Monday, 15 August 2011


It occurs to me that my last post's final dismissal of 'the usual bullshit about responsibility' could be misinterpreted. I don't mean to say that the idea of responsibility is bullshit, I mean to say that the use of responsibility-talk by politicians is usually, and in this case, bullshit. Genuine assignment of responsibility - properly holding someone to account for something - requires serious work uncovering: (1) causation - who and which actions caused what?; what were the roots of those actions? (2) the actual choice-sets available to the actors - what could they do, given their range of options and their resources and capacities? & (3) the moral psychology of action - how do people come to act in particular situations? how are their passions, scripts, and reasoning powers engaged or bypassed? Politicians do not typically do this work, so their invocations of responsibility aren't even trying to track the truth. They are therefore, in the technical Frankfurtian* sense, bullshitting.

* Harry G. Frankfurt, 'On Bullshit' in The Importance of What We Care About (Cambridge University Press 1998).

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