Anca Gheaus (Central European University): Taking Responsibility For The Goods And Bads Of Personal Relationships
Abstract Who, if anybody, is responsible to ensure that everybody has the opportunity to enjoy good close relationships and that nobody suffers from abuse or neglect in these relationships? The answer bears not only on ethical but also on political matters if, as some philosophers believe, such relationships raise concerns of distributive justice. The same philosophers also think that states have various duties to facilitate good relationships and protect from many of the bads of relationships, and possibly that individuals have duties to try and befriend those in particular need of relationships. I am sympathetic to these views; but here I focus on the ways in which each of us bears some outcome responsibility for the existence and nature of our personal relationships. For a person to enjoy the full value of a relationship, the valuing attention and affection of the other party must be directed at who she is, rather than at her generic humanity, or at her conventional social presentation. Moreover, in the best relationships each party is of some prudential non-instrumental value to the other. Both aims require individuals to play an agential role in their relationships by revealing themselves and by being at least tolerable participants to the relationships. Further, when a person’s near and dear repeatedly misuse the power they have over her, this person bears some outcome responsibility: she continues to give them that power, by remaining in the relationship. Once people acknowledge the causal role they play in the creation of valuable relationships and in the perpetuation of disvaluable ones, they are in the position to take personal responsibility for showing up and being tolerable participants to relationships, and for putting distance between themselves and those who neglect or abuse them.