On the Foundations of Environmental Policy
Advances in Ecological Economics series
Chapter 11: The Concept of Responsibility
with Thomas Petersen 11.1 Introduction In the common usage of the word, the expression ‘responsibility’ is often ambiguous: Responsibility is a complex expression and the diﬀerent connotations, along with the various layers of meaning, are often confused. For this reason, we start with a thorough analysis of the term. Section 11.2 analyses the term responsibility as in ‘to assume responsibility for something’ by distinguishing two meanings. We argue that responsibility is crucially related to human beings’ freedom and power to act. Section 11.3 discusses limits of responsibility. In particular, due to the complexity which joint production introduces into the consequences of our actions, a problem of responsibility arises. In Section 11.4, we describe in what manner responsibility can be not only a foundation of ethics, but an ethical principle on its own, even a virtue. Section 11.5 summarises our ﬁndings. 11.2 Two Meanings of Responsibility In an elementary sense of the word, responsibility means primarily answerability – to give account to somebody for one’s own actions. One bears responsibility if one is prepared to render account of one’s deeds. And insofar as one is responsible for one’s actions one can be held accountable for them (Jonas 1979: 174). Legal responsibility implies that we are liable for the consequences of our deeds, and from a moral perspective, we may be praised or rebuked. In this sense, to be responsible means that we are legally and morally compos mentis. The concept of responsibility has always been explicitly or implicitly dealt with in...
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