Who are we as a society to hold others ethically accountable for their actions?

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amerie | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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The best answer comes from the philosophy of existentialism.  Jean Paul Sartre argued that life is about choice.  In making choices, we choose for all men, because our actions are a reflection of what we believe all men should do in similar situations.  Sartre poses the hypothetical situation in which a person makes destructive or irresponsible decisions, but then says that his or her individual actions don't matter, because not everyone does destructive or irresponsible things.  Sartre's response is, "what if they did?".  For society to function properly, individuals must abide by the Social Contract (as explained by Locke, Rousseau, Hobbes, and others).  People need to accept the consequences of their actions.  In a democratic society, the government is the people, therefore the people have the right to hold the other members bound by the contract to its conditions.  

Society is only as strong as its individual members, so another existential philosopher to consider is Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor.  Although individuals often cannot control the imposing forces of government, they can reasonably expect that the code of humanity supercedes that of control or dominance of others.  Individuals deserve the right to autonomy, but they also must be conscious of (and accountable to) the greater good, which leads to the ultimate ideology of utilitarianism.  What is in favor of the greatest good of humankind is also true for the individual.  Because people require a code by which to live, society has the responsiblity to hold others ethically responsible and accountable for their actions. 

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