Re: The art of conversation

From: Lee Corbin (
Date: Sat May 12 2001 - 10:59:13 MDT

Neal Blaikie wrote:

>Maybe this is colloquial use of the word that is unfamiliar to you.
>Since it is part of my conversational vocabulary, and since I'm not
>a linguist, I really don't know. (Can anyone help with this?)

I'll try :-)

>I'm responsible to my boss (have to do what he says, have to show up at
>prescribed times, must perform work), to the government (don't like this
one, but
>must pay taxes, must obey laws, etc.), to my family (I like this one, but
>help provide for, must spend time with).

You and our marvelous French extropian/cryonicist friend are exploring
what these phrases mean, and it was interesting to see how the ambiguity
derailed the discussion. I agree with your first two examples, but not
the last one. We would normally say that you are responsible **for** your
family (although maybe you DID mean something else?).

Neal wrote
> > then [advanced creatures] become responsible for their own evolution,

and Francois-Rene responded

> There is no way in which intelligence makes responsibility possible.
> Quite on the contrary, responsibility is the very principle behind
> natural selection that made evolution possible, and that caused
> intelligence (or at least, any trace thereof that can be found)
> to appear, to begin with.

and then Neal correctly noted that Francois-Rene was misreading
what he meant by "responsible". I'm not exactly sure what Francois-Rene
meant, but there is no doubt that the word in question is causing
confusion. IN this case, "[advanced creatures] become responsible for
their own evolution" means roughly that they are in control of their
own evolution. I'm finding it surprisingly difficult to be precise,
here, and really can't improve much on what Neal then wrote:

> Okay. However, I wasn't making the point you seem to think I
> was. Perhaps you misunderstood my use of the word responsible.

> There's a difference between "responsible for" (in charge of,
> which is what I meant) and "responsible to" (an obligation).

Alas, there is only one solution to this quagmire that I know of.
When one begins to sense that any word or phrase is causing trouble,
then one simply stops using it, at least for a while.


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