Creating something out of nothing


8:43am  |  It’s funny. Somehow, almost every time I disagree with something that I think that Scanlon believes, it turns out that he doesn’t really believe that at all. Instead, it often turns out that we actually do agree.

In the conclusion section of the chapter on Responsibility, he clarifies his position. It’s much easier to see what his own view is when it’s directly stated, and uncluttered by explications of competing views. He plainly says that there are two different notions of responsibility (ie, the “attributive” and the “substantive”). The attributive sort of responsibility is not “a sanction — a form of unpleasant treatment introduced in order to enforce norms of behavior.” (p.285) It is simply an assessment of one’s rational capacity. [This said, I still wonder whether anyone other than the self has any authority to assess a person’s rational capacity…] On the other hand, the substantive sort of responsibility is the sort that deals with the question of who or what ought to deal with the consequences “in the substantive sense.” (p.293)

But now, I wonder if this distinction is enough — whether this distinction captures the relevant feature(s) adequately.

Perhaps there is a further distinction to be made here.

For instance, perhaps there is a difference between a “final” cause and a “principle” cause. Let the “final” cause be that final and actualizing element that makes the actuating difference in some outcome, ceteris paribus. And let the “principle” cause be the permissive contextual elements which create a potential for the outcome, in general. 🦉(It’s probably not unlike something Aristotle says about the relationship between potentiality and actuality, but I want to take note for myself here that it’s entirely and independently original.)

If my distinctions are also relevant differences, then I think that Scanlon is saying that the “attributive” responsibility goes to the “final” cause, and the “substantive” responsibility goes to the “principle” cause.

If, so far, things are as I say that they are, then I think that my distinction can answer a very important question that Scanlon hasn’t asked himself yet: Why is “attributive” responsibility not a sanction, while “substantive” responsibility is?

With my further distinctions, Scanlon could then answer: since the person as the “final” cause isn’t necessarily responsible for setting up the potential situation to enable her to execute an outcome, and since the potential situation is the “substantive” aspect of the cause, the person as the “final” cause cannot be substantively responsible for that outcome. She can only be actually responsible.

But if a person can — through continuous effort perhaps — affect potential situations so that it may be slightly more conducive to her ability to execute an outcome, then insofar as a person can do this, she must be substantively responsible. But if no single person could ever affect potential situations on their own, and only the coordinated movements of many persons acting as a united whole could ever affect potential situations, then it must be the case that only many persons acting as a united whole could ever must substantively responsible for a given outcome.

I think that this addition will also give me a more satisfactory solution to some of the problems with Capitalism. It provides a grounding for taxes, fair wages for workers, and more — even what Scanlon might say what “we owe to each other.”

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11:17 pm  |  This next chapter is about promise-keeping. Basically, the question that he asks is, Why should we keep promises?

Before I get too far into this chapter, I want to write down my own prima facie account about why we should keep promises — just so that I have something to compare what Scanlon says with it, and so that I can compare my later thoughts with my prima facie thoughts on this matter.

So if you asked me why we should keep promises, I would start by asking why wouldn’t we want to keep promises?

As humans, we’re biologically programmed to find it pleasurable to connect with the world and each other. It’s this deep pleasure from intimacy that we’ve come to develop languages, customs, and objects filled with symbolic meaning. In light of these facts about us, it’s easy to see that keeping promises is a way for humans to connect with one another, and thereby come to share a world together. Whenever a promise is made, there is suddenly the possibility of a new world. And each time the promise is kept, the new world becomes a realization. This is the significance of the promise. The pleasure and joy of realizing a new world is what motivates us to want to keep our promises. It is the same urge that drives us to seek friendship/companionship with those who can share a world with us.  [This said, I think it’s also important to note that on my view, all genuine promises must be entirely voluntary things. A promise made under coercion or in a state of confusion is no promise at all.]

When we don’t keep our promises, we deprive ourselves of that natural pleasure. So, on my view, we actually need external causes and other reasons to not want to keep our promises (eg, we forget why we wanted to or we realize that the promise is a bad one), rather than needing reasons to keep promises.

Now, this is my account of why we would want to keep promises, but it’s not yet an account of why we should keep promises. In order to provide an account of why we should keep promises, I must first presume that we suddenly no longer want to keep the promise, or that we’ve forgotten about the promise, or that we have a good reason to not keep the promise.

But, I’ll think about the rest of this some more tomorrow, since it’s a bit late, and I’m quite tired now.