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Back to BasicsState Power in a Contemporary World$
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Martha Finnemore and Judith Goldstein

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199970087

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199970087.001.0001

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Causation and Responsibility in a Complex World

Causation and Responsibility in a Complex World

(p.313) 14 Causation and Responsibility in a Complex World
Back to Basics

Robert Jervis

Oxford University Press

Causation is central to how we see the world, and we also quickly move from causation to responsibility, with its salient political and moral overtones. But attributing causation and responsibility is often difficult. How are we to do so in cases when many conditions are necessary for the outcome or when multiple sufficient causation is at work? Our judgments often involve counterfactuals, but these often remain implicit, and an examination of several historical cases indicates that we are prone to attribute causation and responsibility to leaders even when the outcome would have been the same had others been in power. Interaction effects are common and make parsing of responsibility even more difficult. Other facets of the problem are revealed when we focus on the important role of chronology, more often ignored by political scientists than by historians. People have to act in situations that have been shaped by others, and in some circumstances the most effective power is wielded by people or forces that have structured the situation in a certain way rather than by those who apparently are making the final choices. Our analysis of responsibility in conflict situations often is heavily driven by the starting point we pick.

Keywords:   international politics, causation, responsibility, international relations theory

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