What are we responsible for?

There are two extreme answers to the question of what we are responsible for?

The maximalist position is that we are responsible for everything. When we act, whether consciously or not, something happens in the world. A series of effects propagates outward from our actions, and that series may be endless.

For the want of a nail the shoe was lost, for the want of a shoe the horse was lost… and on, and on.

We rarely glimpse the long-term, distant outcomes of our actions because our perceptions are limited. My presence at tonight’s Socrates Cafe meeting may lead to another person reading a book I shared with her. That book could change her life but I may never know it.

From the maximalist perspective we arrive at the ideas of globalism and environmentalism. My choice to drive to the library releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and leads to global warming. Everything I do becomes significant.

The other extreme in this debate is the minimalist. We are responsible for our actions and nothing more. Each of us is surrounded by sphere of agency. Sometimes these spheres may touch but they never overlap.

I always have a choice about how to respond to a situation. Someone cuts me off in traffic. Do I become angry? Do I ignore the situation? Do I try to run them off the road?

The emphasis is on freedom and choice. Even under the extremes of distress there is always a choice. It’s an existential view of the world.