4 An Ethical Perspective on Responsibility and Freedom – Responsibility and Freedom

An Ethical Perspective on Responsibility and Freedom

In the previous chapters, we have reported some of the most important interpretations on the concept of responsibility in order to underline their differences as well as their common features. I emphasized how the latter can be identified with the logical and ontological assumption according to which responsibility is always the consequence of a corresponding freedom. In other words, freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin.

The polysemy that characterizes responsibility offers a range of acceptions that respond to the different articulations of freedom.

Paul Ricoeur’s hypothesis, for which responsibility represents a development of the original phenomenon of imputation of an action to its agent, has proven to be correct with regard to the conceptions that we have analyzed. To take account of someone for something or even to ascribe an action to him, we presuppose the possibility of connecting an action to an agent. This also implies that an agent is characterized as in possession of capacities that enable him to act, that make him a person in the most abstract sense of the term. However, this implication concerns a human factor given that the action cannot be considered as a mechanical event because it would prescind from the will. The will is an aspect that was introduced first by Rousseau and then, in a different way, by Kant. The will, though, cannot be confined into a subjective stance but must be inserted in a relational context with other wills at least in the Rousseauian and Kantian perspective. Wills can “relate” to each other either in a universalistic way or in an intersubjective one. Both typologies presuppose a recognition between agents that varies according to the grounding and the actualization of the specific freedom. And it is here that we detect the entire difference between Kant’s thesis and the Hegelian solution [HAB 03, Chapter 4]. For Kant, freedom is in a first moment the expression of a cognitive determination, and in a second moment the expression of an obligatory correspondence to a moral law through reason. The only condition of actualization is identified in the juridical institution that is comprised in the moral dimension [KER 15]. Kant divides reality into two parts ascribing an infinite value to individual innerhood in contrast with an external reality. Therefore, the recognition in Kant is limited to the recognition of reciprocal equality as rational agents and accordingly as moral and juridical subject. In other words, the subjects recognize themselves and the others as rational agents, i.e. according to the abstract ontology supported by reason.

On the contrary, for Hegel, freedom goes beyond the individualistic and reflective determination, toward an institutional plural dimension. Thus, for Hegel the recognition is actualized, and in fact presupposes social institutions that enable it.

According to Hegel, a purely rational conception cannot respond to the concrete plurality that the actualization of freedom encounters, because the third connecting two individuals is identified with an abstract faculty, potentially alien to the agent’s deepest features. Reason cannot be the founding reference or the final end but rather an instrument of expression and comprehension. It must be an objective structure in which subjective peculiarities must be inserted.

Freedom and its relation to responsibility must then be concretized in the constant relation between universal and immanent through institutional structure of reciprocal recognition. Already during his youth, Hegel had pointed at language, labor and interaction as the media through which individuals enter into a relationship. In Philosophy of Right, these tools are incarnated into real life generating relations where individuals actualize their freedom.

With this model, Hegel manages to detranscendentalize Kantian subject and he does it through the fulfilling of the three basic features of modernity.

First, the historicity that Hegel perceives in his cultural context as a shade to shed a light on in a certain way. Hegel understood that a transcendental subject is an epistemic and practical mistake because the origin of our knowledge is historical. “Once we recognize the historical origin and cultural background of our standards of rationality, the question arises whether the standards that are valid for us may also claim to be valid in and for themselves […] In the light of such a history of rationality, we must convince ourselves that we came to accept our present standards as a consequence of learning how to correct past mistaken views. The genetic justification takes the form of a reconstruction of a learning process that remains skeptical even relative to skeptical objections that have roused us from our naively accepted beliefs in the first place” [HAB 03, p. 184].

The historical comprehension of knowledge leads Hegel to identify the symbolic dimension that enables the communication between different historical contexts as well as different social spheres. “The most significant feature of the historical world is the symbolic structure of what actors intersubjectively share: worldviews, mentalities and traditions, values, norms and institutions, social practices, and so forth” [HAB 03, p. 184].

The second main feature of modernity can in fact be found in the production of media able to structure the relationship between subject and object (and also subject-subject) before they meet. Hegel wants to overcome the transcedentalization of a subject that relates himself in a strange way with the objective dimension, and he does so by posing the media as an independent function between them. Language, for instance, represents one of these media, together with labor and interaction, where the general meaning is given but the usages and therefore the innovations are always developing its semantic.

The third feature, which will become the center of its theoretical structure, is the individual. “Persons distinguish themselves from all other persons through the self-attribution of a unique life-history. They can present themselves with reference to a life-project of their own, and can raise the claim to be recognized by others – as this individual”. Individual contribution is thus not solipsistic but interwoven in social textures based on recognition.

Hegel, who gives life to Fichte’s intuitions about this, realizes the figure of a subject situated historically, which relates with other subjects by means of media based on recognition.

Is this the extension of the innovation brought about by Hegel through his criticism of Kantian’s freedom as the expression of a subject alien to its context? In this way, Hegel manages to produce a triadic conception of the individual that accounts for its multidimensional identity.

As brilliantly expressed by Habermas:

“‘I understand myself simultaneously as ‘a person’ (Person überhaupt) and as an ‘unmistakably unique individual’ (unverwechselbares Individuum). I am a person in general, sharing personhood – the constitutive features of knowing, speaking, and acting subjects – with everyone else, but I am also an unmistakably unique individual who is shaped by, responsible for, and irreplaceable in a unique life- history. At the same time I have come to understand myself as being both person and individual only by growing up in a particular com- munity. And communities essentially exist in the form of networks of mutual recognition among members. Members recognize each other in their roles as persons and individuals as well as members. It is this intersubjective structure of communities that informs Hegel’s logical conception of totality as a ‘concrete universal” [HAB 03, p. 186].

Accordingly, similar problems emerge from a conception of responsibility that is limited to the expression of the cognitive capacities of an agent, as tend to do the various conceptions based on the Kantian model. Obviously, the epistemic capacity is the basic condition that transforms an individual into an agent and therefore it enables him to enter the flow of freedom and that of responsibility. As emphasized by Ricoeur, such basic conception, connected to a logical condition, does not turn out to be sufficient in order to express the different meanings that meanwhile have settled within the concept of responsibility. To the logical ascription of the action to its agent, we have to add the criterion of the necessary will. Thus, to the will we need to connect reality as the concrete possibility of actualization. This means that we must connect it with external reality, which manifests itself mainly as an institution. In the institution is also included the reality as guarantee of the conditions of possibility. The future that responsibility must guarantee and which is shifted on the individual plane of spondere always departs from the relational structure of a responsibility based on mutual recognition.

All these sides of responsibility connect with as many dimensions of freedom as analyzed in the previous chapter. If the positivist conceptions all presuppose an epistemic capacity, and moral theorizations add to that a voluntary aspect, Ewald’s conceptualization matches responsibility with freedom of an economic nature. In particular Ewald, who proposes a model of social law based on equality wants to dump the criterion of responsibility together with that of freedom. All these conceptions show us that an analysis of the criterion of responsibility presumes the possibility of freedom at its basis. We must stress the necessity that an acception of responsibility is the answer embedded in the actualization of the correspondent freedom. When we ask ourselves the question: to whom I am responsible, that entails the more radical question to whom or what will I respond, the answer is given by the freedom from which the responsibility arises. It is obvious that a situation without a choice, a mechanical situation, cannot as such respond to anything, it cannot justify a consequence exactly because it lacks the necessary freedom. To be responsible means to respond to the nature and objective of freedom. But the nature of freedom is to be unleashed and not determinable. Freedom cannot be predetermined in its contents and articulation. Accordingly, freedom always finds new ways of expressing itself, meaning that it extends in unforeseeable manners. So, the role of responsibility is to preserve the possibility of freedom, meaning the possibility for freedom to find innovative ways to actualize itself. The deepest sense and the main role of responsibility is to respond to freedom that invokes not only its preservation, but also by its own nature, its implementation, either in a qualitative sense or in a quantitative sense.

Under the light of what has emerged in the previous chapter, I believe that a fertile attempt to connect the different acceptions of responsibility and resolve the thorny problem with otherness would be to connect them to their common root, that of freedom, and to do so through the ethical framework necessary to the preservation and innovation of it.

Also freedom has acceptions or in other words has modalities of articulation that actualize in dimensions. We have seen how, in the Hegelian perspective, freedom is composed of three dimensions that embrace all social spheres. Although different, these three dimensions are in relation to complementarity and all with the double objective of preserving and implementing individual freedom. The union of negative and positive freedom within institutions that favor relations of reciprocal recognition is the model of social freedom which is developed by Hegel and then taken up by Neuhouser and Honneth.

After having understood how the dimensions of freedom stand in a complementary relation, we can now understand how responsibility can be seen in the same way, in connection to the freedom it must preserve. In order to do so, we will take as a reference once again the Hegelian ethical model, so as to assess law and morality in connection with responsibility. In this way, we will be able to show that unilateral acceptions of responsibility do not manage to respond to the double task embedded in the term. Because, if RRI’s task is to provide the description of the medium able to provide legitimacy together with efficacy, responsibility must first respond to the request arising from freedom. These are two sides from which to understand how a reductionist approach to responsibility manages neither to execute its function nor fulfill its junction role on which to converge. At that point, we could reverse their sequence and think freedom as task for responsibility. In fact, the theoretical construction we are defining entails a relation of complementarity that implies a bilateral movement. If on the one hand, responsibility is called to respond of the guarantee and implementation of freedom, on the other hand freedom is the precondition through which only we can think of responsibility. This means that if we would think only a legal freedom, we could not imagine a different kind of responsibility. Accordingly, if we want to obtain an approach that we could really define as responsible, we need to increase the articulations and extension of freedom.

We will radicalize this circularity in the dialectic of freedom and responsibility, showing how, in order to have the very possibility of responsible approaches, we necessitate institutional devices that favor the conditions for the actualization of freedom. To believe that individuals could perform their tasks in an isolated or extra-institutional manner, means to miss the extension and complexity of the relationship between freedom and causality, as shown by Kant and Hegel.

In order to understand what it means to propose an ethical model of responsibility and freedom, we first need to explain what we intend with ethics and then place in this model the acceptions of responsibility as the answers to freedoms so as to emphasize the consequent result.

4.1. Ethics and morality

We find different understandings of ethics throughout history, making our attempt to use an ethical framework necessary in order to specify what ethics is according to our perspective. Nowadays, ethics is defined as “the study of the concepts involved in practical reasoning: good, right, duty, obligation, virtue, freedom, rationality, choice” (Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy). Three different epistemological levels need to be distinguished. First, ethics includes “the general study of goodness, the general study of right action [and] applied ethics”. The latter designates the different norms and principles of the good and the bad that are promoted to rule human choices, actions and behavior. This includes the principles of morality and all the regional rules related to a particular object (bioethics, business ethics, etc.).

Related to that are the moral theories, or normative ethics, which study how the good and the bad have to be defined. This includes, for instance, consequentialism according to which the goodness of principles and actions depends on their consequences; deontology (where what counts is the goodness of the intention or the respect of universal principles or duties) or virtue ethics for which the moral subject focuses “her attention on the cultivation of her (or other’s) virtues” which are independent of other moral concepts (The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy). Moral theories differ over the sources of normativity they emphasize (i.e. the kind of moral reason allowed to adopt a principle).

The third level of thinking related to ethics concerns “the attempt to understand the metaphysical, epistemological, semantic, and psychological, presuppositions and commitments of moral thought, talk, and practice” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). The latter is sometimes labeled as meta-ethics and includes investigation on the moral language, studies on the epistemic status of border areas of enquiry such as moral psychology and more generally a reflection on the epistemic structure of a moral theory or a moral principle.

Ethics thus appears as something different from morality, and is often considered as something that comprises morality. This can also be true for law which, no matter whether it is based on moral features or not, is the basis for ethical judgment.

It appears reasonable to adopt this kind of inclusive and dialectical perspective. Given the plurality of understandings, I believe we need to define a conception of ethics able to answer the dilemma highlighted in Chapter 1. The question was then, how do we connect two distinguished or conflictual perspectives through a means that is not empty and alien to them, given the limits of proceduralism?

Following Hegel’s Philosophy of Right [HEG 91], we can emphasize the conceptual shift that ethics had been undergoing during the 18th Century, and that still represents a fertile path in order to solve that question. In this way, we will not only make clear what ethics is but also why it serves the purpose of our investigation.

We must start from a fundamental modern assumption. If a political system aims at reaching the legitimization and efficacy connected to justice, it needs to guarantee the freedom of its members. However differently this has been conceived, the process throughout modernity has always been focused on developing forms of freedom, either defending a private space, aiming at self-determination or self-realization [TAY 92].

The first and most basic form of freedom that we can find in western societies is surely expressed by law and the status of equal liberty that law provides in its different dimensions. The possibility of thinking of freedom as embedded in law, although it finds its origins in Greece, was fully articulated only with Roman law. However, it was in 17th and 18th-Century Europe that right became positive, substituting previous privileges with a set of rules, and enabling constitutional democracy as a form of legitimacy for power. This shift aimed at guaranteeing citizens the same degree of individual autonomy, although we can highlight the twofold nature of this process. On the one hand, legal rights foster the possibility of action, the capacity of obtaining things (property, contracts, etc.). On the other hand, it preserves a space where individuals can develop their own characters through reflexivity. “In Modern liberal societies there has always been widespread agreement that individuals can only see themselves as independent persons with their own independent will if they enjoy subjective rights guaranteed by the state, which grant them a space in which they can explore their preferences and intentions” [HON 14a, p. 71].

This conception has been widely considered as a “negative” and individual kind of freedom as it protects individuals from abuses but does not force them to act [BER 02, MIL 78, HON 14a]. If on the one hand it guarantees the possibility of equal access to political life1, on the other hand its domain can be seen as a shell protecting individuals from external reality.

Legal freedom, however, does not promote any kind of action but only defines the space where we must not act. Accordingly, right for Hegel cannot exhaust our freedom because it does not define more than simple space that must be left to individuals to determine their own personality.

What stands at the basis of law is in fact the capacity and necessity of abstracting from determined cases in order to establish and maintain equality. But if on the one hand equality guaranteed by abstractness represents a crucial condition for society, on the other hand it inevitably ignores the particularities connected to our subjectivity, not being able to enhance the freedom necessary to our self-determination.

It is also true that the kind of freedom at the basis of legal norms should represent the space for developing reflexivity and judgments on a common life, and not only a barrier to our common development. Otherwise, we should consider, “informal non-juridical obligations, attachments and expectations as mere barriers to our own subjectivity” [HON 14a, p. 73]. Accordingly, we would not see how a debate, proceedings and all those communicative structures necessary for developing a common perspective could be put in place. Furthermore, law in a modern liberal society can be conceived only by presupposing all the structures and processes that are the basis of it and that lie in a prejuridical dimension2.

In other words, law, for its very nature of being abstract, cannot cover the large space where our individual lives are developed in a sense that goes beyond already established, basic, regulatory forms of living together. The same goes for legal acceptions of responsibility where the regulation can cover only certain minimum spaces, predefined and limited to the imperative of not harming others. Legal understanding of responsibility cannot, however, define what kind of action we need to perform outside the legal realm, making our responsibilities quite limited in scope and extension. Accordingly, this kind of responsibility cannot help us in achieving anything more than the respect of the status quo, ignoring all kinds of alternative, extra-legal actions. Taking the analysis on a radical level, even the formation of laws could be conceived as an external action to law, leading to unforeseeable consequences3.

As we have seen, we then need to take into account a different form of freedom able to express subjective features and to guide the subject to determine himself. Hegel’s critique of an absolutization of right builds on Kant’s famous demarcation between law and morality where the latter becomes the main dimension in which freedom will be achieved.

Kant was the first to develop a fully autonomous dignity to moral freedom as the realm of self-determination. In distinguishing it from the legal dimension, Kant emphasized the static nature of law and the consequent impossibility for it to respond to the ambitions, wishes and needs of individuals. Furthermore, right cannot regulate those reflexive spaces where laws themselves can be formed and which relies on values and other kinds of norms. For Kant, freedom cannot be expressed only by a juridical dimension, but needs to be based on a moral perspective. If the subject needs to self-determine his own “identity”, then the means by which he will be able to do so are to be found in himself, precisely in his rational capacity. Accordingly, Kant offered a perspective of morality detached from law, where individuals could find in themselves the answers and truths about their own particular lives.

As pointed out by Hegel: “In dividing law from morality, Kant affirmed the inadequacy of right to fulfill the ambitions of individuals. Whereas “in formal right […] there is no question of particular interests […] any more than there is of the particular motive behind my volition, of insight and intention”4.

Therefore, through the principle of morality and the inner selfhood of the “person” established by Kant, the determination of the modernity is philosophically “brought to its concept in its prodigious strength and depth whereby it allows the principle of subjectivity to progress to its culmination in the extreme of self-subsistent personal particularity” [RIT 82, p. 153].

(Subjective) freedom is conceived as individuals putting forward their specific characters to gain their self-realization. Morality is then the means through which is guaranteed the inner development of our own goals and inclinations.

With it, universal recognition is granted the principle that freedom “is the last hinge on which man turns, a highest possible pinnacle, which allows nothing to be imposed upon it;” and that man bow to “no authority” when it goes against his freedom. For this, Kantian philosophy has won “great popularity”; with it, it is now known “that man finds in himself an absolutely firm, unwavering center-point;’ so that he “acknowledges no obligations, where his freedom is not respected” [RIT 82, p. 153].

By widening the understanding and significance of freedom, Kant expressed the progress of subjectivity and explicitly elected it as the inviolable principle of modernity5. From Kant onwards, freedom cannot be fully achieved if it is not as an expression of the subjective determination of individuals.

However, the distinction operated by Kant between the internal and external world appears to be quite rigid generating some conceptual and practical difficulties. It is true that subjectivity represents the main standpoint of modernity, and freedom cannot be fully understood without the development of subjective traits. But, it is not incorrect to say that renouncing the objectification of those traits in an intersubjective structure and for a common purpose undermines the very possibility of realizing them.

It is here that we can already discover some of the problems arising from a conception of responsibility and thus of RRI that does not make explicit the relationship between moral and legal responsibility or that conceives them as separated in the Kantian wake. And it is not uncommon to find examples of this understanding especially when it concerns responsibility. As highlighted by Ritter, “the Kantian rigidifying of the distinction of inwardness and externality into a dualism of disunion has led to a detachment of philosophical ethics from the framework of legal and political theory, which emigrated from philosophy following the Kantian distinction of legality from morality” [RIT 82, p. 158].

This separation of morality and law, i.e. blameworthiness and accountability, is for instance at the basis of Kelsen and Hart’s interpretation of responsibility [HAR 08, KEL 43, KEL 05]. For Kelsen, as well as for Hart, responsibility is either moral or legal, but not a combination of the two and nothing that goes beyond them. Several understandings of responsibility nowadays rely on Hart’s conception, which unfortunately, involves the same difficulties. These problems become particularly evident if we apply such a detached perspective of responsibility to RRI. In fact, following this understanding of responsibility each situation can be judged only according to the set of rules and norms pertaining to the dimension and the logic implied. This means that first, there is no necessary connection between different logics but, consequently, that these different dimensions use a different language and could eventually stand on their own. When it comes to their connection, it is not clear which medium they could use in order to achieve a reciprocal understanding.

So, if on the one hand the development of morality as an inner regulation allows us to enhance our freedom, this rigid distinction implies a general obstacle that prevents freedom from actualizing into an external dimension.

As lucidly depicted by Ritter: although Hegel often lauds Kant for the revolution that such a conception entails, “here lies at the same time the element which forces Hegel to proceed from morality and legality to relationships which lie beyond the Kantian framework” [RIT 82, p. 157].

Hegel indicates the limits of Kant’s proposal in the identification that he does of morality with reality, making the former the only judge and criterion of validity of the latter. It does not exist in Kant an inverse relation that permits to “validate” morality from an external point of view, and that could promote its concrete intersubjective development. The external reality, limited to the juridical dimension, cannot assume this function, pushing the subject into his lacerated innerhood.

With this, the being of subjectivity, which Kant first conceived, is limited by him to inwardness in all the religious, moral, and personal relations determining it. Here lies the one-sidedness, which, according to Hegel, plagues the Kantian position in all its greatness. With it, Kant cannot escape from the dualism of inner morality and the outer reality facing it. Therefore, with Kant, morality is “without execution”, it remains “an ought to be” [RIT 82, pp. 157–158].

However, for Hegel, this demarcation with the loss of ethical reality is not an original idea of Kant’s but rather a tendency of modernity that Kant ratified. In particular, Hegel emphasizes the relationship between Kant and Christian Wolff, who was one of his masters. As Kant mentioned in the introduction to the first Critique, Wolff’s “strict method in science, is predicated on the regular ascertainment of principles, the clear determination of concepts, the attempt at strictness in proofs, and the prevention of audacious leaps in inferences” [KAN 98, p. 120]. It is in Christian Wolff that Hegel pinpointed the peak of a process that, starting with Christianity, posed subjectivity against institutions ending in a new inner world detached from ethical institutions.

“In Wolff’s Philosophia Practica [WOL 11] it still certainly remains true that it teaches the ways in which the free man can determine his actions through laws according to his nature; at the same time, however, it restricts itself to the law which determines the action of the free individual in his inwardness as the law of his human nature. In this turn, “custom” loses its institutional character, which is implicitly constitutive for the ethics belonging to philosophical “politics.” Wolff defines it as the “constant, ever existing way to determine (one’s own) action: Customs are thus, as Wolff states in opposition to those who say, “qui de moribus hominum ex institute commentati sunt: onlymores animi’”. They are based exclusively upon “inner principles.” With this, the concept of institutional ethical life is annulled” [RIT 82, p. 167].

Kantian morality thus follows this path, limiting itself to the inner determination of will, ratifying the dissolution of ethical life and incorporating morality into “philosophical politics”.

However, Hegel does not want to ignore Kant’s development of morality, as well as the fundamental role of law, but wants to overcome them, or to use his words, he wants to sublate them. “What is sublated is not thereby reduced to nothing [...] It still has, therefore, in itself the determinateness from which it originates […] thus what is sublated is at the same time preserved” [RIT 82, p. 167].

In the succession of different stages entailing distinguished aspects, all those moments are not lost but are included in a relational structure that fully realizes them. This structure is the reality of civil society where different forms of actualization of freedom are developed though law and morality.

It is in this light that we can understand the depth of Hegel’s determination of ethics.

Ethics (Sittlichkeit) is introduced by Hegel as distinct from the morality (Moralität) of the subjective will and its “good in the abstract” with the aim of realizing subjectivity in concrete reality [RIT 82, p. 160]. Hegel’s understanding of ethics relies on the original meaning of ethic in ancient Greek, especially in Aristotle’s dissertations. For Aristotle ethics is: “the doctrine of “ethos” taken as the constitution of individual life and action in the household and the polis, a constitution developed in custom, use, and tradition” [RIT 82, p. 165]. It belongs to practical philosophy because “praxis” has its reality, not in the immediacy of action, but in its integration into the polis ethical and institutional order. “Ethics” is, therefore, the doctrine of what is good and right, which determines the actions of individuals as it is rendered universal in ethos and nomos. It is the foundation of “politics” insofar as political leadership and constitutional and legal statutes have their grounds and determination (telos) in the praxis “ethically” constituted in the household and the polis” [RIT 82, p. 165].

However, Hegel was perfectly aware of the lack of subjective freedom in the conception of Aristotle. Accordingly, Hegel merged the two aspects of freedom, the objective freedom of the polis, with the subjective features of moral freedom as developed by Kant. Ethics, therefore, must be seen as the place where subjective needs, values, preferences, i.e. subjective freedom, meet with objective institutions. Hegel wants to resolve the reduction of morality to inner being of self-hood, by highlighting this transition and the connection between inner and external freedom.

The media by which Hegel attempted to do so were identified in the political and social institutions embedding the relationships between tradition and immanent individual needs and desires, namely language, work and interaction [HAB 03].

“The sublation of the standpoint of morality thus is of such form that Hegel goes on to custom, habitual practice, and political and social institutions in order to conceive these as the “ethical” reality of the subjective will and its good which were posited in morality” [RIT 82 p. 161].

And here, we find a last point that distinguishes Hegel’s conception of ethics. Hegel does not only try to unify the objective structure with the subjective contribution promoted earlier by Leibniz, but he also wants to connect them according to that historical link already emphasized. These ethics are for Hegel, the dialectic of subjective impulse and objective reality into an institutional dimension that promotes his peculiarity. The ethical dimension is the complementary link of those dimensions within which freedom develops through intersubjective media. More precisely, for Hegel, ethics is the equilibrium between the subjective contribution and objective structure through media in the dimensions of law, morality within civil society.

We cannot talk of ethics according to Hegel if we limit ourselves to analyzing the moral or juridical dimensions. In order for freedom to actualize, express and extend, we must think of it in an ethical form, that is in a concrete form of its aspects. This implies a balancing, a relation of equilibrium among the several parts that need to be ensured at an institutional level. Freedom becomes such only when it is ethical, i.e. only when it maintains an equilibrium among its acceptions within the different social spheres. “The ethical is freedom,” [HEG 91, p. 145] said Hegel.

At the same time, we have emphasized how every acception of responsibility implies a correspondent freedom. Following this logical path, we can now connect and integrate the various acceptions of freedom and responsibility within an ethical structure in order to obtain a formal reference model through which to assess RRI.

4.2. Responsibility and freedom: an ethical relation

If freedom has to be conceived in accord with its dimensions in a framework that drives freedom beyond its boundaries, then the logical consequence is that responsibility must also follow the same logic. My thesis is based on two assumptions. The first assumption is that the various acceptions of responsibility emerge where we find a freedom. The relationship among the different acceptions is not linear as well as the relationship between each acception and responsibility as such. The second assumption is that if it has to be actualized, freedom must be articulated in a plural form, in an ethical sense.

If we move from these two premises, then we need to develop the meshes where to put all the different acceptions of responsibility in specular relation with freedom. That is, we need to think of responsibility as the answer aimed at guaranteeing and promoting individual freedom within an institutional dimension. It is necessary to compose a picture of the acceptions of responsibility that fulfills the functions required by the concomitant plane of freedom in order to end in responsibility tout court.

Because, if it is true that the term comes from the verb respondere, often intended as account for something, it is also true that at the basis of di respondere we can enucleate the verb of spondere that refers to a commitment, an engagement or a promise. This lexical enucleation shifts the barycenter from a static dimension to a dynamic one, from backward looking to forward looking. It unveils the perspective of engagement that stands in the dialectic between transcendentality of the commitment and the immanence of its contents. This enables us to think of responsibility as something that can go beyond the objective and predefined delimitations of law and rationality.

We then need to start connecting the acceptions of responsibility and then uniting them in an ethical framework in order to show how responsibility is already an expression of ethicity, and how injustices or social pathologies derive from a partial use of a dimension or from the fact that this dimension, embodied by an institution, does not respond to its features.

More specifically, we can delineate some acceptions of responsibility that have been proposed in the chapter concerning its analysis. I am not able here for different reasons to justify a reading of the various domains of pertinence different from those proposed in the texts that I have analyzed previously and therefore I will rely on them to develop an ethical conception of responsibility.

According to Van de Poel, the notion of responsibility refers to a relationship between at least two entities. However, in this relationship, we can distinguish several fields of application within society through the two forms of law and morality. At a more abstract level, that is at the same time a more concrete one, we find existential forms of care and personal virtue. They are acceptions that can be applied to different dimensions assuming a related range according to the type and grade of freedom they presuppose.

Liability, if referred, as proposed by Kelsen, to the conditions according to which an agent is called to respond to a crime of an infraction of a law, is the answer to a negative kind of freedom that wants to preserve a minimum space of noninterference. The respondance to legal criteria of non-intrusion into the others’ spaces determines the extension of this kind of freedom. In other words, it does not oblige us to act but it limits its possibilities. Liability can be understood on a familiar, a social or an existential plane. Liability is the incarnation of a legal, objective dimension without any subjective character.

Accountability, if referred to its economic sense, is the answer of a material character that wants to increment freedom through the implementation of material conditions of well-being6.

Accountability stands between morality and law, connects subjective and objective aspects, but it is a false objectivity because it does not embody all the aspects of the ethical but only some of them. It is thus lacking the necessary ethical extension.

Blameworthiness is surely referable to the moral dimension and describes the infringement of a moral freedom [VIN 12].

The moral respondance can be traced on a familiar plane where we are called to guarantee the self-determination and/or self-realization of our group in relation to other groups. The imposition by a father to choose a specific educational path could be blameable but certainly not illegal. But what is blameable will depend on the specific context in which the action and the agent are embedded.

An agent can also be morally responsible on an intersubjective plane, starting from a simple and clear context (family or friends), to a more complex one (like the economy) up to a scenario where the context is not determined and responsibility becomes an attitude toward the “Other” [LEV 98, JON 79, BLO 14].

This acception that stands at a moral level connects the subjective aspect with objective criteria but it lacks an institutional structure. Also the objectivity is thus still pulled on the subjective side as every morality, and remains in a conflictual, potentially relativistic, perspective.

Care, which stands on a moral subjective plane, is the answer to freedoms that bring something more, an add-on, on top of, or beside, the respect of legal rules and/or of universalistic reflections. Care is the plus that we are actively called to put into a specific action or through an attitude, in order to make sure that freedoms will be guaranteed and promoted. Care is the intuition that the given is not complete, is the response to the absence that is grasped. In other words, care is probably the active and contingent practice of responsibility, which extends the articulations of freedom, shaping responsibility in a personal and immanent form.

Furthermore, care can be adopted on a familiar, social or existential plane. If it does not appear difficult to imagine care within a family, nevertheless we need to insert it in a lager framework as pointed out by Grinbaum and Groves. We cannot omit the connective function that this kind of responsibility plays with regard to the social context. “We might say that parents are required to care for children in such a way as to encourage certain kinds of character traits and behaviors aligned with social norms. […] Their responsibility to future people is, therefore, mediated by their responsibilities to their children, and vice versa. […] The purpose of raising children on this pattern is to make them fit for adulthood, for relative, then full, autonomy, and for taking responsibility on their own account” [GRI 13, p. 130].

And at a more abstract level, we can think of all the appeals of existential character made throughout the 20th Century. Most of those approaches transfigured the others into an “Other”. The purpose at that basis of these theorizations is exactly the one of covering the distance between “othernesses” far in time, space or values, and not only to describe a familiar picture [HEI 08, SAR 93, LEV 98, JON 79, BLO 14].

However, care is the expression absolutely subjective of needs, desires and interests and therefore it lacks the stable objective dimension necessary to actualize itself.

Virtue is according to Aristotle seeking happiness through the balancing between reasons and desires [ARI 09]. In this sense, more than an acception of responsibility, we could define it as a subjective attitude, which actualizes a moral purpose, without possessing the necessary objective instruments. In certain cases, it also shows mistrust in the role of institutions that lead to alternative actualizations of moral values. In fact, even for Aristotle, virtue is a condition that can be achieved and maintained through exercise, practice. Accordingly, as underlined by Van de Poel: “Responsibility-as-virtue is often primarily understood as being forward-looking [LAD 91, BOV 98]; it relates to responsibilities an agent actively assumes and to a certain attitude rather than to blame (or praise)” [VAN 12a, p. 40].

Virtue is that subjective aspect that expresses itself in the understanding of subjective aspects but in their expression through modalities that are still subjective. This kind of acception lacks the stability and the recognition of others as equal so as to trust the institutional dimension in its development.

Responsibility as an exercise, striving for a balance, leads us to the path of the connection among different aspects.

These acceptions, which are probably the main ones with regard to responsibility, must in fact be connected through an ethical perspective. This means that all these acceptions must be put into a balanced relationship with each other in order to obtain what we call responsibility. The acceptions of responsibility refer to one another because they all represent the conditions of possibility of an ethical perspective, in the same way as it was for freedom. The moral aspect, or care, for instance, relies on a legal dimension that must be presupposed but that at the same time must be crossed. The respect of the legal boundaries of responsibility does not exclude and does not protect from a moral judgment related to responsibility. Furthermore, the presence of legal conditions of responsibility implies a series of conditions of an extra-legal character [HON 14a, DWO 78, DOW 85].

To consider only one of those aspects means to not be able to give a count of the different planes that always interweave with each other and on which responsibility stands. Care, accountability, liability or blameworthiness must be read as acceptions of responsibility to be thought in a junction, because each of those performs a specific function within the ethical dimension.

It is important to uphold that, whether for freedom we could identify at least three dimensions, for responsibility the problem is more complex, given its different acceptions. Whether for accountability of liability for instance, we could eventually detect a specific field of application the same cannot be said for responsibility, given that it involves different aspects. What I am trying to say is that we can adopt one or the other acception, but if we want to talk about responsibility as such, given its ethical nature, we cannot dismiss one of its acceptions and meaning. Only an ethical understanding can frame the concept in its complexity.

We should not, according to my perspective, talk of responsibility only in a legal or moral sense, but of responsibility as reflective equilibrium among the various acceptions that comprise the several aspects we have underlined. Responsibility wants to respond to the freedoms of the other, either it is singular or plural. Responsibility is always a relational category [VAN 12a], and it is freedom because, even the status of responsibility or the epistemic capacity of comprehension, is the outcome of a form of recognition. All the different acceptions of responsibility can be identified in the different social spheres and in every sphere we should not exclude any of its variations.

After all, the problem is exactly that of harmonizing dimensions that are apparently conflictual, or speaking different languages. But the fact that conflict exists does not mean that there is not a relationship among the parts, and above all that they do not tend toward the same objective. What changes, and puts them into a conflictual perspective, is the definition and the way to achieve that same objective. What the moral dimension and the economic sphere are trying to achieve can still be named freedom. But the means by which to achieve it, and the definition of freedom, intended as the material satisfaction of needs or as the respondance to universal moral laws, are the two different ways of intending the same thing. For this reason, I believe that a unilateral perspective that only contributes to develop one side, dismissing the others, indirectly goes against itself. If I deprive someone of the chance to achieve his objective and if this objective is the same and would have had a positive effect on me too, at the end of the day I will have damaged myself as well. Therefore, the relationship among the different parts of the same context, as society still must be understood, cannot exclude any of those spheres that form it, and contribute to its development. This is what appears to be a first indicator in order to understand the criterion of responsibility in order to ethically assess a scenario; to take into substantial account all the acceptions of the concept. It does not mean to hope for mechanical equality among different spheres or sectors, but only that none of them is ever excluded, i.e. that no social sphere could be deprived of the possibility of exerting its freedom. Juridical, moral or existential dimensions, according to which responsibility can be interpreted, must interact within society according to the objective of a pondered equilibrium. The ponderation becomes necessary in order to adapt to the specific context the related most important acception of responsibility, or the most necessary social sphere in question. In fact, the different aspects inherent in responsibility cannot be considered according to a linear equation, but need a ponderation, a judgment that takes its contents from immanent issues.

However, as we have explained, this “material” for which responsibility is called into question finds its transcendental reference to freedom. Responsibility is the necessity to respond to a freedom. There is a paradox that emerges though, when we refer to freedom both as the content of responsibility and as its transcendental reference. If, on the one hand, freedom is the most important value and objective we can detect starting with modernity, the articulations of this same concept have varied throughout history. What freedom meant for societies of the 19th Century is probably different or not exhaustive of what it means today. Even if we could find common points, and although the development of freedom can be seen as a teleological construction, the contents of this concept varied and will continue to do so in ways that are not predictable. The way in which our children will understand the actualization of freedom cannot be predetermined more than in thinking that we are responsible for giving them the chance to be able to do so, to be free to choose.

When we analyze the question connected to the promise, for instance, the commitment at the root of responsibility, the addressee becomes the other that is present at different levels, and the content of the commitment coincides with this objective. What I am engaging in, and why, are two questions that have the same answer. I commit myself to maintain and consequently increase the freedom of others for the sake of freedom itself, which in order to exist, requires more than the objective conditions for being preserved. It also needs above all the openness to its implementation according to the historical developments that will make immanent articulations emerge.

To be responsible implies the possibility that freedom can be guaranteed in its actualization. This logically means that we cannot predetermine how freedom is going to be actualized, what shape its articulations will take. This aspect needs to be left free. This logical paradox expresses the depth and power of the concepts of freedom and responsibility. Freedom can be used as the reference criterion for determining responsible approaches, but freedom by principle entails the fact that it cannot be limited, otherwise we would not be preserving freedom, but imposing one perspective.

Responsibility must thus be considered as the umbrella term that incarnates the ethical dimension of freedom as the preservation and consequent openness to freedom itself.

However, we do not have to forget the institutional dimension, the objectivity to speak with Hegel, which is fundamental in order to concretely enable responsibility. The junction of different acceptions must be found in the common root and same objective of freedom. But in order for the dialectic between responsibility and freedom to be guaranteed and promoted, this must be embodied in institutional devices. That an individual is called to respond without having the necessary institutional freedom is a rhetorical discourse that generates the same pathologies mentioned with regard to freedom. To a certain extent, this is the aspect that Ewald implicitly pointed out. Calling for a responsible attitude must be supported by concrete measures that put individuals in the position to fulfill this task.

A first aspect that emerges, once we have connected responsibility with freedom according to an ethical framework, is the spatial factor together with the temporal one [HAR 08, VIN 12, JON 79, OWE 13]. Often, this attention has been devoted to the attempt of making an accurate distinction. I believe, on the contrary, that this distinction should be re-elaborated in favor of a uniform perspective based on the difference in gradations.

Most of the time, to clearly distinguish between backward-looking and forward-looking is not easy to establish, as it really depends on the perspective assumed. Furthermore, to limit the space of maneuver of responsibility in such a resolute way does not appear a viable path, given the potential implication of a consequent space of irresponsibility. On the contrary, the ethical objective of responsibility is exactly to incentivize relational forms and not isolated actions. The example of the insurance in this case is significant because it shows us that an insurance policy could be signed for the sake of potential future events but only becomes “active” in a retroactive way. Law as well does not appear to me much different in this respect, based on a double nature of status and action, as well as morality. In fact, it seems that this double nature characterizes the concept of responsibility in its exercise. To translate this reasoning according to the terms we already emphasized in a previous chapter, we could say that responsibility as an ethical framework entails a conservative and an innovative dimension.

The conservative side can be highlighted in the necessity to preserve existing freedoms and to guarantee their possibilities in the future. In this sense, actions of juridical-economic sense assume a deterrent role, of re-establishment of the norm, foreseeing not only to teach the right through sanctions, but also using these sanctions as deterrent for the future. Therefore, on the conservative side of responsibility, identifiable mainly with the moral and juridical dimensions, it is actualized the fundamental function, similar to the one invoked by authors like Jonas, of guaranteeing the conditions of reproducibility of freedom.

The conservative aspect of freedom is also closely tied to an innovative side, where responsibility is called to respond to the deepest sense of freedom, the actualization of itself. As we have seen, the heart of freedom, its deepest meaning, is the necessity of being actualized and consequently extending in unforeseen ways. To actualize freedom means to act and the action is always a modification of the causal order. We cannot forget the identification made by Kant between freedom and progress [KAN 79]. Although Kant intended this relation in cognitive terms, we can expand its sense to actions that promote the increase of freedom in the necessity of its immanence.

For this reason, the responsibility that arises from it surely implies a legal aspect, but above all requires an effort, a care that turns toward the indeterminacy of the future. The innovative aspect of responsibility is the one focused on the care and the expression of a virtue as an effort to make the immanent emerge in order to contribute to the extension of freedom [ADO 96]. The crucial aspect that I would like to emphasize once again is this double nature of the same conceptual framework that only fulfills the task of actualizing itself.

A second twofold factor that we can underline in the ethical relationship between responsibility and freedom is that individual and collective responsibility are inseparable, where the former always connects to the latter because, in a certain sense, it is its presuppose.

Obviously, we need to clarify the argument because it does not want to reduce the role of subjectivity in the determination of the consequences of an action. As well as this, it does not intend to exalt a collectivist understanding of responsibility with its sinister historical applications [HAB 15]. On the contrary, it is exactly the contribution made by individuals who enable the exercise of freedom and therefore of responsibility. At the same time, this side cannot be separated in a clear way from the collective side because the latter represents the incarnation of certain rules, values or norms of the group of which a subject belongs and contributes to promote a general behavioral framework. It would be difficult to distinguish a subject from the environment in which he lives and was raised because this contributed to make the subject who he is.

Grinbaum and Groves, commenting on this aspect of Hannah Arendt’s production, have emphasized the eminently political role of collective responsibility. “By definition, collective responsibility occurs if the following two conditions are met: a person must be held responsible for something she has not done, and the reason for her responsibility must be her membership in a group which no voluntary act of hers can dissolve” [GRI 13, p. 133]. Although I could agree with this definition and with the effects connected to large-scale phenomena, I believe that the conclusion the two scientists draw from this point is quite hurried. “Thus, all nuclear scientists share political responsibility for the human condition in a world full of atomic power plants and nuclear weapons, irrespective of their degree of personal involvement in the industry; or all scientists in general partake in shaping the world, whatever their individual research disciplines might be” [GRI 13, p. 133].

It is true that some scientists somehow share some kind of role in current global circumstances but I believe that we cannot state the necessary relationship between them and too large scale of events.

François Ewald, in his dissertation, hoped for the loss of the concept of responsibility as an expression of an individualistic and liberal dimension. By the proposal of a social law, he glimpsed the chance to make up for the injustices that a merely individualistic acception of responsibility always causes. His attempt would turn out to be in vain because such a system ends up by eliminating the liberal dimension tout court, throwing the baby with the bath water. His approach has not only become unsustainable from a historical point of view, where individual freedom is an undefeatable bastion, but it is also philosophically dangerous because it would impede the possibility of the identity formation which cannot prescind from the uniqueness of its singularity.

The marked stress that Hegel had put on the ethical dimension as actualization of freedom was based on the possibility that this dimension could increase individual freedom for all individuals. Hegel’s objective was to reach a collective structure that could raise individual chances. However collectivity for Hegel is never a simple aggregate of individuals where singularity gets lost. I do not see any risk in Hegel’s conception that the individual becomes absolute or that it disappears, because Hegel’s plan is to overcome the unilateral and partial perspectives that he had criticized both in Kant and Rousseau [NEU 00, HAB 03]. We already know the extension of the criticism to Kant’s transcendental structure, but it is equally important to read Hegel’s words with regard to the “collectivist” model proposed by Rousseau. “He regards the universal will […] only as a “general will” which proceeds out from this individual will as out of a conscious will. The result is that he reduces the union of individuals in the state to a contract, and therefore on something based on their arbitrary wills, their opinions, their capriciously given consent” [HEG 91, par. 157, RIP 94]. The collectivity, for Hegel, is a multilevel structure in which the subject sees himself represented by the medium that is able to express the different individual issues into a common language. The recognition of oneself implies this constant relationship of determination through an institutional device. As emphasized by Habermas:

“The media in which reason is embedded, i.e. history, culture and society, are symbolically structured. The meaning of symbols, however, must be shared intersubjectively. There is no private language and no private meaning that can be understood only by a single person. This precedence of intersubjectivity does not mean, however, that – to return to your question – to some extent subjectivity would be absorbed by society. The subjective mind opens a space to which everyone has privileged access from the perspective of the first person. This exclusive access to the evidence of one’s own experiences may not, however, belie the structural correlation between subjectivity and intersubjectivity. Every additional step in the process of the socialization of a person, as they grow up, is simultaneously a step toward individuation and becoming oneself. Only by externalization, by entering into social relationships can we develop the interiority of our own person. Only by marching in step with the communicative entanglement in social networks does the subjectivity of the “self”, i.e. of a subject that assumes relationships to itself, deepen” [FŒS 15].

The collectivity in Hegel is what we might call an organized society.

What I believe is missing in Grinbaum and Groves’ perspective is a theorization of collective responsibility as the outcome of institutional practices that produce a certain state of things and that contribute to form individual positions. The risk in the field of responsibility is exactly to miss the importance of the positive recognition of a moral character, that is the possibility to ascribe not only a punishment but also and above all a merit. The economic incentive, merit and honor are all aspects that taken together represent the greatest individual stimulus for the implementation of responsible practices at every level. But even more, individual freedom, the responsibility connected to it, enables an agent to form his identity in terms of the peculiarity with regard to those aspects that are only his owns. We cannot forget that the crucial pivot of freedom, according to the way it has developed in the last two centuries, and thus of responsibility, is exactly the individual dimension of autonomy, either understood as self-determination, or as self-realization. The institutions must hence represent the conditions of possibility of an individual responsibility, which is in principle singular but at the same time interlaced in a social network understandable because expressed in objective, rational terms. This aspect, that must not in neglected, takes us on the other side of my objection with regard to a too fast assimilation between individual and collective responsibility. The “collectivity” is the main tool for the formation of an individual responsibility, but this does not imply that the individual cannot and should not criticize the institutional asset if this does not respond to the reason for its existence. The critical role of individuality assumes all his power exactly in preserving the constant possibility of safeguarding but also changes the institutional apparatus.

We cannot ignore the role of the institutional dimension in which, for instance, every scientist is embedded and by which he is steered. How can we think to make a researcher responsible if he does not experience the institutional conditions that enable such a behavior. Institutional conditions that allow, facilitate or stonewall practices, concretely determine the direction for research and innovation. These practices cannot be dismissed and we must work on them instead of fighting them.

Therefore, if to think an individual responsibility in collective terms, without thinking the conditions that mediate between an agent and collectivity, could put us in the dangerous situation of losing sight of the importance of the institutional dimension in embodying the symbolic nature of a society. We must not forget the crucial role played by recognition, facilitated by institutions, which makes us pass from a first to a second nature, so to be able to express our subjectivity in a plural context [HON 14a, RIC 07].

This is the understanding of a responsibility according to which the individuals, through institutional devices, take on the charge, the commitment, the promise that every agent will be able to continue exerting his freedoms. This kind of responsibility cannot prescind from an institutional dimension that makes it possible and drives it.

It is this substantive role of the institutions in fact, that forms the ethical character of responsibility. Without the institutional conditions of possibility, it would not be possible to talk of responsibility, even less in its ethical sense because it would be an empty concept, lacking the values and norms that must define it. It is not useless to underline again that the originality and efficacy of responsibility lies exactly in this formal aspect that connects closely to the “valorial substantivation” given by the articulations of freedom. We do not define what it means to be responsible if not by connecting responsibility to a choice that presumes a freedom. It will be the response to the preservation and innovation of freedom, the sense of freedom itself. What is freedom if not the necessity to not predetermine the values, interests and desires through which I can pursue the objective of self-determination or-self-realization? But in order for responsibility to be able to find in freedom the immanent filling of its contents and reach the twofold objective of legitimacy and efficacy, it must find an expression in institutions that are the expressions of those values, preferences and interests. Otherwise, it would be the pure reference to a law or to a moral conception to ground the legitimacy of responsibility. But how do we take into account the efficacy in just responding to an external law? In the case of morality, where can we find a common grounding given the pluralisms of perspectives and all the moral conflicts connected to it? Are exactly the institutions that must embody and translate in objective terms all those subjective traits that individuals themselves bring about. The institutions, by means of intersubjective recognition, favor the actualization and therefore the development of responsible action and innovations. The institutions represent the link between the subjective and the objective dimensions, but also something more because they also have an active, creative, innovative function.

The institutions must assume a double role of educators and facilitators of intersubjective practices based on recognition. The first role is that of universalizing subjective desires, interests and values in order to make them comprehensible and shareable. Due to this translation function, the institutions put in place practices that enable individuals to recognize themselves in external and shared practices so as to understand first the intersubjective nature of the exhaustive actualization of freedom, as well as the modalities through which to express it. The desires are incarnated in institutional practices that teach us not only the “language” through which we can satisfy them, but also the very fact that they can be realized only in an objective, external way. The desire is always desire of the other, said Hegel. This generates a tendency by individuals to shape their impetus according to objective modalities. That is “to align their motives with the inherent aims of such practices” [HON 14a, p. 48].

All this argument does not entail the infallibility of institutions, or that we are promoting a sort of paternalism, because the institutions also envisage a role of facilitators. This second function, next to the pedagogical one, is that of facilitating intersubjective practices that can express subjective perspective according to intersubjective modalities. In this second function stands the critical part according to which, if the institution does not perform the role for which it is envisaged or if it does not express subjective features, it is betraying the respect of the aspects it asks us to follow. This entails that the same institutional structures must not only perform their pedagogical role necessary to address attitudes and behaviors toward responsibility. The institutions must also make available all the instruments in order for those practices to be realized. Otherwise, we risk falling back into an ineffective scenario, regulated by ideological and rhetorical discourses where responsible approaches are exhorted but there are no measures to activate them [HON 09, HON 10, FŒS 15].

This leads us to the identification of another crucial aspect. Once it is clarified how responsibility must be employed according to its disciplinary polysemy, it is important to emphasize how the various social spheres must apply a responsible perspective among them in order to favor approaches that are plural and complementary within what Hegel called civil society. That is, the various aspects should work in order to facilitate a deliberative approach to problem-solving according to an equilibrium of freedoms [ROS 08].

This objective is reachable through the adoption of moral freedom understood in an intersubjective and dialogic sense. The governance problems at the basis of this approach are of two kinds, different but related.

A first order concerns the conflicts between different dimensions following their own logics or procedures, like the moral and the juridical one, and it applies in a stronger way to the sphere of satisfaction of needs. This kind of danger is strongly perceived at a social level and the risk is identified with the fact that a specific logic, for instance the one tied to consumption, extends its meshes to other dimensions that should instead diverge from it. The “commercialization” of education, an issue that has been discussed extensively in several countries, is identified with the tendency to connect a high-level education to the financial possibility of a familiar nucleus or of an individual. The risk is that only a certain social layer could aspire to a fundamental formative device. Also the health argument that restricts access to treatments to the subscription of insurance, and their non-obligatoriness, has generated several discussions in the United States until the famous “Obama care”7.

The danger is identified in the absolutization of a specific grammar within different social spheres provoking an inadequate management incapable of responding to other purposes. These kinds of dynamics call into question the reason for certain institutions to be together with their historical development. It is undeniable that the management costs of certain social sectors are unsustainable for public administration for several reasons. And it is not unreasonable to think that a reduction of costs in specific sectors can allow the movement of resources to other sectors that have been neglected or are historically new. The right to Internet, for instance [ROD 95], is surely a fundamental part of the freedom of an individual, like traditional education. In this sense, the necessity of institutional devices to respond to the immanent exigencies is a founding part of their role of actualization of freedom. At the same time, these solutions of a different character, progressive, alternative, etc., must be found in agreement with the subjects that those institutions represent. It is normal that in the case of such huge and fundamental basic institutions like the one connected to education or health, the process is really complex. Nevertheless, the ethical dimension of freedom is framed exactly in this dialogical process among different social spheres, where none of them can be neglected.

However, the problem here also concerns another aspect that is often underestimated although is fundamentals. The issue that concerns the conflicts afferent to the same social dimension, or logic, or social sphere is one of the thorniest. I would say that the real problem is exactly how to solve conflicts arising within the same “language”. In the field of negative freedom it is most likely to find a conflict between two equally important values such as security and privacy. We also find many other examples of innovations that end in a cul de sac for the apparent impossibility of choosing one aspect, generating disastrous consequences in economic terms, as well as a sort of failure in terms of freedom extension8.

Also in the field of morality we find examples, apparently paradoxical, such as the one arising from the intensification of cultivations according to ecologic criteria. These kinds of approaches, which tend to safeguard the conditions of possibility of life, also generate repercussions, such as the rising of prices of certain products, undermining the freedom of a large part of the population to gain access to them. Here as well the logic at the basis of these moral considerations seems to be the same, that of guaranteeing the basic condition for existence. However, this does not impede clashes from happening. Conflicts of this sort are much more common than we could possibly imagine and this reveals the fundamental role of institutions as third parties to enact processes for developing shared solutions. Only through a balanced and inclusive deliberation, can we hope to develop alternative solutions that are not mere compromises but responsible innovations themselves [ROS 08, VAN 12b, VAN 13].

To summarize these long passages, we can say that institutions, through their role as facilitators and educators, must fulfill a triple function. They must embody the subjectivities of which they are expression and to which they are called to respond. They must also do this by media based on an intersubjective character that enable not only the recognition among individuals but also their stable interaction. This passage determines that the various institutions must put themselves in a balanced relation that, we need to recall, is not a linear equilibrium. It means that any institution belonging to a particular social sphere should be neglected and that none rise up as the main one. This relation of dynamic or ponderate equilibrium connects to the third function an institution must fulfill, that is to be historically determined. An institution incarnates in an objective form the subjective peculiarities enabling their expression and implementation through others. In the case of freedom, transcendental reference value for our analysis, the institutions must teach the modalities to express freedoms and facilitate the processes aimed at their actualization. However, if freedom as a concept remains the cardinal point that enables us to orient ourselves, the contents of those freedoms cannot be predetermined because they will always be immanent. For these reasons, the institutions must be able to perform their historical, dynamic role in order to modify their contents without changing their objective and purpose. The first two tasks will enable this last aspect to realize the deepest sense of freedom, its actualization as an expression of free individuality.

From the same presuppositions, we can depart in order to briefly define the risks which we would run into if these conditions are not respected.

Borrowing a piece of medical terminology, we can exemplify society as an organism where the lack of an accord among the parts, their connection, generates phenomena of sufferance. If these phenomena extend over time, becoming chronic, or they overcomplexify, we might assist to those illnesses that John Dewey defined as “social pathologies” [DEW 54]. As brilliantly summarized by Honneth, a social pathology is deeper than a phenomenon of social injustice because it does not stand at an explicit level of privation of freedom. Whether the latter explicitly impede the access to social practices of cooperation, the former “impact subjects’ reflexive access to primary systems of actions and norms” [HON 14a, p. 86]. Social pathologies are thus those situations where agents can only perceive the impossibility of actualizing their freedoms, and that affect their capabilities of being part of a society. They can occur in the moment when one sphere ceases to communicate with another or when an institution does not respond to the purpose for which it is envisaged. The agent thus does not perceive anymore that the institutions perform a function of social actualization of their own values, interests, norms, etc. The recognition of the agent disappears that in this way loses a stable and serene relation with a certain aspect of society, generating a series of negative repercussions.

“The pathological logic consists in the fact that subjects do not grasp internal boundaries and thus make its practice the entirety of their life praxis. The habitual consequence of such an autonomization is that individual action becomes rigid and fixed, reflected in symptoms of social isolation and a loss of communication” [HON 14a, p. 114]. This means that social pathologies depict prolonged situations of an incorrect interpretation of the rationality embedded onto an institutional practice. “Social pathologies arise whenever some or all members of society systematically misunderstand the rational meaning of a form of institutionalized praxis. Instead of following the rules in a more or less creative way, whose common exercise makes up the social value of such system of action, they are guided by interpretations that falsely reflect the social meaning of these rules” [HON 14a, p. 113].

From the point of view of subjectivity, institutions can, explicitly or implicitly, no longer represent the individualities for which they exist. Individuals will not see themselves represented, emphasizing a phenomenon of social injustice, or they will perceive themselves as unrecognized within the institution averting a sense of distance of isolation from the social fabric, the reasons of which, however, they are not able to identify. If the injustice in this sense can be represented by the exclusion of one or more individuals from social practices, the pathology is generated by less explicit forms of exclusion. The complexity here is extended in forms that are not exhaustible in this text and that require a constant sociological treatment. Habermas reminds us how spread is such a possibility. “Today, however, the increasingly high-pitched appeal by politicians to “our values” sounds ever emptier – alone the confusion of “principles”, which require some kind of justification, with “values”, which are more or less attractive, irritates me beyond all measure” [HAB 15].

As we have previously seen, there are very often forms of participation that are not free in the administration of their evolutions and they too can generate these kinds of reactions [FUN 06].

From the point of view of objectivity, we can denote how institutions fail to identify and promote criteria and languages that can perform their relational functions. They can specifically use a medium that does not represent all the requirements and that directs the communication according to a sectorial language, They can also use a medium that is incomprehensible and that therefore invalidates the reciprocal communication between individualities. The example given previously on the commercialization of education or health uses a medium of an economic nature that is not comprehensible to all parties involved. Here, we can also find explicit impositions or more hidden phenomena in the completion of the “translation”.

Finally, the historical perspective denotes forms of injustice in the cases of explicit refusal of the institution to adopt the evolution of the forms of freedom. The example of a different understanding of marriage and the relationship between parents and children exemplifies this type of necessity and the sentiment of injustice it accompanies. More implicit phenomena in this sense are vigorously manifested in interdisciplinary institutions in which the historical changes in one do not correspond to another, as in religion in which the dialectic between secular and religious values often causes short-circuits.

In general, what emerges is the possibility of understanding pathological phenomena or those of injustice drawing attention to practices that are incorrect with respect to the role that was envisaged for them. The risk of not being able to achieve a balance and therefore of an attitude that is not rational is not only a matter of injustice but also the fact that lack of trust in institutions often results in forms of apathy [DEW 54, p. 122, HON 14a, p. 278] that can lead to alternative and extra-institutional forms of freedom. Into this picture/scenario, we can insert isolationist forms that generate a sort of vicious circle of reciprocal underestimation between institutions and individuals and also many forms of violence.

These situations can be, of course, corrected by means of a criticism and rereading of the normative grammar appertaining to an institution, in relation to its function for a particular society. And it is this aspect that we need to emphasize. To repair the relationship between individuals and institutions is necessary in order to reveal the functions, duties and relations of institutional apparatuses as objective expressions of concrete subjectivities.

In order not to incur phenomena of the exploitation of the terms responsibility and “freedom”, we must demand institutional measures that allow a subject to be truly free and consequently truly responsible. The task of modernity at every new paradigm is to protect the intentions from diverse applications. Criticism must do this, to place under the scrutiny of reason the development of new conceptions so that sectarian or manipulative logics do not take possession of them to make them an instrument of acceptance. It is to acceptability that we must look in order to obtain acceptance, but not of course in an empty but in a full sense that assumes, however, the characters of logic and rationality in general. These institutions and their proclamations must respond to the task for which they were designed and declare they have. The medium is thus not the procedure but the institutions. The instrument survives the labor, the beneficiary and the user, in order to be a universal medium of immanent expressions.

We have, therefore, described the relationships that responsibility has with freedom due to the polysemy that it embodies. We have understood how an ethical relationship implies the objective implementation of subjective needs by means of institutions. For both freedom and responsibility, there exist various areas of understanding and application. Nevertheless, the only typology of freedom that permits an actualization of the agent and therefore also of freedom itself in its various forms (for which it exists) is a social freedom. This social or ethical freedom is composed of the articulation of individual freedoms within institutions by means of objective perspectives. Such a typology of freedom finds its alter ego precisely in freedom as a considered equilibrium of its various acceptions by means of institutional mechanisms. This is based on the fact that in order for a norm to be efficacious apart from its purely formal validity, it must also (but not only) be the fruit of individual determination. Responsibility, understood in the way we have mentioned, as an answer to the various requests of freedom, must not be confined to the cold barren lands of “must be”, but must open itself through a structure of reference to the land of “can be”.

In fact, the vicissitudes that have occurred as a result of technological innovations and the relationship between science and society in general teach us that the space between validity and application of a norm can only be filled by their codetermination by means of institutional arrangements. The “moral and epistemic” comprehension of the norms, which is at the basis of the concept of freedom, passes through this institutional framework that determines, and is itself determined, as an ethical space. The ethical space, in fact, performs an active function and is not only a guideline and plans a double role as educator and facilitator, an objective reference of the originalities appertaining to individuals. The ethical space is the dimension of the actualization of freedom and there, of responsibility, within which an agent must interact.

Being responsible means responding to the guaranteed freedoms as a recognized moral agent of a society, having the aim of preserving such freedoms and at the same time implementing them through institutional arrangements.

To reweave the lines of this net, we have seen that responsibility in itself remains a formal concept formed by various acceptions, the relationships of which cannot at first sight be identified. It is clear that we are unable to define the normative content of responsibility a priori so as not to remain in a paternalistic and isolationist framework. We have emphasized how the different acceptions of responsibility cannot respond for themselves, either on a theoretical or a practical plane, given the complexity permeated in its polysemy. We have, therefore, had to make explicit the conditions of possibility of every responsibility. In fact, all the proposed conceptions concerning the acceptions of responsibility, on both a literary and empirical plane, assume a determined conception of freedom. At the same time, we have seen how freedom has also undergone changes over the course of time and how today there are still different conceptions of it. For this reason, we have analyzed its characteristics in order to emphasize how freedom must be conceived as a complementary and lexical connection between juridical, moral and social freedom.

Consequently, following on from the concept of triadic freedom proposed, we have suggested that responsibility is the balanced composition of all the acceptions of which it is composed. Responsibility, therefore, as well as freedom are intended in this way, connecting its aspects within an institutional framework. Institutions, in fact, play a double role through which individuals learn to recognize each other reciprocally and to develop stable forms of interaction. The various social dimensions and also the various acceptions of the two concepts must be regarded as complementary parts of a single entity and which interact with one another in search of a considered equilibrium. This does not mean that all its aspects must be considered in the same way on all occasions. It means that no aspect, in no circumstance, should be ignored in order to avoid phenomena concerning the deprivation of freedom, which are therefore unjust and potentially pathological. This regulatory aspect must be transmitted in articulated, or at least justified, objective forms, that is to say by means of reason that acts as a connection between law (abstract) and society (determined and plural). In particular, we referred to a moral, intersubjective and dialogue model. The capacity to enter into a deliberative dimension is surely one of the principal tasks that each institution must set itself as fulfillment of its own responsibility. Only by means of forms of communication that can reveal collateral effects and relate different perspectives can third forms of agreement be created, i.e. ethical forms. And it is exactly in the ethical dimension that both freedom and responsibility are implemented [VAN 13a].

At this point, having defined the structural relationship between responsibility and freedom, we can pass to the application of this schema in RRI. In this way, we will understand in which way and to what extent this framework can contribute to develop an ethical perspective on research and innovation.