“The price of greatness is responsibility.” (Winston Churchill)
The concept of responsibility was addressed in philosophy in particular by Aristotle, Kant and Weber. This concept offers an overview of the philosophical understandings of responsibility, building up an approach that can deal with high complexity, the occurrence of novelty and irreducible ignorance.
When dealing with responsibility, Mainstream Economics limits itself to responsibility for an individuals’ wellbeing. Ecological Economics, however, focuses on responsibility for society and the environment as well.
What is responsibility? Responsibility causally links the consequences of an action to the actor. Legal responsibility must be distinguished from moral responsibility. We differentiate individual responsibility from collective responsibility. Finally, we introduce political responsibility and political-ethical responsibility. Ascribing responsibility in this differentiated way helps reduce complexity, for it shows who is responsible for what and to what extent. This allows us to distinguish between reality and wishful thinking. The added value of this concept is that it presents different dimensions of responsibility. Further, it allows us to analyse complex environmental and resource issues.
The examples of joint production, like water pollution, lead to an important conclusion: A top-down approach does not suffice to deal with environmental problems. We need a bottom-up approach: Individuals must assume their responsibility alongside the community and political actors.