Why are we responsible for the consequences of our actions?

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This topic contains 45 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Simon Paynton 1 month ago.

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  • #28567

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    I’m thinking about a cooperative context, which is the context within which morality evolved (at least, that makes sense).

    Why do I have to personally take care of the consequences of my actions – i.e. ensure that they cause the maximum benefit and minimum harm available to someone (what they deserve – respect).  Why should someone else not take care of them?  Why would this be unfair?

    We can give an explanation of why we feel a sense of responsibility to treat others with respect.  But this also involves taking responsibility for the consequences of my actions.  Is it just the same thing?

    Some people don’t seem to realise that their actions and the consequences belong to them – they seem to feel no responsibility for them.

    #28568

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    Perhaps “taking responsibility for one’s actions” is a corollary of “treating people with respect” – in order to treat someone properly, it is necessary for me to own the consequences of my actions.  That seems a bit weak though.  It’s not an answer to give a teenager.

    Maybe it’s to do with the formula, treat someone with the maximum benefit and minimum harm available to them (i.e. with fairness and respect).  If I expect someone else to pick up the pieces of my actions, this is unfair because I could be doing it.  But that still doesn’t bring us to an answer.

    #28575

    Machiavelli would answer that by saying “If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared”. He also said that “We cannot attribute to fortune or virtue that which is achieved without either”. For some the end justifies the means by which it is attained.

    #28578

    Unseen
    Participant

    Well, as you know, I don’t believe in free will. So on one level the reason we are responsible for our actions is because we did them and no one else did them. On another level, we are responsible to the extent we are held responsible by others. It’s all everyone behaving the way their nature has them behave.

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by  Unseen.
    #28580

    _Robert_
    Participant

    We are held responsible because it allows us to seemingly mitigate or in some cases prevent future harmful actions regardless if the original bad act was predetermined or not.

    #28581

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    @robert – so, we’re held accountable for what we do, and whether it’s wrong or right.  I think that’s very true.  Other people attach our actions to us, as a way to manage our behaviour.  Conversely, we manage ourselves too – we hold ourselves responsible.

    #28582

    jakelafort
    Participant

    I don’t think we know. not with certainty, but if every moment was always going to unfold as it has and every moment will unfold in the only way it can then the notion that we hold a person responsible for their actions is silly.  On the other hand those who appear to have greater awareness or acuity get no more credit than those who appear obtuse and dull.

    #28583

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    if every moment was always going to unfold as it has and every moment will unfold in the only way it can then the notion that we hold a person responsible for their actions is silly.

    We certainly take blame into account when judging someone’s actions.  But I’m talking about, why does someone have to take care of the consequences of their own actions?

    From The Hitopadesa:

    A man rises or goes down by his own actions: like the builder of a wall, or as the digger of a well.

    #28585

    PopeBeanie
    Moderator

    I’m not sure I understand the question or dilemma, but might still be able to add perspective.

    I find it difficult to completely separate “personal responsibility” from “social responsibility”. I.e., regardless of to what extent I am personally responsible for my own action, I feel we are built or have evolved to feel at least somewhat responsible for each others’ actions. There are no set rules (unless codified in law) wrt how much we personally own or share these responsibilities, and in fact each of us can vary by personality and over a lifetime in exactly how we behave or how we assume we should behave. There is a natural variation in the behaviors and feelings of the species here, and how we adjust.

    Current conditions of existence and inter-personal relationships also add to these dynamics. And perhaps morality is still evolving.

    #28586

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    “My actions belong to me, and the consequences of my actions belong to me.”  But why do the consequences belong to me, i.e., are my responsibility?  Why should I not just shrug off and disown bad consequences, if I feel like it?

    regardless of to what extent I am personally responsible for my own action, I feel we are built or have evolved to feel at least somewhat responsible for each others’ actions.

    This is true, according to what I’ve been reading.  We enforce the rules upon each other, as part of group-level social control, and that is right and proper.  Internalising this, we also enforce them upon ourselves, as part of self-other equivalence (we are all equal in the sense that we all need to submit to role ideals, or standard ideals of the ways to do things).

    #28588

    jakelafort
    Participant

    Simon, the comment i made in assuming strict determinism is same for the question you ask. But if we look at it from the perspective of evolution we evolved as social critters. Social interaction requires varying levels of cooperation, leading and following. If none of us were held to account for violating mores, rules, cultural expectations,  laws, norms then we could not function as we do.

    #28589

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    @jakelafort – that’s a good point, as @robert also made.  But what can we say to someone to justify it, philosophically, as it were?  What would Judge Judy say?

    Something along the lines of “you enjoy good consequences, therefore you admit that the consequences belong to you.”

    #28591

    jakelafort
    Participant

    Woops, sorry Simon for reiterating, i missed some of the comments here.

    Judge Judy likes to chide and deride which makes for good television.  I think she would say that we are responsible for the consequences of our actions because without responsibility we have the chaos Thomas Hobbes feared. Further, it inures to the benefit of all members of the group to be held to account.  As the group fares so the individual fares.  When things go too out of balance and the disparity between the elite with their benefits, privileges and special rules compared to everybody else without we have conditions for revolution. Social cohesion demands not only that individuals are individually responsible but some measure of basic fairness in the rules

    #28593

    Davis
    Participant

    I don’t think we know. not with certainty, but if every moment was always going to unfold as it has and every moment will unfold in the only way it can then the notion that we hold a person responsible for their actions is silly.

    It couldn’t be more simple than that. I think by extension, punishing someone for doing something that they could not help but do is immoral. If we live in a universe that is absolute clockwork, that is nothing could prevent things from happening as they happened, then no one can help whether they punish someone or not and so the human condition is an unending festival of unjust punishment by unwilling punishers. Which is, of course, a horrible existence, but then a lot of the human condition is horrible. I simply respect philosophers who are free will absolutists to be able to admit this. That responsibility, in any meaningful sense, goes out the window. Ethics is a useless field. But most of them, including the otherwise intellectually honest Sam Harris, is incapable of doing that either. Mixing his belief in absolute non-free will and clockwork universe while at the same time trying to give advice on how to live their lives. As though I would have a choice or not what I actually do.

    #28595

    jakelafort
    Participant

    Davis, that is an interesting point you make in re non-free will philosophers in general and Sam in particular. I had wondered the very same thing. I like Sam a lot, have disagreed with only a few of his assertions but he does acknowledge the tension. I think he thinks it is a fiction we are forced to live with.

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