responsibility

Discuss word origins and meanings.

responsibility

Post by NogaNote » Mon Apr 23, 2007 10:19 am

The term responsibility as we know it today indicates a relatively recent meaning, which came into use in the nineteenth century. Before that, the adjective “Responsible” meant simply “correspondent”, as in the sentence: “The mouth large but not responsible to so large a body”. And what we mean by responsibility today would have been signified by such words as “morality” “goodness”, virtue, and duty.

An interesting, quirky, archaic usage of “responsible” can be found in theatrical arts. In the OED online the definition for a rare use of "responsible" was an actor who agrees to play any part that might be required. An actor who can and is willing to fill any role he is asked for in a staged play was called the “responsible”.

"Responsibility" is an ethical term, always implying an "other". I do have some difficulty, though, finding a linguistic justification for it. If "response" is a reaction to some stimulus, a stimulus could be "it" and not necessarily an "other".

In Hebrew, the term for "responsibility" actually contains the very word "other" in it. So the term does not focus on the response itself (the process in-between stimulus and result) but rather on the sphere where such an ethical activity (for lack of better word) takes place.

Anyone has any illuminating thoughts on this?
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responsibility

Post by gdwdwrkr » Mon Apr 23, 2007 10:43 am

It has been in working with prison inmates that I have learned that the concept 'responsibility' is the key characteristic dividing the two types of humanity: victims, and those who have overcome their victimhood.
Until one realizes that he himself is an 'other', he has no ability to respond. The main thought in responsibility is ability.
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responsibility

Post by NogaNote » Mon Apr 23, 2007 12:31 pm

Viktor Frankel says, "Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lays our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom." The awareness of that space, that split second before we respond to a certain stimulus, this is where the nexus of responsibility is located. The stimulus is in the past, already, as we traverse the space towards our response, we can choose: we can turn back and rage at the past, the indissoluble, unchangeable past, or look ahead towards the future which our decisions, our choice how to respond, will directly affect. That is the moment of response that will determine how we grasp our responsibility in life. Good choices are premised on an ability to comprehend (meaning both contain and understand) the unique past, which has formed our present.
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responsibility

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Apr 23, 2007 6:41 pm

Noga, No answers – just some thoughts. I had never considered this before, but as you pointed out, it is interesting that RESPONSIBILITY, as it has turned out, is an ethical (and I'd also include 'legal,' administrative, etc.) term referring to a person and not usually an IT, especially since its parent, the word RESPONSIBLE, does, of course, refer to ITs (in the sense of ‘being the cause of’) as well as people. “The storm was responsible for the break in the levee.” “Bad solder joints were responsible for the failure of the electronic unit.” Usually (I think), the addition of the suffix ‘-ity’ forms nouns expressing a ‘state or condition of’ (e.g. absurdity, civility, normality, . . .). But in this instance the addition gives us a word, which no longer refers to an inanimate IT but instead refers specifically to a person (or organization consisting of people) having a moral, legal, etc. accountability, answerability, duty, obligation.

But when it comes to explaining language, I suppose it is not always our responsibility (or even within our capability) to reason why, although quite often it sure is interesting to give it a try! (&lt)
____________________

Ken G – April 23, 2007
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responsibility

Post by gdwdwrkr » Mon Apr 23, 2007 8:04 pm

Ken, these seem to be misuses of the word:
“The storm was responsible for the break in the levee.” “Bad solder joints were responsible for the failure of the electronic unit.”

If I came across a sentence like that, I would note the error...it is the levee-builder (or engineer) who is responsible. It is the electronics-assembler, or, to go back a step, the robot-programmer who is responsible for the failure.

Obsessive, maybe, but, I think, correct.
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Post by Erik_Kowal » Mon Apr 23, 2007 9:15 pm

You have a point, James, but only up to a point: as is so often the case, context is all-important. If you are focusing on the proximate cause of the failure of New Orleans' levees, the storm was responsible; the ultimate cause was the design/construction failures of the Corps of Engineers and those who made the associated funding decisions.

In response to Noga's comment about his/her difficulty in finding a linguistic justification for an other-centred interpretation of the meaning of 'responsibility', it will help to think of one of the synonyms of the verb 'respond', namely 'answer'. To have responsibility to other people for one's actions means being answerable for them -- in other words, being accountable.
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responsibility

Post by NogaNote » Mon Apr 23, 2007 10:48 pm

"I have learned that the concept 'responsibility' is the key characteristic dividing the two types of humanity: victims, and those who have overcome their victimhood."

Yes, this is more or less the focus of my interrogation into the concept of responsibility, its umbilical connection to our freeedom and ability to make good choices.

We are usually hindered by the past, with events and people that happened to us. When in the present we look at an unrealized life's potential and ask ourselves why that is, the first answer we come up with will always be because of what was done to us. Because we are helpless today to undo the damage that had been inflicted upon us. That's when we assume the mantle of our martyrdom and drive everyone crazy with our need to be loved twice as much, or to be re-assured 5 times a day that we are indeed worthy. No good. This kind of psychosis has a way of exhausting other people and brings us no closer to feeling empowered and thereby accept the inevitability of responsibility.

Delmore Schwartz’s short story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” is an illustration of this denouement. Why in "Dreams"? Maybe because in dreams our mind re-lives our past mistakes and misery, re-shuffles the facts, images, to help us better internalize its lessons, or mere happening. Like Schwartz's protagonist who wakes up "into the bleak winter morning of [his] 21st birthday, the windowsill shining with its lip of snow, and the morning already begun.", we can assume the cheerless task of being adults, and, like Erik said, being answerable, accountable, for our actions.
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Post by gdwdwrkr » Mon Apr 23, 2007 11:38 pm

I should not be amazed that you mention dreams.
One of prison inmates' biggest questions is about
their dreams, which trouble them a lot. It is good
to be allowed to suggest that they permit themselves
to dream whatever they dream, to fully feel whatever
they feel, and that they are responsible only for their
responses to them.
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responsibility

Post by Ken Greenwald » Tue Apr 24, 2007 1:57 am

James, I think your are obsessive, maybe. But incorrect! (<:)

I agree with Erik. And I think some common sense, must be exercised when employing the word RESPONSIBILE, rather than using some absolute and totally unrealistic ideal standard. When engineers and others look for the cause of a failure the usual, and it seems to me sensible, assigning of what was responsible is often the proximate cause (a missing tile on the space shuttle caused by a collision with a piece of insulating foam, a chip failure, a rogue wave, a lightening strike, a bad solder joint, . . .). Of course, one can always say that the designer/engineer is responsible for not designing for the 10,000-year flood, for the earthquake of magnitude 11 on the Richter scale, for the freak wind gust that had a 1 chance in 1,000,000 of occurring - for the eventuality that reasonable folks exercising reasonable precautions did not foresee, . . . And if one continues along that line of reasoning one might ultimately try to blame the engineer’s genes for any errors made! (&lt)

When it comes to engineering design there are practical limits on how bad a situation one can and should be designed for. Ideally, one would wish that one could design something that would never fail. But on a practical level, this is, of course, impossible. Levees, bridges, buildings, and even furniture have to be designed to withstand some highly unlikely situations, but not ‘every’ unlikely situation. What should the specifications be – withstand the hundred-year flood, the 500-year flood, the ?????-year flood?

Let’s take solder joints in electronics as an example. And, incidentally, precious little of this is done by the human hand anymore. So what standard should a solder joint be held to? To say that a solder joint produced by this automated equipment (or by the human hand) should never fail or be defective is not practical and, in fact, would be virtually impossible to achieve. In my years with H-P (and I have been out of all this for some time) the standard they used, and which was used by most of the electronic industry, was called 6-Sigma. And what that basically meant was that the number of allowable failures should not fall outside of 6 standard deviations on a normal distribution curve (the famous bell-shaped curve). And this translated into allowing as acceptable 3.4 defects per million solder joints. This is not perfect, but was deemed a reasonable and practical economic compromise with the impracticality/impossibility of achieving perfection.

So, when a piece of electronic equipment fails or is found defective and engineers are doing a post-mortem on what was responsible for the failure, most would say that a bad solder joint was responsible – if that was the immediate cause of the failure – and this wouldn’t just be to cover their asses. They would say this because to say that the engineer who designed the soldering machine was responsible, in this situation at least, doesn’t convey any useful information! And if a levee were designed to withstand a category 5 hurricane (what now appears to be a reasonable standard), but some years down the road, due to global warming, a category 6 storm was produced which caused a break in the levee, would you still want to say the engineer was responsible? And if you do, then you are not obsessive, just maybe! (<:)
__________________

Ken – April 23, 2007

Postscipt:
<2001 “. . . the asteroid that left the huge Chicxulub crater near what is now the town of Progresso on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago. That impact is believed RESPONSIBLE for the extinction of the dinosaurs.”—‘Science Daily,’ 23 February>
And if one insists that blame must be assigned when the word 'responsible' appears, who's to blame here, God? (&lt)
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Post by Wizard of Oz » Tue Apr 24, 2007 3:19 am

.. but Ken you can't take legal action against a levee bank or a soldering robot .. in the modern "blame game" approach to resolution there has to be a someone responsible for what happened .. it has to be someone's responsibility to be omnipotent in these matters .. then the legal machine can swing into action and make money .. lots and lots of money .. for the victim naturally .. yeah right ..

WoZ of Aus 24/04/07
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responsibility

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Apr 24, 2007 5:06 am

The question of what comprises legal responsibility for the occurrence of some event is both related to, yet separate from, the nature of responsibility in general. By its nature, a legal system exists to define both the rights and the obligations (= responsibilities) of the individuals and institutions of a given society or nation, and by extension, to prescribe suitable remedies when those rights are not respected and/or those obligations are not honoured. How these rights and obligations come to be established is, in the British, Australian and US legal systems -- among others -- partly based on prevailing norms, partly on the precedents set by previous judgements, and partly on the decisions arrived at by legislators.

Responsibility therefore has more than one aspect -- there is the chain of dependent events that may occur wholly or mainly in the material sphere when the physical state of something changes (when the latter could be described as being immediately responsible for the occurrence of the subsequent events), and to this change of the physical state of affairs there may also be tied a responsibility, or several different responsibilities which may be spread among several parties, in the ethical, political and legal realms.

For instance, a train wheel may fragment, causing an accident; but this event may be the result of inadequate maintenance, which may be due to a poorly-drafted maintenance contract, which may itself be the result of an over-hasty or ill-considered privatization of a national railway.

Where the ultimate responsibilty for the accident lies in such a case will tend to be open to considerable variations of interpretation, and the machinery of the legal system will indeed swing into action as the various parties involved seek to determine how the responsibility for what happened should be apportioned so that the extent of the financial and/or criminal liability can be settled. Different jurisdictions will apportion these responsibilities somewhat differently, depending on the interactions of the social, political and legal frameworks of their individual societies.

Lawyers may be an evil that most would prefer to do without, but in complex societies like ours they are a necessary evil. Where they do not exist, or where they do not reach, such as in the twilight world of the illegal drugs trade, prostitution and illegal immigration, or in a country with a weak or absent central authority, contracts that are not honoured are enforced by cheaper but much more brutal means.
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responsibility

Post by gdwdwrkr » Tue Apr 24, 2007 8:27 am

Ken, blame the tools.
I'll hold your computer responsible for all the nonsense.

I don't believe in accidents.

Sometimes it is not the designer or maker who is responsible, but the customer, for subsidizing crap. Like buying a lot below sea level....
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Post by Hannah olley » Tue Apr 24, 2007 11:02 am

i think this is good
NogaNote wrote: The term responsibility as we know it today indicates a relatively recent meaning, which came into use in the nineteenth century. Before that, the adjective “Responsible” meant simply “correspondent”, as in the sentence: “The mouth large but not responsible to so large a body”. And what we mean by responsibility today would have been signified by such words as “morality” “goodness”, virtue, and duty.

An interesting, quirky, archaic usage of “responsible” can be found in theatrical arts. In the OED online the definition for a rare use of "responsible" was an actor who agrees to play any part that might be required. An actor who can and is willing to fill any role he is asked for in a staged play was called the “responsible”.

"Responsibility" is an ethical term, always implying an "other". I do have some difficulty, though, finding a linguistic justification for it. If "response" is a reaction to some stimulus, a stimulus could be "it" and not necessarily an "other".

In Hebrew, the term for "responsibility" actually contains the very word "other" in it. So the term does not focus on the response itself (the process in-between stimulus and result) but rather on the sphere where such an ethical activity (for lack of better word) takes place.

Anyone has any illuminating thoughts on this?
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responsibility

Post by nicktecky » Tue Apr 24, 2007 12:12 pm

Aren't we talking about constraints?
The storm is unconstrained so can't be responsible, it just is.
If harm is caused by one system to another, then responsibility rests on the system that acted outside its constraints.
In political terms one can imagine a nesting of systems and their associated constraints as one ascends a hierarchy of responsibility.
In the end, the buck stops here, as someone famously said.

For example, a child may not be responsible for causing harm to a neighbour, if it acts within its constraints. Those constraints are laid on the child by the parent, who may themselves have acted outside the constraints laid on them by society, and so be responsible for the harm.
Similarly, design engineers work within constraints of diligence, cost, materials amongst many. Providing they are operating within their constraints, they cannot be responsible for harm caused. Any responsibility would rest with those setting the constraints.

Eventually, we are all constrained by the physical world, practicality and reasonableness and it is then that the diffused nature of the constraints causes them to effectively disappear, thereby eliminating responsibility. What we then have is an accident.
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responsibility

Post by gdwdwrkr » Tue Apr 24, 2007 1:26 pm

And a Victim.


Hi, Hannah...you are right. It is good.
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