Hello! I was watching The X-files and came across the following dialog:

- You've never seen one (an alien) before, have you? It’s shocking at first. The acceptance of the idea... it’s something only children and fools believed in. But then you come to understand.
- Understand what?
- The responsibility that this knowledge demands by the men who have it.

As I see it, the responsibility is demanded by the knowledge. Then, shouldn't it be, "The responsibility that this knowledge demands from the men who have it"?

Original Post

Hi, Alexey,

"from" would work, as you propose, to introduce those from whom something is demanded, expected, or required.

However, "by" also works to introduce those who hold the responsibility. The sentence in question would thus be interpreted as follows:

- The responsibility by the men who have this knowledge that this knowledge demands.

If you search the Internet for "demand responsibility by," you will find some interesting sentences, like these ones:

- Freedom of the press demands responsibility by the press.

- The circumstances demand responsibility by both political parties.

- I believe all governments expect and, indeed, demand responsibility by the mass media.

I'm confused, since "by" is used in passive constructions to introduce a doer/agent in a sentence, for example, "I (a patient/receiver) was hit by a car (an agent)."

It is the knowledge that is the agent, not the men. And since the men hold the responsibility, we could use "of" or an apostrophe. So, I would expect to see, "The responsibility of men/The men's responsibility that is demanded by the knowledge they have." 

 However, "demand responsibility by" exists, and that's why I'm confused.

Alexey86 posted:

I'm confused, since "by" is used in passive constructions to introduce a doer/agent in a sentence, for example, "I (a patient/receiver) was hit by a car (an agent)."

Sometimes, the action (or the result of an action) is expressed by a noun, and "by" continues to be of use to introduce the doer. See these sentences I've taken from L.A.Hill's Prepositions and Adverbial Particles (page 44):

- Which is better -- government by the people, or government by one man?
- This machine is for use by our men only.

Alexey86 posted:

And since the men hold the responsibility, we could use "of" or an apostrophe. So, I would expect to see, "The responsibility of men/The men's responsibility that is demanded by the knowledge they have." 

"of," or the possessive case, will be used when the noun takes a definite article. Notice you said: the responsibility of men / men's responsibility (the men's responsibility would only be used if you referred to the responsibility of the men). This use of the definite article before "responsibility" means that you are referring to a specific responsibility. "by" can be used with indefinite noun phrases, like the ones I stated above (responsibility by..., government by..., use by...).

This use of the definite article before "responsibility" means that you are referring to a specific responsibility.

I meant a particular type of responsibility, the one demanded by the knowledge men have. Or it still should be "men's responsibility that...", since it's followed by a modifier, not a complement? We've already discussed this topic ("We came to a conclusion that made me happy" vs "to the conclusion that we should do something" ), but it seems I haven't figured it out yet.

- Which is better -- government by the people, or government by one man?
- This machine is for use by our men only.

In these cases each of the nouns has a verbal meaning. "Government (the process of governing) by the people" makes sense to me, but "The government (a group of people) by the people" should be like, "The government (that is) controlled by the people."  Or, am I wrong?
We can reformulate the phrases this way, "government (that is) carried out by the people," "his machine may be used by our men only." But we can't turn "the responsibility this knowledge demands by the men who have it" into "the responsibility this knowledge is demanded by the men who have it," which makes no sense.

Alexey86 posted:

This use of the definite article before "responsibility" means that you are referring to a specific responsibility.

I meant a particular type of responsibility, the one demanded by the knowledge men have. Or it still should be "men's responsibility that...", since it's followed by a modifier, not a complement?

In:

The responsibility that this knowledge demands by the men who have it.

"the" is required by the relative clause "that this knowledge demands by the men who have it." See what happens if there is no relative clause:

- This knowledge demands responsibility by the men who have it.

- The responsibility that this knowledge demands by the men who have it. 

"the" is required by the relative clause "that this knowledge demands by the men who have it."


I understand that. My question was exactly about the reformulated phrase, "The men's responsibility that is demanded by the knowledge they have."  Could the blue part be specific enough to make responsibility definite? Or is it just a simple general description? There may be plenty of grounds for responsibility, and knowledge is just one of them.  How can I tell whether this variant is specific or just one of many?

Alexey86 posted:

My question was exactly about the reformulated phrase, "The men's responsibility that is demanded by the knowledge they have."  Could the blue part be specific enough to make responsibility definite? Or is it just a simple general description? There may be plenty of grounds for responsibility, and knowledge is just one of them.  How can I tell whether this variant is specific or just one of many?

I don't think I get your point. The phrase:

- The men's responsibility that is demanded by the knowledge they have.

sounds odd to me. I'm afraid you are complicating things.

sounds odd to me. I'm afraid you are complicating things.

I agree. But even an odd sentence can be grammatical. Let's go back to the dialog:

- You've never seen one (an alien) before, have you? It’s shocking at first. The acceptance of the idea... it’s something only children and fools believed in. But then you come to understand.
- Understand what?
- (The) Men's responsibility that is demanded by the knowledge they have.

Could "the" refer to "responsibility", or only to "men's" due to the possessive case? I mean, does "the" make only men definite, not responsibility?

Alexey86 posted:


- (The) Men's responsibility that is demanded by the knowledge they have.

Could "the" refer to "responsibility", or only to "men's" due to the possessive case? I mean, does "the" make only men definite, not responsibility?

No, Alexey. That sentence does not work because the antecedent of the pronoun "they" needs to be found inside a noun phrase where the referent "men" is in the possessive case. The noun "men" needs to be free, so to speak, for "they" to refer to it.

Alexey86 posted:
- The responsibility that this knowledge demands by the men who have it.

I understand "by" as an awkward substitute for "of" here, not "from":

- The responsibility that this knowledge demands of the men who have it.

In other words, knowledge of the existence of aliens demands responsibility of the men who have this knowledge; it demands that they be responsible with it.

The noun "men" needs to be free, so to speak, for "they" to refer to it.

Of course! I missed that. What do you think of, "Men's responsibility that is demanded by this knowledge," or "Men's responsibility that is demanded by the knowledge men have."  I mean men in general here.


I understand "by" as an awkward substitute for "of" here, not "from":


The Cambridge Dictionary gives the following example, "He seems to lack many of the qualities demanded of (= needed by) a successful politician."  I  read "the qualities demanded of " as the conditions, or even the preconditions that must be met in order to be successful. But responsibility is not a prerequisite to be met. It's the opposite in a way, i.e. it's a result of possessing knowledge. Or, maybe there is another meaning of "demand of."

Alexey86 posted:
I  read "the qualities demanded of " as the conditions, or even the preconditions that must be met in order to be successful. But responsibility is not a prerequisite to be met. It's the opposite in a way, i.e. it's a result of possessing knowledge. Or, maybe there is another meaning of "demand of."

No, you can read it in an analogous way. No one should know that aliens exist unless he or she is (already) capable of being responsible with that knowledge.

Incidentally, instead of "demands of" in the example in question, a native speaker might also use "demands on the part of":

- The responsibility that this knowledge demands on the part of the men who have it.

No, you can read it in an analogous way. No one should know that aliens exist unless he or she is (already) capable of being responsible with that knowledge.

Well, this reading didn't occur to me. It makes sense. Thank you! What do you think about, "Men's responsibility that is demanded by this knowledge," or "Men's responsibility that is demanded by the knowledge men have."? Are these variants possible? I particularly care about article use.

David, Moderator posted:

Incidentally, instead of "demands of" in the example in question, a native speaker might also use "demands on the part of":

- The responsibility that this knowledge demands on the part of the men who have it.

That's nice. "on the part of" is perfect to indicate agency after nouns.

Alexey86 posted:

The noun "men" needs to be free, so to speak, for "they" to refer to it.

Of course! I missed that. What do you think of, "Men's responsibility that is demanded by this knowledge," or "Men's responsibility that is demanded by the knowledge men have."  I mean men in general here.

That sounds really awkward. The restrictiveness of "that is demanded by ..." clashes with the possessive. That restrictiveness is sometimes softened by "as":

- Men's responsibility as demanded by this knowledge (notice this is only a phrase).

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