The concept of ’individual responsibility’ is a necessary fiction. Although societies musthold individuals accountable for their own actions, people’s behavior is largely determined byforces not of their own making.
Admittedly it is true that forces play a vital role in determining people’s behavior, but oneshould not go too far to deny the equal importance of individual responsibility. In many cases, itis individual responsibility that is at stake, far over the use of forces.
In the first place, forces are not omnipotent and there are many occasions on which forcesfail to take effect and therefore must resort to individual responsibility to regulate people’sbehavior. Take marital infidelity for example. Undoubtedly, this behavior is immoral and shouldbe condemned because it severely harms the stability of family and thus impacts negativeeffects on the development of children. However,hardly can the use of compulsory forces suchas laws take effect in preventing the occurrence of this disloyal behavior. The reason forimpotency of forces on this occasion is that any attempt to prevent marital infidelity has agreat possibility to unduly interfere with individual affairs and seriously violate individualfreedom.Therefore, the society has no choice but to turn to individual responsibility for maritalloyalty and stability of family.
Also there are many cases where only combined with the use of individual responsibility canforces exert their power to the utmost. Laws can require corporations to be responsible fortheir consumers and thus can partly ensure the legitimate rights of consumers, but whetherconsumers can enjoy the best products or services primarily depends on the socialresponsibility of those corporations rather than the use of laws; likewise, laws require individualsto comply with public morality and even set up some regulations to punish behaviors ofviolating public morality, but without individuals’ identification with these laws and thus theshape of individual responsibility, can hardly these compulsory measures work well. This is whythe state of public morality is still very bad in many developing countries although they haveset up numerous regulations and laws to punish violation of public morality.
Last but not the least, even under the circumstances where forces play a dominant role inregulating the behavior of people, the society must try its best to cultivate individualresponsibility to substitute for the use of forces more or less, because forces are alwaysassociated with high social cost and negative effects on the society. If all corporations canfollow laws and behave accountable for their consumers, all citizens can act in the interests ofnation, all political figures can work for the public benefit automatically, there would be nonecessity to maintain such a large-scale compulsory forces―police, army, prison, judge and soon--in the society and as a result, all the social members will greatly benefit from thereduction in social cost.
In conclusion, the above analysis is not intended to deny the role of forces indetermining people’s behavior, but to point out that individual responsibility is irreplaceable toensure the stability and development of any society. Only combined with the use of individualresponsibility can the society as a whole will benefit most.