The other day I have an interesting conversation with a friend. The question was, “are we fully responsible for our actions?” I have argued no but the counter explanation given was worth pondering; if we are not fully responsible for our actions, are we just wriggling off the hook conveniently anytime we want? That according to my friend isn’t right. In a way, I agree on taking responsibility and accountability for our actions. But sometimes it’s just beyond our control.
Yes, the key word is control. Why? The rise of science has put faith and hope into man that if we understand how things work, we’ll be in control. I can quote you wonderful paragraphs written but essentially for the past 800 years or so, man has come to believe that if we dissect things properly and if we control for the variables, we can essentially produce the same results over and over again. To be fair, that’s how sciences progress and voodoo practices banished from the world.
So, if for the past 800 years or so we are taught to be in control and have been using it as a guiding principle, then when we are asked “are we fully responsible for our actions?”, the principle dictates that we should be taking responsibility because we are in control.
Only problem is, are we really in full control? I have searched high and low and both ancient texts and modern researches have convinced me otherwise. Read Ecclesiastes for the former. And when one of my favourite professors, Richard Nisbett wrote his new book, Mindware (check it out, just got out), it reaffirms this belief that I have.
My reasoning as to why I’m against the statement above:
(1) Objective reality
- Written 3 years ago (click here for the link)
- When I first ponder about this (during work of course), my friend told me to get back to work. Lol. It’s on my facebook wall.
- Essentially, it means that we can never know the true objective reality but whatever we know or perceive is merely an interpretation of that reality, i.e. what we infer from the direct truth. What we know can never be the objective truth.
- If we can never comprehend the objective truth and whatever comes to our mind are mere inferences then how can we be fully responsible for our actions? Can we be fully responsible for something we don’t know?
(2) Fundamental attribution error
- Written many posts on it (click here for one example)
- Essentially it means the situations affect the way we decide more than our dispositions (traits, attitudes, abilities etc)
- Again, if the situation affects our decision more than our mind, then can we be fully responsible for our actions?
(3) Power of unconscious mind
- Essentially it means the way we think, act or decide is more influenced by factors that we do not control or understand consciously.
- Click here for a post. (This is a good one. I have tried it on my friends/sisters and have helped them undo some psychological damage or at least made them aware of such damages)
- And again, f we are under the influence of the unconscious mind, can we be fully responsible for our actions?
Your call. At the end it’s your mind.
Yes it’s easy to be misunderstood when one talks about such things. However, the intent was never to take the easy way out (i.e. not responsible for the bad things that happen to me) but rather to appreciate that such influences are as real as they can get.
A monk once said to me(Trying my best to interpret):
He who gets provoked into a fight and wins the fight back is a good fighter but he who doesn’t get provoked into a fight but only retaliates and wins the fight is a greater fighter. He who doesn’t get provoked into a fight and never fights back although he knows he can win the fight for sure is the ultimate fighter.
Ok you don’t have the capacity to enjoy it, fine. I’ll give you the no steam version:
“The first level observer sees the results and either enjoys them or does not. The second level observer appreciates why success or failure occured.”