On the Foundations of Environmental Policy
Chapter 13: Individual and Collective Responsibility
with Thomas Petersen In the previous two chapters, we have investigated the term ‘responsibility’ and have placed it in one context with the phenomenon of joint production. Thereby, it became clear that responsibility is not only a precondition of ethics – at least insofar as one is free in actions of ethical relevance only if one is responsible for these actions – but that it is, furthermore, an ethical principle in its own right, and can even be regarded as a virtue in the sense of Aristotle. Responsibility is a virtue, because the complexity of the consequences of any individual action makes it generally impossible to entirely foresee those consequences. Thus, an individual can become a hostage of his own actions insofar as he is not aware of what he is doing. Above all else, responsibility as a virtue comprehends the right handling of the ignorance which is inevitably inherent in all action. Such ignorance is a particularly serious problem wherever one encounters joint production. In Chapter 12 we have demonstrated how the problem of ignorance in the environmental ﬁeld justiﬁes what Hans Jonas calls a ‘heuristic of fear’. At this point, a number of questions remain to be addressed. We have already intimated that responsibility is by necessity limited in certain ways. According to Hegel, one only bears responsibility for the necessary consequences of one’s actions. We have seen, however, that this limitation becomes inadequate under the conditions of joint production. If such a limitation is not possible in a...
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