Saturday, September 03, 2005

Obsidian Wings: Explanation, Justification, Blah Blah Blah

I highly recommend taking the (considerable) time to read "Explanation, Justification, Blah Blah Blah" over at Obsidian Wings which discusses in some depth the difference between explanation and justification and associated topics.
So why do people tend to confuse the two? One easy reason is that both, when applied to people, can cite the reasons why those people did what they did.
This is another way of saying they both answer the question "why?". Many times I've answered the question "why did you do this?" honestly, explaining what I think happened, only to hear back, "but that's no excuse." I wasn't trying to justify it.

One other thing that's stuck with me quite a bit is the characterization of responsibility as not zero-sum:
People sometimes think that if one person is responsible for something, no one else can be responsible for it; or (alternatively) that there is a fixed amount of responsibility for each thing, such that if I am partly responsible for something you did, your responsibility must be lessened. More briefly: they think that that responsibility is zero-sum. If someone thought this, then she might see any attempt to say that I am to any degree responsible for something you did as tantamount to partially excusing you.
Reading this, I find that, yes, I have often viewed responsibility as zero-sum. Even having realized this is an error, I have trouble shaking the idea. It makes diffusion of responsibility make sense, and we know that diffusion of responsibility really happens. It "makes sense" for people to "share" responsibility. Nevertheless, I'm convinced now that responsibility is not zero-sum, and I need to make the corresponding attitude adjustment.

Anyway, it's a good article, if long.
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