Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Choice and responsibility.

Generally, it's presumed that there's a connection between moral choice and moral responsibility. It usually crops up in the form of the problem of free will:
  1. Either determinism is true or indeterminism is true
  2. If determinism is true, there is no free will
  3. If indeterminism is true, there is no free will
  4. Hence, there is no free will
  5. Hence, there is no moral responsibility
(5) is, of course, an inductive rather than deductive inference; the point is not to give a perfect argument, but illustrate that there's a presumption at work here.

What I've been wondering about, though, is whether this presumption holds generally. That is, generally, must I be able to control what's going on in order to be held responsible for it? There will, of course, be special cases that are exceptions to this as a rule (if it is a rule!), such as I may actually agree to take on responsibility for things I know that I cannot or may not be able to control (for example, the general who cannot save his men, but who nonetheless bears responsibility for their deaths because he is the general).

But, as a rule, it has a certain plausibility. If I am very insane and kill someone, I am not held responsible for it (I am not punished by jail or other deprivation) but am treated (I have an illness that must be resolved, in order to protect myself and others). If a vehicle I am controlling suddenly fails, I am not held responsible for it (usually, the manufacturer or mechanic would bear liability). And, stepping outside the legal realm, if I unknowingly knock a vase off a table, I am not responsible for its breaking (though I may be responsible for my carelessness in not looking for the vase in the first place.

So, it would seem to follow, then, that if I can't improve my lot in life -- I lack the resources or the ability or the opportunity -- then it is not my responsibility to improve it. But the question then is: whose is it?

Edit: Format.

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