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Collective and shared responsibility



Many large-scale moral problems demand collective action for their solution: anthropogenic climate change, deforestation, antibiotic resistance, global poverty, sexism, oppression, overfishing, pollution, racism, etc. Groups of individual and/or collective agents together seem to have obligations to solve or mitigate these problems. Furthermore, since most problems involve either collectively produced harms or collective omissions, many people hold such groups responsible for harms related to these problems. Moreover, collective agents (corporations, states) are often blamed for bringing about particular harms.

This has motivated thriving philosophical discussions about collective action, collective obligations, backward-looking collective responsibility, and collective agency. Discussions have focused on issues such as: Can only collective agents have obligations, be responsible, and appropriately blamed or praised (Chant 2015; French 1984; Held 1970; Isaacs 2011)? Are there cases of collective responsibility or collective obligation that cannot be reduced to shared responsibility or obligations of individual agents (Copp 2006; List & Pettit 2011; Miller 2006)? How can we best make sense of different cases where collections of individuals seem to have shared/joint obligations (Aas 2015; Björnsson 2014; Collins 2013; Hindriks 2019; Lawford-Smith 2015; Pinkert 2014; Schwenkenbecher 2014; Wringe 2014)? How is an agent’s responsibility for an outcome influenced by the involvement of other agents (May 1992; Mellema 2006; Zimmerman 1985)?

What has been relatively underexplored is the relation between the retrospective (blameworthiness/praiseworthiness) and the prospective (obligations/duties) side of collective moral responsibility. If a group is collectively blameworthy, does that mean that it must have violated a collective obligation? Can collective blameworthiness for an outcome give rise to new collective obligations related to that outcome? Similarly, how does shared blameworthiness relate to shared obligations?

Recent work on the nature of moral responsibility may illuminate and help to make progress on such questions. For example, could distinctions between different kinds of responsibility (e.g. attributivity, answerability, accountability) be applicable to shared/collective responsibility (Shoemaker 2011; Baddorf 2016)? Moreover, should we invoke the same conditions for individual, shared and collective moral responsibility? Is this even possible given that shared responsibility does not always require causal implication or control (May 1992)?

Finally, answers to the preceding questions are potentially influenced by the debates about collective agency and intentionality. But is collective agency necessary for there to be collective responsibility? If so, is rational collective agency equivalent to collective moral agency (cf. Hindriks 2018)? Does shared agency qualify for moral agency? If not, what does it mean for non-agential groups to be responsible? And how does this influence the relation between (collective) responsibility and (collective) obligations?

In light of the relevance of these debates, the workshop will focus on three overarching questions:

  • What is the relation between backward-looking shared/collective moral responsibility and individual/shared/collective duties?
  • What is the relation between shared/collective moral responsibility and shared/collective agency and/or intentionality?
  • Should we look for a unified theory of both individual and shared/collective moral responsibility? If so, what can we learn about the former from the latter (or vice versa)? If not, what are the differences between these distinct types of moral responsibility?