Chapters (Layout Features)

Causation and Responsibility in a Complex World

Jervis, Robert

Power, as a form of causation, is at the heart of how we try to understand our world. It is hard to tell a story without bringing in how the behavior of one person leads others to respond, and even the youngest children interpret what they see in terms of cause-and-effect relations. It is a further but small step from saying that someone exercised power and caused an outcome to arguing that she was responsible for the way events unfolded, and responsibility has important normative connotations and implications. The problem is, of course, that power can be disguised in various ways. Stephen Krasner has shown that in back of choices made by various actors can be power exercised by others at times or places at some remove that, by changing the structure of the situation and the alternatives that the actor faces, can do much of the causal work.1 Even those without social science training sense this. When I have my students play Prisoner’s Dilemma, some of them ask who arranged the situation this way and insist that next time they be able to be the District Attorney. But if this idea is not new, it has not been fully explored. This is not to say that I can do so here, but at least I will call attention to it and bring out several of its aspects, including the implications for allocating credit and blame.


Also Published In

Back to Basics: State Power in a Contemporary World
Oxford University Press

More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Published Here
March 25, 2015


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