Monday, November 2, 2009

Responsibility (Chapter 1.3)

In my previous entry we considered Robert Kane's preliminary analysis of freedom as it pertains to the free will vs. determinism issue or what we'll henceforth call the "free will problem." Today, let's see what Kane has to say about the notion of responsibility.

Kane writes that when we consider the free will problem, not only are we concerned with whether and to what degree people are free to do what they will and will what they do, but we also want to know whether and to what degree we can credit or praise them for the good things they do and blame them or hold them "accountable" or "responsible" for the bad things they do.

Kane invites us to imagine that we're attending the trial of a young man charged with robbing and beating someone to death. As the facts of the crime emerge, we feel very angry toward the defendant, but as we hear about the terrible physical and sexual abuse and parental neglect he suffered as a child, some of our anger shifts from him to his parents and others who neglected and abused him. We think that they too bear responsibility for this young man's awful crime.

But how much responsibility do they bear? How accountable should we hold them? We all realize that people are influenced in their choices not only by what happens to them in life but also by such factors as their genetic predispositions, physical and neurological functioning, and psychological condition, but do they also bear some residual "ultimate responsibility" for their actions that is the result of their own "free will"?

As Kane puts it in his hypothetical scenario of the young man on trial:

To what extent is he responsible for becoming the sort of person he now is? Was his behavior all a question of bad parenting, social neglect, social conditioning and, the like, or did he have any role in choosing it?

In my next entry, we'll consider what Kane has to say about "determinism and necessity."

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