"Responsibilty" Too Much and Not

[From Rick Marken (950202.0830)]

Gary Cziko (9500201.1653 GMT) --

The trouble is, your ("unblamable," "unpunishable") meaning of responibility
as the cause of a result can too easily be applied to "non-agentive"
causes, as in the "the recent heavy rains in Europe are responsible for
flooding in the Netherlands."

Yes, I agree. This is an ambiguity in our language. "Responsible" can refer
to events that cause results (like the rains that are "responsible" for
floods) and to agents who control results (like the thief who is
"responsible" for the disappearance of a loaf of bread). But when people talk
about "holding people responsible" I think the second meaning (controlling)
is clearly implied. There was no question, for example, that the Menendez
brothers were responsible,in the causative sense, for the deaths of their
parents; they admited pulling the triggers. What drove people nuts was that
the lawyers were arguing that the brothers were not responsible for the deaths
in the controlling sense because they were mistreated as children. The idea
was that the mistreatment was responsible for them pulling the triggers. So
the lawyers were arguing that the environment (past mistreatment) was
responsible, in the controlling sense, for the ultimate result (dead
parents). The lawyers were arguing for the behaviorist position -- that the
environment is responsible for (can control) behavior. I think Staddon wrote
his dissembling little Atlantic article in order get behavioral psychology
off of this rap.

So "responsible" to you means controlling a particular result, but does not
imply any type of free choice in what is controlled. Is that right?

Yes. I think the "free choice" thing is a red herring. In our society you
are "held responsible" for producing results if it can be shown that those
results were produced by you intentionally, not "freely". But the way, the
notion of "holding people responsible" is really superfluous from a control
theory perspective. If people are controlling some result of their actions
then thay ARE responsible for that result (in the controlling sense); no
"holding" is necessary; people ARE responsible for controlled results.

I think we need another word. "Responsible" seems to either include too
much or not enough.

I think the meaning of "responsible" (causative vs controlling) is usually
clear from context. Rather than inventing new words, I think the way for
people to understand "responsibility" is for them to understand how control
works.

Best

Rick