What one is politically responsible for and to whom. Williams, Weber, and the demons

TT23 Week 5 Internal Research WiP

Date: Wednesday, 24 May 2023, 13:30 – 14:30

Venue: Oxford Uehiro Centre, Suite 1 Littlegate House, 16-17 St Ebbe’s Street, Oxford OX1 1PT (buzzer 1)

Speaker: Tim F. Huttel, University of Rostock

Title:  What one is politically responsible for and to whom. Williams, Weber, and the demons

Abstract: In his posthumous collection In the Beginning was the Deed, Bernard Williams explicitly draws on Max Weber's ethic of responsibility. It is often considered a shortcoming of Weber's ethic that it provides little information on what the much-emphasised responsibility is about and to whom it is to be borne. Williams indeed succeeds in giving more substantial answers in his late articles. However, the question arises whether these answers do justice to the fundamental problem of responsibility as Weber and Williams see it. As I argue, both authors examine responsibility primarily as an ethical problem because much about it is subject to luck and it is this very concern that prevents blanket statements about what someone is responsible for and to whom. Williams can only offer more substantial insights into political responsibility because he assumes politically relevant certainties which are immune to luck. For Weber, on the contrary, the political sphere is not only governed by the ordinary types of moral luck but also by a specifically political type, the demonic. When he attributes the "ethical irrationality of the world" to the "demons", he refers to the idea that the course of political events could reverse the moral meaning of one’s project. This interpretation of the demonic, which complicates political responsibility even further, is rejected by Williams as “reactionary” without much further explanation. After reconstructing similarities and discrepancies between the two authors, I discuss some reasons for and against basing political responsibility on a limited notion of moral luck.

Booking: not required (Zoom link available on request).