I’ll do my best to attempt to pinpoint with clarity what i perceive to be the differences i have with the theory as constructed.
(and great post…thanks!)
I believe that it is a sneaky, tempting fallacy to define ‘responsibility’ as stated within the NYT column…When one acts for a reason, what one does is a function of how one is, mentally speaking. This seems to be the main fulcrum on which the argument rests, and i will attempt to highlight what i believe to be two basic errors in the statement.
I believe it is more accurate to say that When one is prepared to act for a reason, what one is capable of doing is a function of how one is, mentally and physically speaking.
see the difference?
Choices aren’t binary; i believe they’re better expressed as a sphere, almost a 3-D Venn diagram, where the sphere encompasses every choice that we are capable of performing. When we act without reason, i.e. when we react, what we do is a function of how we are. When we act with reason, as stated in the article, we have the ability to choose from our sphere of potential.
Our spheres are all different, and the size and scope of everyone’s sphere is shaped by prior actions (which are our responsibility) and genetics/external factors (which we cannot control). So, for example, if a fire broke out in the bakery and the baker weighed 350lbs, I would bear little responsibility for my inability to save the baker because despite my fairly consistent dedication to the gym, genetics limit me to a range of 155lbs-165lbs.
In that same vein, when we do not have the luxury of reason, we can imagine situations where we are not responsible for an outcome. If I am waiting in line in the bakery and the person in front of me stumbles, i might reach out and help them because my sphere permits it. If I am on crutches, i’ll let that person fall because my immediate reaction will not be to stabilize another person on one leg…and I will disavow responsibility for their fall (assuming i didn’t cause it in the first place).
However, the choices posed in the article are not so extreme as the “fire” example, and are subject to our ability to reason. We all carry within our sphere the ability to either purchase a cake or donate the money, and we have the time to make a conscious decision; we can therefore accept full responsibility for the decision.
That is my first issue with the ‘theory’ as stated in the NYT. I’ll explain my second issue in the next post.