Ethics Idea: Scale-based responsibility model

Basic Idea:

There are arguments on who has responsibility for a matter.
For example, financial crisis from 2007, protection of environment, responsibility of nation’s past activities, responsibility capacity of criminals who have mental illness.


My idea is that general form of responsibility can be abstracted as relationship of agent-community-destiny.

Here, agent receives profit by community, in return, agent has responsibility to maintain the community.
If agent doesn’t take responsibility enough, agent is blamed for its ethical debt.
Destiny is set of factors that agent can’t change, so agent has no responsibility for destiny.

The schema below shows the relationship.



I think that premise of scale of space/time in argument changes what agent/community/destiny is.
So the choice of scale is a critical point of argument for who has responsibility on a issue.

The chart below shows gauge of agent/community/destiny on scales.



To show what I want to say here, I introduce examples of discussion first, then propose a model for scale-based responsibility model.


Examples of argument on responsibility, based on scale:

Protection of ecosystem:

If we see life time scale, we can say we are responsible for protection of ecosystem, because We depend on the ecosystem, and we can decide to change or maintain ecosystem of the earth.

So I could say that human is agent who has free for action, Ecosystem is a community that human depends and has burden to keep. Other environmental damage that human can’t move is destiny.


But if we think more long time span, such as geological time scale in which life goes through extinction by natural forces.
In such scale, ecosystem is no longer maintainable for human, and changing ecosystem is natural. Human’s activity is even one of the natural activity of a species.
So human don’t have responsibility on ecosystem.

In the scale, human is no agent. Ecosystem is a agent if we assume that it is free for its trend, or both of ecosystem and other environment are destiny.


Responsibility of nation:

If you see a nation as a agent that can free will to act, the nation has responsibility for international community on the act of nation in the past.
In the scale, nation is agent, international community is community, and other condition is destiny.

But if you are in individual person, the burden of compensation from your nation’s act in the past before your birth is irrational.

However, if nation is community that you depends on, and the profit from nation relates with nation’s past, you may be responsible for the nation’s past.
In the scale, agent is person, community is nation, destiny is the person’s nationality.


Protection of human right:

In individual person’s scale, protection of human right is important responsibility for persons and society.
In the scale, person is agent, society having human right is community, accident or environmental damage to human is destiny.


But in the time scale of human race or space scale of genome, human right is not a holy thing.

In this scale, violating human right can be recognized as selection pressure to mutation of human genome. In other word, value of human right becomes neutral.
In the scale, direction of gene pool might be agent, community is environment to make genome mutate, and destiny is also environment.


Responsibility of corporation:

Discussions on responsibility of companies are very important for many social issues, for example, responsibility of financial crisis or pollution by companies.

In such discussions, one of common argument point is whether responsibility is placed on organization itself or persons in the organization.

Assuming company has corporate personality, corporation’s responsibility for society or countries is valid.
And persons in company could be not guilty because they can’t choose company’s situation at their will.

In the assumption, it is valid that no arrested board member of companies after financial crisis.
In this scale, company is agent, society is community, and member of the company is destiny because they have no choice.


But if persons in company have free choice in a issue, the persons have responsibility for society.
In this scale, person is agent, company or society is community.


In more bigger scale –global scale, it is possible that neither company or person has responsibility.

In such scale, imbalanced economic status throughout world or nation’s system is a driving force to company’s act.
In other words, financial crisis or pollution is due to global or country wide issue.
In the scale, global community and country is agent, global community or environment is community, geopolitic condition is destiny.


Responsibility of criminal:

If in person scale, criminals have responsibility.

But in organ or cell scale, nerve system or neurotransmitter has responsibility for the crime.

It is a type of common discussion about criminal capability of responsibility.
Legal irresponsibility due to mental illness is a actual consequence of the scale in reality.

In genome scale, tendency of criminal is reason of crime. So Genome or parents is responsible for that.




It is a matrix for recursive calculation for ethical debt that amount of agent’s remain responsibility for community.
It lacks scale changing matrix.

It has probably mistake. If I need the model for python or javascript, I will rethink matrix for responsibility more deeply.


Scale map for responsibility:


The image above is a map of agent/community/destiny on time/space scale.

It shows what scales of agent/community/destiny are assumed in the argument. And if the scale is changed. responsibility range changes as well.

Since the nominal category of scale is arbitrary, the category probably should be fine-tuned for more general map.

The point of responsibility is generally high on scales close to individual person.


Benefit of the model:

General form:

It provides a general form to describe and data format of responsibility.

Limitation of responsibility:

In contrast to transcendency assumption of ethic, the scale-based model can show limitation of ethic by physical scale.
In the model, conclusion of responsibility changes as scale of concern changes.

Making new responsibility type:

Changing scale of agent/community/destiny, It can make new combination of element for responsibility.
So the model can be used as mind game to think ethics.


Further tasks:

Test for adequate range of the model for discussion of  responsibility.
I don’t know whether the model can actually be the general form of responsibility. So it need to test for that in many kind of discussions.

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