Full Responsibility

On Pragmatic, Political, and Other Modes of Sharing Action

By Steven G. Smith

Subjects: Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Religion And Politics, Ethics, Moral Psychology
Series: SUNY series in American Philosophy and Cultural Thought
Hardcover : 9781438489810, 232 pages, September 2022
Paperback : 9781438489827, 232 pages, March 2023

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents


1. Responsibility and Realization

The Appeal of Responsibility
The Subjective Basis of Responsibility in Practical Realizing
Shared Realizing and Shared Responsibility
Agency Responsibility
Theory of Responsible Realization versus Theory of Values

2. Pragmatic Responsibility
The Ontological Structure of Pragmatic Responsibility: Actualizing
The World Scene of Pragmatic Responsibility: The Sifting of Existence
The Personal Coherence of Pragmatic Responsibility: Vocation
The Social Coherence of Pragmatic Responsibility: Ethos
Sympathy, Empathy, and “Affective Responsibility”
The Relation between Pragmatic Responsibility and Historical Responsibility: The Description Issue
The Relation between Pragmatic Responsibility and Ethical Responsibility: The Stringency Issue

3. Political Responsibility
Political Responsibility and Power Wielding: The Motivation Issue
The Relation between Political Responsibility and Ethical Responsibility: The Obligation Issue
The Relation between Political Responsibility and Pragmatic Responsibility: The Organization Issue
The Relation between Political Responsibility and Historical Responsibility: The Collective Identity Issue
Touchstones of Political Responsibility: Heroes and Cautionary Examples
The Pursuit of Collective Political Realization

4. Challenges in Four Spheres of Political Responsibility
Family Responsibility and Abortion
Organizational Responsibility and “Good Jobs”
Community Responsibility and Immigration
Global Responsibility and the Displacement of Persons

5. Full Responsibility
Limiting and Maximizing Approaches to Full Responsibility
Models of Full Responsibility
Spirits of Responsibility
Your Vocation (in another sense)


Appendix 1. Notes on Ethical Responsibility
Ethical Apriorism and Its Limitations
Alternative Positionings of Ethics

Appendix 2. Notes on Historical Responsibility
The Historical Dimension of Responsibility
The Roots of Historical Responsibility
The Farmer’s Historical Responsibility
The National Leader’s Historical Responsibility
Historical Injustice and Historical Jeopardy

Appendix 3. Notes on Religious Responsibility
Exemplars of Religious Responsibility
The Threat of Religious Responsibility


Explores the basic forms of responsibility that we willingly assume and the collaborative fulfillment that we find in each.


Starting with an appreciation of the practical realizations that move us to assume responsibility, Full Responsibility develops an ontologically-grounded model of different forms of responsibility and the challenges and fulfillments found in each. Special attention is given to pragmatic and political responsibility, highlighting considerations for right action that are not accurately recognized by universalizing ethics. Issues in abortion decisions, providing for responsible work, and immigration and refugee policy are examined in the complex frame of political responsibility. Moving past the standoff between political moralism and political realism, Steven G. Smith offers an account of political responsibility as an unstable combination of all modes of responsibility. The book concludes by reviewing different approaches to the impossible but compelling ideal of full responsibility. The distinctive natures of ethical, historical, and religious forms of responsibility are discussed in appendices.

Steven G. Smith is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Millsaps College. His many books include Worth Doing and Centering and Extending: An Essay on Metaphysical Sense, both also published by SUNY Press.


"A very close examination of responsibility in most of its nuances, Smith's hypothetical scenarios breathe life into what, for other authors, might otherwise be dry dead husks of generalities and formalisms, demonstrating that such everyday activities as agreeing to move a piano for a friend are woven full of aspects of responsibility." — Marc M. Anderson, author of Hyperthematics: The Logic of Value