Right of self-determination and self-responsibility

  In considering the foundation of our existence we have seen that the basic rights of existence guarantee personal freedom, we can do or not do exactly what we wish. On the other hand however we are also responsible for the consequences of everything we do or do not do. He who - according to his own discretion – can do or not do what he wants, is naturally fully responsible for everything that he does or does not do.


Our activities can moreover trigger a form of chain reaction of other effects (indirect consequences). If we scold a child it will possible hit a fellow schoolchild on the way to school, it may annoy the teacher and do badly in a test. This raises the question therefore of the extent to which we are responsible for the consequences of a causal chain of effects. How much should we consider the possible consequences of our decisions?

Since we do not perform many of our activities in complete isolation, but for example within the family or in a company, it is surely also of interest to see how much of the responsibility we carry for the consequences of those activities, which we carry out as part of or as a member of a group (family, department, firm, society etc.). In other words this concerns something like our «collective responsibility» for the activity of a group in which we are involved in some form. To introduce us to this subject let us consider the following examples:

A company manufactures and sells a product, which amongst other things can also be installed in equipment for warfare. The company supplies such products to a country which later uses them for a warlike dispute.

Question: Does this company in any way share the responsibility for the consequences of this war? If yes, who within the company carries this responsibility? Is only the board of directors responsible or does the cleaning lady, who contributes to the function of the company with her cleaning work, also share the responsibility?

A woman sells potatoes on the market. Amongst other customers she also sells potatoes to someone who later robs a bank.

Question: Does the woman who sold the potatoes to the person who later robbed a bank have any co-responsibility for the bank robbery? Would it be any different if the woman had sold him a gun and not potatoes?

In the following pages we will concern ourselves with this question of who has the responsibility for something. In this consideration we don’t just want to know who is to blame but rather to what extent we should also consider the possible consequences when we make a decision. Because that for which we are responsible is decisive for our development.

As a first step it is necessary to clarify what is meant by carrying the responsibility.