Insight and Responsibility

Ossorio: Okay, letís see. There are two of these here. One is: "How does an individualís insight fit into the scheme of Descriptive Psychology?" Second is: "What is the role of personal responsibility in Descriptive Psychology?"

To both of these, I would give fairly parallel answers. In a formal system, one of the tricks of the trade is how much you accomplish by not saying something as contrasted with the things you accomplish by saying something. And these two are a case in point. There is nothing, basically nothing Iíve written, that ever mentions insight or personal responsibility. They are simply not mentioned at all. On the other hand, it is not an accident that nothing that is written runs counter to these notions. And in fact, what is written makes these more or less inevitable.

For example, if you think of the definition of Deliberate Action, as one where the person knows what heís doing and has chosen it, one of the things that guarantees is that a person is the author of his own behavior. Now by our standards, by our common standards, the author of that behavior is responsible for it. So built into the system, even though itís never mentioned, is this central place of personal responsibility. Itís there. You just canít see it.

Now the same thing goes for insight except that itís a little different in detail. Insight is not a phenomenon. Thatís one reason why there are no positive statements about insight. Insight is one of those hybrid terms, like creativity, that partially involves a description, but also partly involves an evaluation. Since it involves an evaluation, it isnít a phenomenon that you can simply describe.

What sort of thing do you call an insight? When do you say a person has insight? Well, at a minimum when he comes to see or understand something, but we do that almost every moment of our lives. You look around you, you see things. You look around you, you understand things. Why donít we call that insight? Well the evaluative component has to do with difficulty. We call it insight when itís a difficult achievement, when itís something not easily come by, when itís something that not everybody could manage. Then we say, "Ah, he has insight."

So itís because itís the kind of concept that involves an evaluation as well as a description that thereís nothing directly written about it. The description part of it is not that interesting. Itís only when you add the evaluation part and put them together, then it becomes interesting.

Audience: [inaudible] that discriminated between responsibility for deliberate action and responsibility for personal characteristics as the two kinds of responsibility found in most systems of law and most systems of therapy ...

Ossorio: I am dubious about that responsibility for person characteristics.

Audience: It was a notion of negligence: that one knows, or ought to know, the implications of being a certain sort of person.

Ossorio: Oh, okay. Good enough. That works for knowledge. For most person characteristics, it doesnít make sense because you donít choose your person characteristics.

Audience: I'm saying it's the same as the ordinary legal notion that has to do with tort except for the notion of negligence.

Ossorio: But we are all familiar with the famous statement "You should have known better". So as I say, it does work with knowledge, and thatís about it.

Audience: I have a question about responsibility. It seems like thatís a second sort of thing thatís built onto the concept of action. In order for somebody to be held responsible, you have to have somebody holding him responsible. Once you get into that, you get into social ways, expectations, standards, and who to hold responsible, who not to hold responsible. In an accident you are responsible only if you had meant to hit the person, or if you were doing something illegal, like going too fast, you might be held responsible, or might not, depending on the circumstances. But, what we are talking about does not seem to derive from the concept of intentional action; it has to do with other people being moral agents, and collectively assigning responsibility or not, in sometimes very, very complicated ways.

Ossorio: There are, I think, two different concepts of responsibility at work here. The one that I brought out amounts simply to a reaffirmation that it is behavior. That's what it amounts to to say heís responsible for it as an author. Itís his work. Itís his thing. Now, that has nothing to do with the other things that you brought out, except as I mentioned, that by our common standards that makes him responsible. And thatís the connecting link to the kind of thing that youíre talking about.

Contents | Next
© 1999 Peter G. Ossorio