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Collective explanations, joint responsibility
Linköping University, Department of Culture and Communication, Arts and Humanities.
2010 (English)Other (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Two philosophical discussions of moral responsibility run parallel. One is tightly connected to the debate about free will and its relation to determinism and indeterminism. Philosophical accounts of moral responsibility belonging to this discussion typically focus on individual agential responsibility, characterizing what must be true about individuals in order for them to be responsible for their actions. The other discussion is connected to normative ethics, and the question of when the normative status of an action is affected by the occurrence of some good or bad event. Accounts belonging to this discussion sometimes address questions of whether individuals can be responsible for outcomes of actions by collectives to which they belong or identify with, or for joint effects of a great number of similar actions. A branch of the normative debate about responsibility also concerns the responsibility of collective agents such as corporations and nations. The two discussions rarely meet, and for seemingly good reason, as they appear to be concerned with very different aspects of responsibility; one is concerned with the causes of actions and the conditions under which we decide to act, the other with the relation between actions and consequences of action. In this paper, however, I argue that the Explanation Account, a promising account of individual agential responsibility, extends naturally to both individual and collective outcome-responsibility, and suggests intuitively plausible answers to questions about the responsibility of collectives and their members. The crucial aspect of the Explanation Account is that for an agent to be responsible for an event is for some relevant aspect of the agent’s motivation or lack thereof to be part of a significant explanation of that event. In the paper, I discuss how this extends to cases where events are explained by the fact that, say, the US rejects an international treaty, or that affluent people keep flying more than necessary. Unlike many other accounts of responsibility in virtue of participation in collective action, this account does not presuppose that collectives are agents, or even that they are social or cultural units. What matters is whether the actions of these individuals are instances of a set of actions that explains the outcomes for which they are thereby responsible. References: * Björnsson, Gunnar and Persson, Karl “Judgments of Moral Responsibility: A Unified Account”, Society for Philosophy and Psychology, 35th Annual Meeting 2009, available at * Björnsson, Gunnar and Persson, Karl “The Explanatory Component of Moral Responsibility”, forthcoming in Noûs

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URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-63429OAI: diva2:379581
Statsvetenskapliga institutionen, Göteborgs universitet, Seminariet för Politisk TeoriAvailable from: 2010-12-17 Created: 2010-12-17

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