How formal is the ethics of responsibility?

Weber's legacy: at the crossroads of traditions




Max Weber, ethics of responsibility, ethics of conviction, values, commitment, recognition, collective responsibility, community


Max Weber’s last in his life publications give grounds to correct the traditional notions of the ethics of responsibility as purely calculative and one that subordinates the ethical goal to the right means of achieving it and the strictness of its observance. For Weber devotion to certain values is ultimately the basis of any possible ethics: in the ethics of conviction, this devotion is contrasted with taking into account all the results of the ethical act, and in the ethics of respon- sibility these results seek to take into account what should make certain values more reliable. Passionate commitment to political goals that express the interests of the community, rather than the selfish and vain intentions of the politician is a solid basis for the responsibility of the politician. The passionate pursuit of truth directs the scientist’s well-thought-out research pro- gram. In economics, the pursuit of personal gain, which is inherent for the “economic man”, requires consideration of the common economic good both for those with whom the man makes his business and for the community, which is his lifeworld and creates the necessary con- ditions for any possible economic activity. In any social sphere, each social system has its own logic of calculating success, but each time this calculation involves respecting and protecting the basic values for this system. In everyday life we observe numerous deviations from this clear and transparent logic of the ethics of responsibility, which create the illusion of its dysfunction. Similarly, insincere and inconsistent adherence to declared beliefs can give the wrong impres- sion of the whole ethics of conviction. It is these deviations from the intrinsic integrity of the ethics of responsibility and the ethics of persuasion that create the false impression of them as mutu- ally exclusive behavioral strategies. In their conscientious pursuit, the ethics of conviction and the ethics of responsibility complement each other. The formalism of the ethics of responsibil- ity makes sense only for a stricter and more impartial protection of the values that are important to the adherents of this ethic. This formalism is a denial only of all other, irrelevant values, and not a designation of responsibility for a particular ethical commitment as a value-empty, indiffe- rent form. Weber points to the prospect of recognition as a path to a collective ethic of responsi- bility in its positive sense — as a conscious commitment by a community of like-minded people to commit to values that are significant to them.

Author Biography

Mikhail Boychenko

Doctor of Sciences in Philosophy, Professor at the Department of Theoretic and Practical Philosophy, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Leading Research Fellow at the Institute of Higher Education, National Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of Ukraine


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How to Cite

Boychenko, M. (2021). How formal is the ethics of responsibility? Weber’s legacy: at the crossroads of traditions. Filosofska Dumka, (1), 75–95.