3Responsibility: A Polysemous Concept

Chapter 2 allowed us to evaluate the different approaches to RRI proposed by the European Commission and by the academic literature. As yet, however, none of these approaches have explored the concept of “responsibility” in detail, nor do they distinguish between legal responsibility, ethical (or moral) responsibility or social responsibility1. Here, we shall focus on the concept of moral responsibility. Indeed, it is this concept that best fits the framework of RRI. As shown in Chapter 1, to be ethical is not simply a question of respecting the law, a limitation of ethical reviews. This is even truer for RRI in which, as we shall see, ethics and responsibility go beyond with respect to the law.

If we consider the etymological roots of the word “responsibility”, it seems that the initial meaning comes from the Latin term respondere (to respond). In French (as in German with the term Verantworten), répondre (to respond) refers both to the idea of communicating a response and to the idea of being accountable for one’s actions (répondre de ses actes, in French) by taking on responsibility. The philosopher Ricoeur [RIC 95] notes a second meaning for responsibility linked to the idea of imputation, meaning the act of attributing an action or a result to a person. In the case of responsibility as response we focus on the intention of the actor, whereas with the idea of imputation the overriding factor is the causal relationship linking the actor ...

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