Just heard PM’s interview on Radio4. An issue came up which already came up yesterday in the Commons; an issue of responsibility. Let us suppose that terrorism (or attacks against westerns, or whatever) has increased since, say, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Are the US and UK Government responsible for that, given that their invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq was deliberate and intentional? Blair has a good answer to that: look (as he always, annoyingly, starts his answers), we can’t be responsible for the actions of others. And this is true. Responsibility is not causally transitive. So even if it made sense to say that the decision of the UK Government to invade Iraq caused the terrorist’s decision to blow up tube trains in London (and it isn’t at all clear what it means for one’s action to cause another’s action, given that the former, supposedly, was not sufficient to bring about the latter, otherwise the latter would not be an action), that does not mean that the UK Government is responsible for those trains being blown up; it is only who blew them up that is responsible. So that the counterfactual ‘the London trains would have not been blown up if the Government had not invaded Iraq’, even if true, would not bring with it responsibility for the Government. But there are at least to replies to Blair’s answer which, unfortunately, John (who fancies himself a bit too much to be a good interviewer) did not put to the PM: firstly, responsibility comes in if the government could have prevented what happened (but if the counterfactual is true, wouldn’t not invading Iraq have been a way to prevent the attacks? I guess the issue is whether you can do counterfactuals with people’s intentions and actions; and still, even then, it’s not clear that they would carry any responsibility). Secondly, there is an issue of prediction: because it is the Government’s responsibility to try and predict threats, it the Government could have predicted the threat, then, even though it cannot be responsible for someone else’s action, it would still be responsible for not having predicted someone else’s actions, which resulted in the attacks. In this latter case, both who blew up the trains and the Government would be responsible for the people who died on 7/7, because both who blew up the trains and the Government could and should have prevented what happened.
Given that I’m writing a PhD on intentions and intentional action, I was quite shocked to find, as the main item on The Guardian‘s front-page, news that brain scan can detect people’s intentions. Apparently, neuroscientists at Max Planck were able to detect, with an accuracy of 70%, whether a person had decided to add or subtract two numbers that she was going to be given by the experimenter. Let us play the sceptic, and remind ourselves that anyone, in such a situation, could predict the other person’s decision with an accuracy of 50%.