- It is not, what a lawyer tells me I maydo; but what humanity, reason, and justice, tell me I ought to do. [Edmund Burke, “Speech on Conciliation with America” (March 22, 1775).
Every person who sacrifices to care for a child and every child who does his homework without being prodded understands what responsibility is. It is the action component of our duty to others.
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Robert Solomon, ed., Thinking About Feeling: Contemporary Philosophers on Emotions (Oxford University Press, 2004).
- Robert Solomon, Not Passion's Slave: Emotions and Choice (Oxford University Press, 2003).
- Christopher Tilmouth, Passion's Triumph Over Reason: A History of the Moral Imagination from Spenser to Rochester (Oxford University Press, 2007).
- Victoria Kahn, Neil Saccamano and Daniela Coli, eds., Politics and the Passions: 1500-1850 (Princeton University Press, 2006).
- Timothy Garton Ash, Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World (Yale University Press, 2016): “His preferred answer to the more flagrant vices of liberty — hate speech, manipulative journalism, coarsened debate and a vast sewer of abuse on social media — is to encourage ‘shared norms and practices that enable us to make best use of this essential freedom.’”
From the dark side:
- Paul A. Offit, Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine (Basic Books, 2015): “ . . . one can only hope that the efforts of people like Rita Swan — and books like ‘Bad Faith’ — will eventually bring about legislation that eliminates religious exemption for medical neglect of a child.”
Documentary and Educational Films
Responsibility and irresponsibility on a large scale:
- Eric Schlosser, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (The Penguin Press, 2013): on accidents with nuclear weapons
- Kevin Young, Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News (Greywolf Press, 2017) “We Can’t Handle the Truth”
- Carlos Lozada, What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era (Simon & Schuster, 2020): “We have spent the past 50 years undermining the basic institutions of society — not just our sense of common purpose and identity, but also normative values like truth and duty and expertise. The politics of consumerism — and grievance — have overwhelmed.”
- Martin J. Sherwin, Gambling with Armageddon: Nuclear Roulette from Hiroshima to the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1945-1962 (Knopf, 2020): “Since the October 1962 near miss of a holocaust, most global leaders have prioritized arms control to reduce the likelihood of nuclear war. ‘Gambling With Armageddon’ is a useful reminder to their successors to continue the effort.”
- Sheera Frankel and Cecilia Kang, An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination (Harper, 2021): “ The social media behemoth does as little as possible to prevent disasters from happening, then feebly attempts to avoid blame and manage public appearances.”
- Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley, Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine (MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2021): “. . . it’s a lot easier to tell someone else to just shut up and submit to quarantine than to do it yourself. Any exercise of such formidable power also opens up the possibility of abuse.”
- Edvard Munch, Girl Kindling a Stove (1883)
Film and Stage
- Do the Right Thing, a film about the daily concerns in Brooklyn on the hottest day of the year
- Red Beard, about a young doctor who learns compassion and responsibility
- Bed and Board (Domicil Conjugal), about a young man struggling with his responsibilities
- Diner, about“a group of high-school buddies who, in 1959, are a year or two out of high school, and just beginning to find their ways”
- Love Streams: the common story of male tension between women and family responsibilities; desperation in a menagerie-of-choice
- Rushmore: a “15-year-old tycoon-wannabe as a schoolboy” grows up a bit
- Summertime: a woman turns down a chance at romance for the good of others, and herself
- The Yearling: a boy learns a hard lesson about responsibility when he is put to the task of killing a fawn that is eating his family’s food supply.
From the shadow side:
- Jaws: the ethical dimension of the story is in the decision not to tell the public that a shark is in the water
- Lost in America: a young couple learns the hard way
- The Lost Weekend: a story about debilitating alcoholism
- Local Hero: a satirical look at rapacious company executives who don’t take it very seriously
- Nobody’s Fool, about a sixty-year-old man struggling with a basic sense of responsibility
- Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, about a young man who attends to his work during the workweek but wastes it all on weekends
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Brahms expresses a seriousness of purpose in his three piano quartets. The significant and assertive role taken on by each voice adds to the overriding mood.
- Piano Quartet No 1 in G minor, Op. 25
- Piano Quartet No 2 in A major, Op. 26
- Piano Quartet No 3 in C minor, Op. 60 (“Werther”)
“All of (Foerster’s) string quartets are characterized by a sense of equilibrium of the sonic aspect, while the instrumental texture highlights the melodiousness of regularly built ideas with a solid tonal foundation.” [Vlasta Reitterová , in liner notes for this 2-CD set]
- String Quartet No. 1 in E Major, Op. 15 (1888), drawing on Smetana and Dvořák
- String Quartet No. 2 in D Major, Op. 39 (1893)
- String Quartet No. 3 in C Major, Op. 61 (1907, rev. 1913), dedicated to the composer’s wife Berta
- String Quartet No. 4 in F Major, Op. 182 (1944), inspired by a visit to Kladno, where he attended a performance of his opera Eva
- String Quartet No. 5 in G Major, "The Vestic" (1951), dedicated to the composer’s second wife Olga
- Wayne, 5 Dances for Cello & Piano (responsibility in relationships)
- Raga Lalita Dhwani (performances by Amjad Ali Khan, Sharanjeet Mand and Bhargav Mistry)
From the dark side:
- Gwendolyn Brooks, “We Real Cool”
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Iris Dement, “Living in the Wasteland of the Free”
[In A Christmas Carol, Dickens tells us that we are responsible for our own present, and future. This theme appears early in the novel, through Marley’s ghost:]
Again the spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain and wrung its shadowy hands. "You are fettered," said Scrooge, trembling. "Tell me why?" "I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost. "I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?" Scrooge trembled more and more. "Or would you know," pursued the Ghost, "the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!" [Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843), Stave I: Marley’s Ghost.]
[In one of literature’s most chilling moments, the theme appears again through a vision of two emaciated children accompanying the ghost of the present:]
"Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask," said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit's robe, "but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?" "It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it," was the Spirit's sorrowful reply. "Look here." From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment. "Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!" exclaimed the Ghost. They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread. Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude. "Spirit! are they yours?" Scrooge could say no more. "They are Man's," said the Spirit, looking down upon them. "And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!" cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. "Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!" "Have they no refuge or resource?" cried Scrooge. "Are there no prisons?" said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. "Are there no workhouses?" The bell struck twelve. Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Jacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him. [Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843), Stave III: The Second of the Three Spirits.]
- Cherise Wolas, The Resurrection of Joan Ashby: A Novel (Flatiron Books, 2017): “There are the demands and joys of creating art … and then there are the demands and joys of being a parent.”
- Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation: A Novel (Knopf, 2014) “ . . . charts the course of a marriage through curious, often shimmering fragments of prose.”
- Kevin Wilson, Nothing to See Here: A Novel (Ecco, 2019): “ . . . an unassuming bombshell of a novel that appears to be about female friendship . . . but is actually about our responsibilities toward the people we care for and about.”
- Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give: A Novel (Balzer + Bray, 2017): “It provides an ideal story to help teenagers think through questions of justice, racism, activism and personal responsibility . . .”
- Caitlin Wahrer, The Damage: A Novel (Pamela Dorman/Viking, 2021): “Wahrer’s characters are going through hell but still manage to be human and worth getting to know.”
- Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, Fierce Little Thing: A Novel (Flatiron Books, 2021): “A murder mystery, a character study, an exploration of guilt and responsibility, an account of a utopian community gone awry . . .”