Responsibility

Responsibility can be defined as a duty or obligation to satisfactorily perform or complete a task that one must fulfill and it is also regarded is a philosophical, moral and legal concept which refers to a person's internal or external compulsion to carry out his or her moral duties. Moral responsibility is specifically related to consciousness and moral obligations. At a political level, responsibility is the accountability of the people with political power. Legal responsibility for its part is a method of regulating the fulfillment of moral and legal obligations of a person.

The theory of moral responsibility encompasses several aspects of the issue: the concept of responsibility in its own right; the criteria for morally responsible actions; the conditions under which a moral person can bear responsibility; as well as the role of free choice in responsible action or inaction. The concepts of free will and determinism play a key role in the theory of moral responsibility. Free will is believed to be a mandatory prerequisite of responsibility. The correlation between determinism and responsibility however is more complex. Determinism takes several forms - causal determinism, scientific determinism and theological determinism. Causal determinism finds the causes of events in preceding conditions. Likewise, scientific determinism attributes phenomena to antecedent states of the universe and the laws of nature. By comparison, theological determinism identifies antecedent conditions as the will of God.

Hard determinism, or incompatibilism, is a philosophical position of those who accept determinism but reject free will. They advocate for the idea that free will is an illusion. English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) described a situation in which a man wakes up in an unfamiliar locked room and he chooses to stay inside. According to Locke, this choice is an illusion and the man does not have another option. Resting on these tenets, hard determinism undermines the idea of moral responsibility. On the other hand, compatibilists argue that determinism is a factor for moral responsibility.

Compatibilism reconciles the seemingly contradictory concepts of free will and determinism, saying that they are compatible. As a representative of soft determinism or compatibilism, David Hume (1711-1776) insists that free will and moral responsibility require determinism. Furthermore, he argues that people who do things ignorantly cannot be blamed for their action or inaction. According to Hume's understanding, praise and blame are irrelevant to the concept of responsibility as "actions are objects of our moral sentiment, so far only as they are indications of the internal character, passions, and affections; it is impossible that they can give rise either to praise or blame, where they proceed not from these principles."

Responsibility has been a central issue in Western philosophy and ethics over the centuries. Ancient Greek philosophy provides a solid foundation for the understanding of the concept of responsibility in the Western civilization. Homer's epic The Odyssey (800 BC) outlined the idea of fatalism, or the belief that one's fate is predetermined. In this context, responsibility - which is an expression of free will - plays a low-profile role. Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-323 BC) was the first to develop a more consistent theory of moral responsibility. In Nicomachean Ethics (350 BC), Aristotle focuses on the role of knowledge in taking a proper course of action. He identifies deliberation as the foundation of moral responsibility. In Medieval Christianity, responsibility was viewed mainly through the prism of religion. Apart from the interrelation of religious and moral aspects, political and religious concepts were also closely related. Hence, the church supervised the responsibility of the monarch to God. Despite the strong role of religion in the Middle Ages, moral responsibility did not have an unambiguous definition.

Responsibility theorists are divided into two major groups: those believing in predetermination and those believing in free will. Stoics in Ancient Greece were the first to elaborate on predetermination in western philosophical tradition. The deterministic point of view has been defended later in the works of British philosophers Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), Hume and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). Many of determinism supporters however believed in the importance of moral responsibility. On the other hand, believers in free will include Christian philosopher and theologian Aurelius Augustine (354-430 CE), Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid (1710-1796) and German scholar Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Responsibility
J. R. Lucas.
Clarendon Press, 1995
Who Knew? Responsibility without Awareness
George Sher.
Oxford University Press, 2009
On Responsibility
Herbert Fingarette.
Basic Books, 1967
Moral Responsibility in Collective Contexts
Tracy Isaacs.
Oxford University Press, 2011
Responsibility and Atonement
Richard Swinburne.
Clarendon Press, 1989
The Significance of Free Will
Robert Kane.
Oxford University Press, 1996
Responsibility and Culture
L. P. Jacks.
Yale University Press, 1924
The Compassionate Conservative: Assuming Responsibility and Respecting Human Dignity
Joseph J. Jacobs.
ICS Press, 2000
Responsibility and the Moral Sentiments
R. Jay Wallace.
Harvard University Press, 1998
Confounded Expectations: The Law's Struggle with Personal Responsibility
George W. Jarecke; Nancy K. Plant.
Southern Illinois University Press, 2000
Ethics and Excuses: The Crisis in Professional Responsibility
Banks McDowell.
Quorum Books, 2000
Freedom and Responsibility
Hilary Bok.
Princeton University Press, 1998
Choosing Character: Responsibility for Virtue and Vice
Jonathan Jacobs.
Cornell University Press, 2001
Suffering and Moral Responsibility
Jamie Mayerfeld.
Oxford University Press, 1999
Agency and Responsibility: Essays on the Metaphysics of Freedom
Laura Waddell Ekstrom.
Westview Press, 2001
Rethinking Responsibility
Bernstein, Richard J.
The Hastings Center Report, Vol. 25, No. 7, Annual 1995
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