With Great Power…

One of the dangers of trying to understand the world by turning to other people is that people can sometimes agree on principles, but not on their meanings  – which reduces the agreement to empty words.

The iconic phrase here is “with great power, comes great responsibility”.  This is usually understood to mean that, if a person recognizes that they have the ability to change outcomes of events, they’re obligated to create results that are acceptable by the standards of certain moral conventions.  The key concept is culpability – if you’re responsible, you can be blamed, and if you can be blamed you’re responsible; the whole idea is about social relationships and how others view us.

I hold that ‘responsibility’ can only be understood in a causative sense.  If you possess the ability to change an outcome, your choices are part of what determine that outcome.  There’s no concept of success or failure attached to this.  You don’t even need to be able to recognize that your choices will have any particular result to be responsible in this sense – the other requires awareness of the causative relationships.

In this meaning, the saying is true, but in a very different sense.  You can’t assign responsibility without also assigning power.  It seems to me that this point is not often appreciated.  People want to make people, organizations, and governments (etc. etc.) responsible for outcomes, but refuse to acknowledge the power that necessarily must be granted in order to create those results.

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One Response to “With Great Power…”

  1. Mencius Moldbug makes the same point here and here.

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