Personal Responsibility

Our notion of personal responsibility is an important one; much can ride on its proper application in the course of human life.

In this case, there is the description of the concept and a related ethical component. If someone were to ask for a brief explanation of its nature, you could sum it up like this: Personal responsibility means that blame or praise, punishment or reward, if necessary, is applied to the person who intentionally committed the act in question. Everybody knows this – it goes without saying. However, in certain circumstances it can be tempting to deny one’s own responsibility or transfer one’s own responsibility onto others who do not deserve it.

There are legitimate and illegitimate reasons to deny or transfer responsibility.

One may deny personal responsibility when one either acted unintentionally, or intentionally while lacking full knowledge of the consequences of one’s action. In the former case, one cannot be willfully neglectful, for then one would be responsible for that. In the latter case, one cannot be willfully ignorant, for then one would be responsible for that. 

One may transfer personal responsibility when an action can reasonably be considered to be forced, by some means, by another actor.

These considerations factor in to the practices of communal punishment and circumstances in which an actor is faced with a no-win scenario. In communal punishment, the actions of a single member are said to justify the punishment of the group. It is a corrective method, meant to influence the behavior of the group, whose members will likely directly pressure the transgressor to change their future behavior. The transgressor will also likely feel the added need to change their behavior knowing that any future actions’ consequences will affect the group.

There is no doubt that communal punishment may be warranted within certain guidelines, and in other cases, not.

Can you think of examples of either? What are the guidelines of its application?

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