Philosophy Hurts Your Head

The blog of a cranky Philosophy PhD Student from Newcastle, Australia.


Posted by Sam D on February 3, 2005

Following on from a discussion on the Newcastle uni Philosophy club blog concerning responsibility, I had some thoughts.

Last friday, while at work, my partner was attacked, (some would say mauled), by a pit bull cross bull terrier. She is recovering quickly, but we are both still quite upset about the whole incident. The dog has now been placed on the dangerous animals register, and should it re-offend, then it will be euthanaised. This action is not meant to ‘punish’ the dog, as it is not considered responsible for its actions. It would be because after two attacks the chance of it biting a third person is seen to be pretty high, and the chance of rehabilitation very low. That the dog is not responsible for the contributing factors, such as its genes and its upbringing is reaonably uncontroversial.

But are we so much different?
I am not responsible for my genes. Nor am I resopnsible for how I was raised (at least in the early years).
If everything we do is interaction with our environment, (which powers our metabolism) and all of our value judgements are simply functions of our metabolism, which determines how we will interact with our environment, then where is personal responsibility?
I could say that I comitted an anti-social act because of, for example, a twisted upbringing. This might get me some leniency, but for the most part, people would say ” You still had a choice” or ” It’s no excuse to act like a bastard”, but is that true? Certain experiences/interactions might well be part of the cause of future anti-social acts. How could it come to pass that this interaction does not cause me to commit a crime? The answer is, through other interactions that counteract the effect that the initial (negative) interaction had on me. This might be counselling, friendships or any number of things. Thus if I am bullied, and I choose not to become a bully myself, it is because I choose not to, but only because of feedback received from certain interactions with my environment causes me to make that particular choice.
Any action could be seen in this light. “You could choose to go to a shrink” they might say. But could I? Only if the requisite interaction ahd occured in my past that would lead to me making thei choice to go.
And so on and so forth.
Some argue for responsibility, on then grounds that without it, ethics don’t work. I agree that it does make ethics more simple, but it relies on illusions about the self, identity and conciousness that are increasingly difficult to maintain in the face of modern knowledge. I’m not sure I can support, in good conscience, any ethincal system that is reliant on personal responsibility.


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