Responsibility

Responsibility

Responsibility

Responsibility

Excerpt

Actions are two-faced. They are done by agents, intentionally and therefore expressing what the agent has in mind. But they are also causes of effects in the public external world of events, and have consequences irrespective of whether they were intended or not. Actions typically both manifest reasons and bring about results. Both aspects of action are essential, but it is common for thinkers to concentrate on one to the exclusion of the other. Where blame is at issue, or apology called for, the agent thinks only of his intentions, and says "I didn't mean to": the impersonal spectator, on the other hand, tends to discount the agent's perspective, and to consider actions solely in the light of their consequences, and to hold people responsible for all the consequences of their action or inaction.

Either exclusion eviscerates the concept. If we think of actions solely as communications conveying the agent's intentions, we ignore the conditions which alone make communication possible. It is not just that the way to hell is paved with good intentions, but that there is a conceptual link between what is intended and what actually happens, and it is only in virtue of our sharing a common world of cause and effect that we can construe the bodily behaviour of another as expressing his intentions towards us. We can understand the plea "I did not mean to" only against a background of people generally intending to bring about the results that flow from the movements of their bodies.

Equally, however, we fail to give an adequate account of actions if we try to see them simply as causes, and do not see them also from the agent's point of view, and ask ourselves what his reasons were for doing as he did. This is what is right about Collingwood's contention that all history is contemporary his-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.