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determining responsibility


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I was considering posting some of the arguments in the biology forum, but I think the discussion would become speculative rapidly.


This topic concerns how we (society) determine whether or not an individual is responsible for an action, and for the sake of this topic the definition of responsibility is "being accountable for something within one's own power, control or management" (dictionary.com).


I argue that the way in which we determine/quantify "one's own power/control" is inaccurate, and that most probably hold a mistaken view of responsibility (by thinking of it as simple discrete categories, e.g. not responsible, responsible). Before I argue this I need to present arguments which attempt to properly describe the causative contributors of an action as being under one's own control. I'll try present the argument as clearly as I can, in a premise1 + premise 2 ... leads to the conclusion format.


Conclusion1: Genetics and environmental factors are causative contributors of actions.

Premise 1: Genetics, additive genetics, epistasis and gene-environment interactions can account for and explain individual differences of behavioural and personality traits in human populations. The scientific literature which suggests this is substantial, with MZDZ twin studies determining that genetics substantially contributes to human bahaviours. http://www.ncbi.nlm....pubmed/21761238 is an example, there are many many studies of this kind which examine genetic contributions to other human behaviours. There have been a few threads in the biology forum recently that have other links in too.

Premise 2: The study populations are representative of human populations, and allow for the extension of premise 1 to human populations in general.


Genetics and some aspects of environment now need to be argued to be out of an individuals control.


Conclusion2: Genetic and, to some extent, environmental factors, are out of an individuals control.

Premise 1: An individuals genetic make-up is currently fixed throughout one's life (somatic mutations are irrelevant for this discussion). The environment and most environmental factors one is exposed to as one grows up can't, for the most part, be reasonably rejected.

Premise 2: An individual who desires an alternative genetic make-up cannot get one, and an individual only has a certain amount of control over the environmental factors that he/she is exposed to.


In light of the arguments and conclusions above:


Final Conclusion: Responsibility should be considered as a scale or spectrum (as opposed to simple discrete categories, e.g. not responsible, responsible) as the the level of one's own control, concerning specific generalised behaviour (e.g. petty crime), can vary substantially between individuals.

Premise 1: Conclusion 1 is correct

Premise 2: Conclusion 2 is correct


The way in which I suggest responsibility should be considered, is with respect to how much control the individual has. More specifically, the uncontrollable elements can most easily be considered to determine the responsibility, because at the moment factors which can be considered as allowing for control are elusive, and evade identification. So I suggest a scale concerning the combined value of uncontrollable factors, 0 means individual has no uncontrollable factors and so he/she is responsible, 100 is opposite.


I think it is reasonable to make this conclusion based on the evidence that we currently have. The evidence (and therefore premises) can be criticised, though the conclusions are reasonable imo. Of course further research is needed in order to obtain more direct evidence.


I could go on but I think this post is long enough now, even with omission of proper explanations, but the implications of the conclusion are interesting though, for ethics, law and determinism/indeterminism.



Edited by jp255
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