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Shared responsibility

A while back, I made a comment about the residents of a hypothetical neighborhood having a shared responsibility to put out a house on fire, and a commenter expressed difficulty understanding this concept of shared responsibility, and asked why I preferred that framework.

I capture my response here with minor modifications.

Thoughts welcomed.

First off... perhaps you could help me out by establishing a baseline for the, I assume, easier-to-understand concept for individual responsibility.

E.g. you ask me what are the limits of collective responsibility.
Well... what are the limits of individual responsibility?

Similarly... how much trouble, toil and treasure must I invest in putting a fire out, if putting it out is my individual responsibility? At what point do I give up and let the house burn down?

How ought I make those decisions?

I think, if we can answer these questions about individual responsibility in a satisfactory way, I'll have a relatively easy time answering the analogous questions about shared responsibility, as the two concepts are pretty similar.

That said, I think these are difficult questions to answer in any sort of generic way, and differentially insisting on answers to them for shared vs individual responsibility constitutes an unfair burden on one of them.

Failing that, I'll try to approach your uncertainty about shared responsibility a different way.

It seems to me that parents can, and frequently do, share responsibility for a child.

If you agree with me, then perhaps we can build a more general notion of shared responsibility from that one agreed-upon exemplar. Can you say more about how you see that responsibility working?

If you disagree, can you say more about how you think the responsibility parents have for their children works? Like, is one parent responsible without reference to the other, except insofar as the other might agree to "help out"? Are both parents responsible without reference to the other, and if so, could you say more about how that works? Is neither parent responsible? Do they have mutually exclusive jointly exhaustive individual resonsibilities? Something else?


Failing that, let me try a different approach: suppose there are ten of us and we've performed a series of observations and experiments such that we've each come to the very confident conclusion that: a) we are locked in a room and unable to leave it, b) if there are nine or fewer of us alive in the room in 30 minutes, it will open and let us out, c) if there are ten or more of us alive in the room in 30 minutes, it will flood with poison gas and kill us all.

On your view, do we have any responsibilities as a consequence of the situation? What are they, if so?

On my view, in that situation we have a shared responsibility to save 9 lives, given that we have the ability to do so. But it's really unclear to me what individual responsibilities anyone in that room has. So a framework that only considers individual responsibilities is inadequate to consider that situation. (And, similarly, other situations that involve symmetric responsibilities such that an individual "share" of a shared responsibility is less than 1 implementable quantum.)


Failing that, I'm not sure what more I can say. Hopefully one or more of those approaches gives you some insight as to why I view shared responsibility as a superior framework for thinking about certain problems involving right action for individuals in groups.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 29th, 2016 07:30 pm (UTC)
A dumb question: Are you asking about the limits of individual and collective resonsibility in the realm of Pure Reason, or in some cultural context?
Oct. 29th, 2016 07:35 pm (UTC)
Not a dumb question at all. I was originally operating in the context of some specific political questions about things like communally paying for public services that differently benefit particular subsets of the population. I'm not exactly sure in what context of the question I'm responding to was asked, but it was in response to that.
Oct. 29th, 2016 07:39 pm (UTC)
With the subsets well-identified?

I think (culturally specific) ideology has to be involved in any case, though, assuming this is a public service in the economic sense.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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