From Bruce Buchanan (950204.1245 EST)
Bill Powers (950203.0930 MST)] writes:
From the PCT standpoint, responsibility is a fuzzy term that doesn't
stand up very well to analysis. Rick comes about as close as possible to
a good definition in saying that people are responsible for what they
intentionally cause to happen.
Well, PCTers like everybody else live in society, or more to the point live
in families, and in work and legal relationships, where responsibilies are
not fuzzy, and not only a matter of analysis, but are important matters of
agreement and mutual expectations.
A lot of confusion arises because the word responsibility also carries a
connotation of a social obligation. If you select your own social
obligations and act to satisfy them, then we're back to the idea of
intentional cause. But the big problem, PCT-wise, arises when people try
to decide what another person's responsibilities are. . . .
We are all raised in families, where our survival and prosperity depends
greatly on whether we live within the rules we are given there. As adults
we have more freedom of choice about the responsibilities we accept and
make our own. Why should it be a problem to PCT if my higher level
reference criteria for certain sorts of responsibilities are set to accord
with those of my wife, say, or others? There can be sufficient quid pro
quos that I need not harbour feelings of being imposed upon. Both normal
social life and the activities of scientists have in common that
individuals accept a consensus with respect to perceptual reference
criteria also as their own.
. . .[If] you don't choose to assume that
responsibility as your own goal, then I must try to control you into
taking up the responsibility. This brings reward and punishment into the
picture . . .
Certainly this circumstance is common enough. But I do not see why it must
be the case in principle. It seems to me that an assumption that the
individual is opposed to the acceptance of social responsibility is neither
logically required nor the most common experience. The fact is that most
people are very keen to be accepted and often only want to know what is
expected of them to include this among their own reference variables.
Obviously, a person who voluntarily assumes a responsibility doesn't
need to be rewarded or punished in order to do so.
Right. It is also reasonable to suppose that the expectations underlying
their voluntary choice must be met or else some other accommodation may be
So we have the two senses of responsibility: the causal sense, in which
you are simply the agent of changes in the world that you create on
purpose, and the social sense, in which other people's preferences
create consequences of your acts which would be different if the other
people had different preferences. Under the first sense of the term,
responsibility is simply control of what you can affect. Under the
second sense, responsibility boils down to other people wanting to
control your behavior.
This description obviously is intended to reflect the PCT framework.
However when it comes to a discussion of the moral and legal implications
of responsibility, this framework is not very useful. For it seems to me
that the term responsibility for most people includes notions of commitment
and accountability, which puts its meaning in terms of higher levels of
language and more abstract and selective criteria to be applied to lower
level events. While these criteria for responsible behavior certainly
depend upon lower level causal mechanisms they are in fact value-driven by
previous choices. Unless a person is emotionally arrested at a stage of
unreconciled adolescent rebellion he or she will not feel that everyone
else is always trying to impose upon them!
When people tell you that you have responsibilities, they are trying to
make you behave in a way that suits their reference levels. But to avoid
assuming responsibility themselves, they tell you that this is a
_social_ responsibility, that it is _right_ for you to assume the
responsibility and that they're only informing you about what good
social behavior is. Responsibility is often spoken of as if it existed
independently of any person. And the reason for doing this,
paradoxically, is to let the speaker pretend that his or her own goals
are not his or her own reponsibility.
I think this is a fair statement of a situation that is common. However I
also think that most adults would see this in effect as a possible con, an
argument from authority which requires one to be wary and look for
In another post (950203.1450 MST)
replying to Joel Judd (950203)-- Bill says:
. . .we must be intentionally controlling
a consequence if we're to be said to be responsible for it. . . .
Simply holding someone responsible doesn't make that person
automatically responsible for any effect in the world. We are
responsible only for those effects we control. . . .
. . . we are responsible only for the intended
perceptions, and their external counterparts.
While I would agree with this (although noting that intentions are not
always necessarily conscious), I would also note that the consequence may
well be something we have made our own by a promise or agreement to
perform, perhaps for some other benefit we expect to receive. As I see it,
this need not be precluded by PCT.
. . . rules are needed. But when a student does break the rule, adminstrators
tend to say "Well, you knew the rule, so the consequences are your
responsibility, not mine." That is dishonesty, because whatever happens
to the student is not intentionally done by the student; it is
intentionally done by the administrator . . . Merely holding another person
responsible for an outcome does not make that person in fact responsible.
Why is this neccesarily dishonest? The fact is that the student knows that
acceptance of the rules is a condition for attending the school. The
commonest reason for disobedience is probably an attempt to test the rules,
and to obtain some special advantage over those who accept the rules. It
would seem to me important for the administrator to apply the rules
impartially, i.e. on behalf of the organization of which both the student
and the administrator are members.
A theoretical position which serves to rationalize the opposition of
students to administrative rules seems to me mistaken, as well as sending
all the wrong messages to anyone who whishes to exploit such
misunderstandings. If one disagrees with rules one can argue the case, as
in court, or one can not attend or be a member of the organization. But it
seems irresponsible to argue that one might be justified in ignoring rules
at any time because one has not given one's personal assent. This would not
really be defensible in any organization, not least one devoted to
So what am I missing? Where have I got it wrong?
the student would do well to believe the administrator when told
that the administrator will take certain actions if certain behaviors
are carried out. This actually gives the student control, because the
environment is now predictable and the student is free, as always, to
decide whether a consequence of behavior is wanted or not.
This is what Hugh Gibbons calls "respect for the will of others."
Is it really? As described, it seems more like a mindless _acceptance_ of
constraints imposed upon the situation by others. This is what I understand
the Mafia mean by respect! This might be necessary for the very young and
inexperienced but is scarcely desirable in principle.
When we take responsibility for what we ourselves control, and recognize
that others are equally responsible for what they control, and that we all
have the right to control our own lives, the door is opened for good-
Right! Assuming that we not only have the right and obligation to control
our own lives but that we cannot do much else, and that nobody else can
really do it for us, this is a good place to start. Unfortunately, and I
think this is reflected in the PCT position and some of the points made
above, this realization tends to come not at the beginning but towards the
end of an educational process for many people.
Responsibility can be taken, but not given away.
And perhaps the PCT framework would also accommodate the view that
responsibility can be assigned after it is understood and accepted, i.e.
incorporated in one's own reference criteria?