What is reflective responsibility ? The idea behind it is to see whether the concept as discussed so far is
to itself and what consequences result from the self-application. It is an attempt to clarify the notion by referring to the
itself without using any other
. The self-application of concepts is an old tool used by
for centuries, sometimes with great success. The probably best-known example which
that reflexivity can be highly successful and plausible is the refutation of scepticism. Scepticism,
as the doctrine that there is no truth, has been part of the philosophical
started discussing truth. Given the difficulties of defining truth and the obvious fallibility of our knowledge, it is an attractive position that allows the speaker to avoid many pitfalls. However, scepticism has one big problem, which becomes obvious as soon as one applies the idea onto itself. If scepticism is true and consequently there is no truth, then scepticism cannot be true. Scepticism can thus be shown to be self-contradictory. Self-reference on the other hand is also a dangerous game to play because it can create serious logical and practical problems. One example is the mathematical class of all classes that contain
. This has led to logical problems that have kept the mathematicians in work for a greater part of the 20th century. A rather practical problem is that of self-fulfilling prophecies. These are created by applying a theory to itself, and they can have a considerable social impact (cf. Watzlawik, 2001b).
In the case of reflective responsibility, what we want to do is firstly try to distil some features of responsibility that are shared by most of the theories. In a second step we will then reflectively apply the features to the theories discussed so far. Finally, we will analyse the theoretical and
practical consequences that arise from these observations.
COMMON FEATURES OF RESPONSIBILITY
There are three fundamental features that most of the theories of responsibilitydiscussedsofarshare:openness,affinitytoaction,andconsequentialism. These three features are well-suited to act as the foundation of the reflective use of responsibility. Before the reflexivity of responsibility is explored, however, the three features should be described and their relevance to responsibility should be highlighted.
The first feature is openness. We have seen that responsibility is a moral term that stands in competition with other moral terms. Some of the contents of responsibility can be
in terms of duty, for example, or of virtue. Unlike these traditional moral concepts, however, responsibility is less clearly suited for the prescription of certain acts or characteristics of
. Responsibility is
in the sense that it contains something like a
that precludes its clear determination (cf. Picht, 1991, p. 28). This uncertainty of the concept, the openness in the sense that it
open what exactly is the right or necessary thing to do, is the reason why it has
relevance in those areas where the traditional means of
control fail: in the case of risky
, this can only be
by high competence and flexibility(Bayertz,1995b,p.46; Kaufmann, 1995, p. 88). This may explain why we tend to call those positions responsible that require a high measure of openness, that are characterised by tasks which are not always foreseeable and programmable. Examples might be leading
in the economy or administration such as CEOs, judges, or
. In these roles the agents are unable to know and often even to estimate what will happen, and they therefore need certain personality traits which are not shared by everybody.
Openness of responsibility is a characteristic that most, if not all sorts of responsibility share. There may be different amounts of openness in different sorts of responsibility, but it still pervades all of the applications. In the case of legal responsibility, the amount of openness is
less than in moral responsibility simply because the law is written and there are clear and calculable traditions of interpreting it. Nevertheless, a judge always has the freedom to take certain facts into consideration or refrain from doing so. She may even under the same circumstances come to different conclusions in different cases. If one
moral responsibility with other moral theories, it is also plain to see that openness is a feature not shared by most of them. A deontological system in which the only good thing is the good will, which in
is only good when it is motivated by duty, has a different perception. The good in this case is determined whether it is done or not. Utilitarianism is another example for this. If it is good to do what will lead to the greatest good (happiness,
, ) for the greatest number, then that means there is one good thing to do or at least several things that are equally good. Of course the
of any ethical rule or norm will in most cases also require judgment and thus a certain amount of openness. The Kantian ethicist or the Utilitarian will both have to use their
of reason as much as the responsibility ethicist. The difference, however, is that under ideal conditions of full information, complete rationality, knowledge of utility functions, etc., it should be possible to determine the morally good action or response in those cases. In the case of responsibility, this is not even theoretically
. Responsibility is intrinsically open.
The openness of responsibility has several direct consequences. First of all the sphere of responsibility is more extended, in the sense of complexity but also in a temporal sense, than for example
tend to be (Hart, 1968, p. 213). Secondly, the openness leads to additional characteristics that the subject must possess. The subject must reflect the openness by having an open mind, by being free of prejudices. Responsibility ethics require a process of efficient search for information and a rational evaluation of alternatives, which is necessary because it does not say what the good is in a particular case (Kreikebaum, 1996, p. 185). Thirdly, openness requires flexibility. Being responsible means that one has the ability to react appropriately to unknown future occurrences. This is necessary to cover the central problems of uncertainty, risk, and side effects. Flexibility and the ability to
to the unforeseen, fourthly, presuppose tolerance of errors. For Etchegoyen (1993, p. 112), a society of responsible people is a society that admits a right to errors. This is not a metaphysical principle, but it is caused by the fact that responsibility is always a process of learning in which errors
occur. We will return to the discussion of these points later on.
The second feature that most responsibility ascriptions have in common is their affinity to action, to real and immediate results. Again there are several aspects to this. Some authors define the area of responsibility explicitly as that of action and
(cf. Kohlberg, 1995). Others see the closeness to action in the fact that responsibility statements aim at the agent s actions instead of her rights (Birnbacher, 1995, p. 147). When we speak of the responsibility of individuals, philosophers say that we mean something has to be done (Goodpaster & Matthews, 1982, p. 133). Finally, the aspect of action can be contrastedwiththought.Responsibilitycanthusbedescribedas abehaviouristic concept, because responsibilities are discharged by action, not thought (Staddon, 1999, p. 173).
This affinity to action applies again to most if not all sorts of responsibility even though there are differences between the degrees of relevance. Retrospective responsibility has a link to action at least in the sense that the subject is responsible for something it did beforehand. Criminal acts, for example, are always more than intentions, thoughts, or contemplations. In order to be held legally responsible, one must have done something specific, or in some cases omitted to do something. The entire discussion concerning omissions should in this sense be understood as a complementary part of action. If responsibility refers to action, then it also refers to non-action, to omission. The link between responsibility and action is even stronger in the case of
responsibility. If the subject is held responsible or assumes responsibility for something that is still to come, then the association is automatically that this has something to do with action. Whether it be the politician who says she will be responsible for the well-being of her constituency for the
or the programmer who is responsible for the development of a new algorithm, it is automatically clear that the ascription requires the subject to do something.
The third point that all responsibility ascriptions share is their inherent teleology. Teleology is an ethical viewpoint that emphasises the consequences of actions as the relevant factor for their ethical evaluation. In this sense it is similar to consequentialism. Depending on which theory one wants to believe, consequentialism is understood as a
of teleology or vice versa. Teleology comes from Greek
which means the aim, or target. For our purposes this will include consequentialism, and indeed one can see that the different sorts of responsibility are all consequentialist. This becomes clear when one contrasts this with another ethical theory, with deontology. In deontology a good action is one that adheres to certain rules. These rules will in most cases also consider the eventual outcome; however, the ethical character of the action does not depend directly on the consequences. Another aspect of teleology apart from consequentialism can be described by the good life. This is where ethical theory comes back in. A consequentialist theory needs some sort of justification of its interpretation of the good life. If the agent is supposed to aim for good consequences, there must be some understanding as to the nature of what
them. Most responsibility ascriptions solve this problem by referring implicitly or explicitly to an underlying idea of the good life (Ropohl, 1987, p. 157). This does not necessarily point to an Aristotelian ethics. It just shows that the social process of responsibility ascription needs a normative background. Furthermore, the good life implies that while there is a need for a normative background, this cannot be supplied in an authoritarian fashion. The good life is something that the
in question has to decide about, which implies that the decision about the content of the good life is part of the process of ascription itself.
Teleology is closely
to the first of the common features of responsibility, to openness and action. Responsibility is a normative construct that has evolved in a world of growing uncertainty. In this world people increasingly realised the importance not only of obeying rules, but of making sure that consequences of actions were acceptable. In a changing and
world, consequences can only be
by a normative construct that is open to changes and the agent s perception of reality. Given the resulting autonomy of the agent and the original
of realising beneficial consequences, the emphasis will automatically be on the agent s action.