Recognizing Responsibility Essay

1989 words - 8 pages

Williams opens his chapter “Recognizing Responsibility” with two short Homeric excerpts, which he continues to reference throughout the chapter. Through these passages, he explores the idea of “intention” and its implications. The first instance is from the Odyssey. In this example, Williams details a scene in which Telemachus unintentionally leaves the door to the storeroom open. This allows the suitors to take weapons from the room. Here we see an example of an “everyday mistake”; Telemachus simply overlooked the door much like how we may overlook something in our lives. Importantly, Telemachus states that “he and no one else was aitios”—he was the cause and he is to blame (52). Williams uses this example as a foil to Agamemmon.

Agamemmon establishes himself as the opposite of aitios. When he committed his crime, he was acting under “delusion” or “blind madness,” and therefore, in some magical or altered state, opposed to the ordinary state of Telemachus. A further difference is that Agamemmon committed the act intentionally. Williams uses these two examples to point out that while the intention and causality of the two circumstances are different, they are similar in the way that they both must assume responsibility. It is by “virtue of what he did” that necessitates reparation for the two characters (53). By pitting the stories together, Williams formulates the four basic elements of any conception of responsibility:

i) Cause: “that in virtue of what he did, someone has brought about a bad state of affairs”
ii) Intention: “that he did or did not intend that state of affairs”
iii) State: “that he was or was not in a normal state of mind when he brought it about”
iv) Response: “that it is his business, if anyone’s to make up for it”

After laying out these different ideas, Williams makes a point to say that “there is not, and there never could be, just one appropriate way of adjusting these elements to one another—as we might put it, just one correct conception of responsibility” (55). In different situations, different configurations of the four ideas are needed. Williams summarizes the relationship between the four ideas as:

Everywhere, human beings act, and their actions cause things to happen, and sometimes they intend those things, and sometimes they do not; everywhere, what is brought about is sometimes to be regretted or deplored, by the agent or by others who suffer from it or by both; and when that is so, there may be a demand for some response from that agent, a demand made by himself, by others or by both. Whenever all this is possible, there must be some interest in the agent’s intentions…

While the four ideas are “universal materials,” they do not always have to relate in the same manner. In other words, there is no “ideal way” of arranging cause, intention, state, and response—they occupy and create different spaces in different conceptions.

Williams makes sure that the modern reader aware...

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