Saturday, February 22, 2014

"Seeing to it" as a Principle of Moral Conduct



Of what significance to moral conduct is the ability to see to (attend to, keep in mind) some task or duty that we’ve been assigned? To what extent does compliance with duty depend on the ability to “see to” some particular action’s being performed or some particular event’s taking place?
      If I say that I’ll "see to" some action A’s being performed or some event E’s taking place, then I acknowledge my responsibility to attend to the conditions that will lead to A or E, and I imply that I’ll act with a reasonable amount of care, attentiveness, and diligence in order to ensure that A is performed or that E takes place.
      If I say that I’ll "see to" something, then I also imply that I’ll follow through on "seeing to it," and that I’ll make sure, to the best of my ability, that it is actualized or brought to fruition.
      “Seeing to it” may therefore fulfill a promise, pledge, or vow to take care of something. It may also be a “seeing that” something is fulfilled or takes place.
      "Seeing to" something may represent a mode of "being addressed" to that thing. If we "see to" something, then we pay attention to it, and we address ourselves to ensuring its actualization or its coming into being.
      However, there may be a practical limit to the number of things that we can attend to within a finite time frame. If we are obligated to attend to many different things at the same time, then we may have to prioritize them, so that we can deal with our most pressing and urgent obligations before we attend to less pressing and less urgent ones.
       “Seeing to it” that some action A is performed or that some event E takes place may also fulfill a directive or command that must in some cases be prioritized or structured in relation to other directives or commands.

      If I say to someone who has a right to expect me to be reliable that I’ll see to it that A is performed or that E takes place, then I may be held blameworthy if I fail to see to it that A is performed or that E takes place.
      Of course, I can only properly be said to have seen to something if I've acted in such a way that I've ensured its taking place. If I did nothing to ensure its taking place, then I cannot properly be said to have seen to it. The action or event in question need not have taken place solely due to my intervention, but I must have done something to ensure that it would indeed take place. I must therefore have been in a position of causal agency in relation to it, so that my seeing to it ensured, or could have ensured, that it took place.1
      Nuel Belnap, Michael Perloff, and Ming Xu (2001) explore the formal semantics of “stit sentences” (sentences in which a subject or agent sees to it that something is true) as a means of investigating the causal structure of agency and action. They explain that the stit sentence “α sees to it that Q,” where α is an agent and Q is any declarative sentence guaranteed to be true by a prior choice of action on the part of α, may be symbolized as [α stit: Q].2
      Similarly, they explain that the sentence “α is obligated to see to it that Q” may be symbolized as Oblg:[α stit: Q], the sentence “α is forbidden to see to it that Q” may be symbolized as Frbn:[α stit: Q], and the sentence “α is permitted to see to it that Q” may be symbolized as Perm:[α stit: Q].3
      To these sentences may be added their corresponding negations, in order to express other deontic modalities of "seeing to it" or of "not seeing to it" that Q. Thus, “α is not obligated to see to it that Q” may be symbolized as ~Oblg:[α stit: Q], “α is not forbidden to see to it that Q” may be symbolized as ~Frbn:[α stit: Q], and “α is not permitted to see to it that Q” may be symbolized as ~Perm:[α stit: Q].
      To these sentences may also be added the sentence Ought:[α stit: Q] (“α ought to see to it that Q”), and its negation ~Ought:[α stit: Q] (“α ought not to see to it that Q”).
      Direct or indirect obligation and permission to "see to it" that Q may also be expressed by such sentences as: Oblg:[β stit: [α stit: Q] ] (which may be read as "β is obligated to see to it that α sees to it that Q"), and Perm:[β stit: [α stit: Q] ] (which may be read as "β is permitted to see to it that α sees to it that Q").  Similarly, the absence of such obligation or permission may be expressed by such sentences as ~Oblg:[β stit: [α stit: Q] ] (which may be read as "β is not obligated to see to it that α sees to it that Q") and ~Perm:[β stit: [α stit: Q] ] (which may be read as "β is not permitted to see to it that α sees to it that Q"). 

      Belnap, Perloff, and Xu explain that stit sentences may be used to express such deontic equivalences as

        Frbn:[α stit: Q]    ~Perm:[α stit: Q] 
and
        Perm:[α stit: Q]    ~Frbn:[α stit: Q].4
  
      In addition to these, we might take note of such equivalences as

      •  Oblg:[α stit: Q]    ~Perm:[~α stit: Q]

      •  Perm:[~α stit: Q]    ~Oblg:[α stit: Q]

      •  ~Frbn:[α stit: Q]    ~Oblg:[~α stit: Q]

      •  Perm:[α stit: P  Q]    
                Perm:[α stit: P]  Perm:[α stit: Q]

      •  Ought:[α stit: P  Q]    
                Ought:[α stit: P]  Ought:[α stit: Q]

       •  Oblg:[α stit: P  Q]    
                  Oblg:[α stit: P]  Oblg:[α stit: Q]

and such axioms as 

      •  [α stit: P  Q]  → 
                [ [α stit: P]  [α stit: Q] ] 

      •  [α stit: [P  Q] ]  →  
                 [ [α stit: P]  [α stit: Q] ]

      •  Perm:[α stit: P]  [ [α stit: P]  
                Perm:[α stit: Q] ]  Perm:[α stit: Q]
(“if α is permitted to see to it that P, and if in seeing to it that P, α is permitted to see to it that Q, then α is permitted to see to it that Q”)

      •  ~Perm:[α stit: P]  Oblg: [ [α stit: Q]  
                 [α stit: P] ]     ~Perm:[α stit: Q]
(“if α is not permitted to see to it that P, and if in seeing to it that Q, α is obligated to see to it that P, then α is not permitted to see to it that Q”), and

      •  Oblg:[α stit: P]  [ [α stit: P]  
                  Oblg:[α stit: Q] ]  Oblg:[α stit: Q]
(“if α is obligated to see to it that P, and if in seeing to it that P, α is obligated to see to it that Q, then α is obligated to see to it that Q”).

      Interestingly, Belnap, Perloff, and Xu distinguish between “not seeing to it" that Q and “refraining from seeing to it" that Q. Refraining from seeing to it that Q entails not seeing to it that Q, but not seeing to it that Q does not entail refraining from seeing to it that Q.5   
      “Seeing to it that Q” may be paraphrased as “taking care that Q” or “taking the time to ensure that Q” or “exerting oneself sufficiently to make sure that Q” (to suggest just a few possible interpretations). Thus, the sentence “See to it that you knock before you open the door” may be paraphrased as “Be sure to knock before you open the door” or “Be careful to knock before you open the door” or “Take time to knock before you open the door.”
      The U.S. Constitution, Article Two, Section Three, says that the President “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed, and shall commission all the officers of the United States.” Under the "Take Care Clause," the President is therefore obligated to see to it that all laws are faithfully executed, and he/she does not have the power to disregard laws or to allow them to be disregarded. Thus, the responsibility to see to it that the laws are faithfully executed may require some degree of care, attentiveness, and diligence on the part of the President.
      “Seeing to it” may be the basis of an “ethics of care.” If we see to the health, safety, and well-being of an individual, or of a group of individuals, then we attend to, are responsive to, and care for his/her/their emotional and physical needs. Our caring for an individual, or for a group of individuals, may be expressed by our “seeing to” the actualization of those conditions that promote his/her/their health, safety, and well-being.
      “Seeing to” something may thus require a kind of moral vision, which may be characterized by not only the capacity to perceive and appreciate the moral dimensions of human conduct, but also the capacity to feel and communicate a sense of moral responsibility, the capacity to honor and fulfill moral duties and obligations, and the capacity to promote moral and social understanding. Moral vision may be a vision of the way in which moral values can be reflected by individuals, institutions, and society.


FOOTNOTES

1Nuel Belnap, Michael Perloff, and Ming Xu
 explain that the assignment of moral or legal responsibility to an agent for doing something presupposes that the agent actually did something, and it also presupposes that the agent could have done otherwise. (Facing the Future: Agents and Choices in Our Indeterminist World, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 256.) 
2Belnap, Perloff, and Xu, Facing the Future, p. 6.
3Ibid., p. 17.
4Ibid., p. 64.
5Ibid., p. 41.







































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