?
I don’t see how or why we could ever say “no” to that question
The prospects are so life-altering, beyond what we can even imagine.
I think that makes it different from the A-bomb example. It makes it very difficult to know what to think about such cases.
April 5th, 2006, 02:42 PM #22
Prunephoenix - because I ask the question does not mean I don't have my own answer as well.
April 6th, 2006, 10:17 PM #23
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I know, I am just discussing. I tend to think people are responsible for a lot more than we usually think.
April 7th, 2006, 08:42 AM #24
I do too. And literally it plagues me. I think of consequences all the time, and it's not a matter of guilt, but one of responsibility! Guilt isn't a healthy feeling.
How do we measure it though? As a parent, I feel compelled to consider consequences all the time, in a different way than I did when I was younger.
April 16th, 2006, 04:41 PM #25
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I doubt there is an easy answer, and I am in agreement with you about guilt/responsiblity and parenting.
Talk of measuring responsibilty seems to me to be more appropriate as a way of thinking of things after the fact - how much did someone contribute to the death of Jones? - or whatever. Before the fact (which is what we are concerned about as parents if I understood you) it seems to me that, if we are agreed that consequences are what matter most (so that we are not presently inclined to dismiss, for example, our responsiblity for what our children might do in the future as adults, simply as a matter of principle) then it seems to me it is not measuring our future responsiblity for something they might do that is most important, but somehow taking into account the futures that might be (the consequences of the persons they might become, what they might do, or how their life might unfold) in our present actions and decisions. I think being able to do that - having an ongoing awareness, reflected in action, of how our present decisions are shaping the future is what IMO makes a person admirable. Being able to do that well requires a lot of factual knowledge and a lot of something less tangible. At least, that is what I think at the moment.
April 17th, 2006, 12:56 PM #26
And at the moment, I agree with you.
When we educate our children, whether by offering them books to read or teaching them by our actions, we are setting the stage for the future. And the responsibility is clear as a parent. Our influence is extraordinary. Or it can be, but it isn't for all parents. Though it's so easy to influence in negative ways as well by doing nothing, by being a non-parenting parent. The bottom line is we have so much responsiblity when we bring life into this world, and it does extend beyond that moment, because the results of what we do move on in time eternally. We set things into motion, and we need to be aware of that.
Still, my father's influence was negative. He was not a role model for me. I learned to be what I am in opposition, and hopefully for the better. So in some odd way, he was the cause of all the good things in me, because they were absent in him and I was so poignantly aware of that. I had a responsiblity to be a better parent. I believed that always, and I swore that I would not treat my children the way I was treated. Negative cause, postive effect. So is he responsible for things that he never imagined might result from his abuse? By hurting me, he made me sensitive, not cold. I could never treat my own family that way. I could never treat another human or even an animal cruelly. Should I thank him?
April 17th, 2006, 02:25 PM #27
I don't think so, Gary, because you could just as easily have ended up copying his behavior -- that you went the other way says more about you than it does about him.
It seems to me that the importance of taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions is not so much about accepting (or assigning) blame for what has happened as it is about learning from our mistakes and not repeating them. It's also a question of whether we choose to see ourselves as helpless victims of outside forces (and the awful people around us) or assume a degree of control over our own lives and our immediate environments by doing as much as we can do to influence future results.
April 17th, 2006, 02:44 PM #28
Too true. But we never know if in fact we are creating angels or demons, do we? The self-consiousness of the action should matter, the awareness, but it doesn't always. Still, if we could ever truly understand consequences and trace events to their causes, we could modify our behaviour if we choose to, and hopefully enhance the process. Maybe less would happen despite what we've done, and more because of what we've done.
April 17th, 2006, 05:01 PM #29Originally Posted by Gary Wassner
I have four grown children, and while none of them quite fall into either category, they certainly do present a wide assortment of good qualities and not-so-good qualities between them.
April 17th, 2006, 05:06 PM #30
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I would say a person like your father is causally responsible but doesn't get any moral credit for the outcome since the good outcome was accidental, from what you have said.