Filosofiska institutionen

Humanistiska och teologiska fakulteterna | Lunds universitet

Collectivity and Responsibility Workshop

Workshop on Collectivity and Responsibility, Lund University, Sweden, April 20-21, 2018

This two-day workshop is concerned with questions about human collectivity and responsibility: We are social beings embedded in an institutional reality. We often act together with others, and much of what we do contribute to, enact or respond to the actions or omissions of groups and institutions. These facts raise both practical and theoretical questions about what moral obligations and responsibility that we have—individually as well as collectively—for the harms and goods that flow from these actions. They also raise questions about whether groups and institutions can themselves be moral agents that can appropriately be held responsible and hold others responsible.

Organized by Olle Blomberg and Björn Petersson.

If you are interested in attending, please contact Olle Blomberg (olof.blombergfil.luse) before April 2.


Friday, April 20

09:30-10:45 Mattias Gunnemyr - Political responsibility without participation and vice versa

10:45‐11:00 Coffee break

11:00‐12:15 Säde Hormio - Being collectively responsible for climate change

12:15-13:45 Lunch

13:45-15:00 Olle Blomberg – Responsibility gaps and attributionism

15:00-15:15 Coffee break

15:15-16:30 Avia Pasternak - Responsibility for historical wrongdoing and the changing identity of the state

Workshop dinner

Saturday, April 21

09:30-10:45 Gunnar Björnsson – Ways of being implicated

10:45‐11:00 Coffee break

11:00‐12:15 Åsa Burman – Collective responsibility for implicit bias

12:15-13:45 Lunch

13:45-15:00 Leonie Smith – From collective to individual remedial responsibility for global harms

15:00-15:15 Coffee break

15:15-16:30 Björn Petersson – Collective guilt feelings


Gunnar Björnsson, Stockholm University

Ways of being implicated

In earlier work, I have developed accounts of individual and shared responsibility and blameworthiness. In this talk, I use the underlying general models of responsibility and blame to chart further ways in which individuals can be implicated in wrongdoing and harm, and consider the range of blame-like attitudes that such implications make fitting.

Olle Blomberg, Lund University

Responsibility gaps and attributionism

Following an explosion on Deepwater Horizon in 2011, massive amounts of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, with devastating ecological and economic consequences. Investigations primarily blamed BP, the operator of the rig, for the disaster. The causes included mistakes and failures by many individuals and teams. Cases such as these arguably present us with so-called “responsibility gaps”: After having held all the individuals involved responsible, there seems to still be some responsibility unallocated (so to speak). Philip Pettit (as well as others) have argued that such gaps can be closed in some cases where the larger organisation (BP, in this case) is an appropriate target of responsibility attributions. In this talk, I argue though, that Pettit’s intentional control-based account of moral responsibility is too demanding to make sense of many possible genuine responsibility gaps. I further argue that a less demanding “attributionist" account of moral responsibility (favoured by, for example, Tim Scanlon, Angela Smith and Matthew Talbert) is better positioned to make sense of such collective responsibility gaps, just as it is best positioned to make sense of analogous individual responsibility gaps where an agent’s actions or omissions cannot be traced back to some knowing wrongdoing in the past.

Åsa Burman, Stockholm University

Collective responsibility for implicit bias

The current debate about implicit bias and moral responsibility focuses primarily on individuals and their behavior – is a person morally responsible for having implicit bias; for manifesting it; or for not acting on the knowledge that she most likely is biased? This individualistic bent also shows up in suggested solutions: Personal intervention is by far the most common type of solution (recently shown to be ineffective). The question of collective moral responsibility for implicit bias, however, has hitherto been overlooked: Can we as a collective – a nation, club, or as board of directors of an organization – be held morally responsible for implicit bias in individuals? I answer in the positive. More specifically, I show that the lack of control argument – directed against the view that individuals are morally responsible for having and manifesting their implicit bias (since they cannot control them) – rather speaks in favour of the view that we as a collective can be held morally responsible for implicit bias in individuals.

Mattias Gunnemyr, Lund University

Political responsibility without participation and vice versa – a comment on Iris Marion Young’s Social Connection Model

Iris Marion Young’s influential social connection model involves that all those – and only those – who participates in an unjust structural process such as the global garment industry have a forward-looking responsibility to ameliorate these unjust processes. This kind of responsibility Young often calls political responsibility. I argue that participation in an unjust structural process is neither necessary nor sufficient for having political responsibility. I also suggest that an agent’s nature and degree of political responsibility stem from considerations such as the agent’s capacity to redress unjust structural processes, and whether the agent has contributed to or benefitted from these processes. Still, the social connection model servers as a good rule of thumb for deciding an agent’s political responsibility in the cases Young considers.

Säde Hormio, University of Helsinki

Being collectively responsible for climate change

Climate change is an example of a collectively caused systemic harm. I argue that it is a problem not just for states and international bodies, but also for individuals. Furthermore, I argue that there are three possible sources of moral responsibility for individuals in relation to climate change harms: direct responsibility (individuals qua individuals), shared responsibility as members (individuals qua members of collective agents), and shared responsibility as constituents (individuals qua constituents of unorganised collectives).

Accounts that deny individual responsibility fail to either take our interdependent reality seriously or fail to understand marginal participation (or in the case direct responsibility, fail to appreciate the nature of the climate change phenomenon). Individuals can be complicit in climate change harms, either as members of collective agents (e.g. as citizens of states or employees of a corporation) or as constituents of unorganised collectives (e.g. as consumers or polluters).

Although I focus on individual complicity, I do not deny the obligations of collective agents. However, nation-states, governments, and international bodies are not the only relevant collective agents in climate ethics: other collective agents, such as corporations, matter also and can have obligations concerning making sure that their activities are as carbon-neutral as possible.

Avia Pasternak, University College London

Responsibility for historical wrongdoing and the changing identity of the state

Recent work in political theory suggests that functioning states are corporate moral agents. As such, states are morally responsible for their policies, and can accrue compensatory liabilities when they commit wrongs. The view of the state as a corporate moral agent offers a neat solution to the problem of assigning remedial responsibility for wrongs committed in the distant past (e.g. colonialism or slavery). Given that current generations have not participated in the commission of the wrong, it may seem that demands for redress cannot be made against them. But the view of the state as a corporate moral agent solves this problem: As an artificial corporate agent, the state’s identity lasts over time. States can therefore be liable for wrongs they committed centuries ago.
However, the corporate agency approach runs into difficulties when the continuous identity of the relevant state is put into question. For example, cases of state succession or of radical regime change. In this paper, I address this problem. Engaging with public international legal theory and with philosophical literature on intergenerational justice, I develop a framework for assessing the transfer of liabilities for historical wrongdoings between predecessor and successor states and regimes. I argue that such a transfer of liability can be justified, but only if both the predecessor and successor comply with certain conditions. These conditions aim to ensure that holding the state liable for its wrongdoings will meet the ‘distributive effect challenge’, namely the problem that the compensatory liabilities of the state end up being paid borne by its citizens. My proposed framework undermines a common position in public international law, according to which, when a state goes through a mere regime change, rather than a full legal personality change, its compensatory liabilities for its past wrong remain intact.

Björn Petersson, Lund University

Collective guilt feelings

Christopher Kutz refutes the idea that a collective as such can be guilty of wrong-doing, for the reason that collectives cannot respond affectively to blame and moral sanctions in the appropriate way. I discuss and some possible responses to this refutation, e.g. Deborah Tollefsen’s Strawsonian defence of our holding collectives responsible for wrongdoing, and Margaret Gilbert’s theory of collective guilt feelings. I suggest that an essential point of blaming collectives is to evoke collectively tainted guilt feelings in individual group members and I present some ideas about how to understand these feelings and their function.

Leonie Smith, University of Manchester

From collective to individual remedial responsibility for global harms

If: (a) the global community of globally-acting agents [GC*] is at least largely outcome responsible for generating and sustaining global harms; and (b) it is the case that “our strongest remedial responsibilities are to those whose predicament we are plainly outcome responsible for creating” [Miller, 2012], then it initially seems reasonable to propose that this collective community has primary remedial duty for the damage caused by global harms. However, defending this thesis raises numerous questions:
•    Is GC* the kind of thing that is capable of breaching a negative duty not to harm others?
•    Is GC* the kind of thing that is fit to bear remedial duties for harms caused?
•    Who are the agential members of GC* - individuals or globally-acting collective agents – capable of carrying out remedial duties for global harms?
•    Are the members who are capable of carrying out remedial duties for GC*, in fact liable to do so, given the nature of GC*?
This has led many to look for a bottom-up approach (beginning with the actions of either individual and global agents) to assigning remedial duties for global harms, rather than beginning from the top-down; an approach which retains challenges of its own.
Against this, I argue that the top-down approach to analysing remedial duties does have merit. Whilst GC* cannot itself hold or breach a duty (whether prospective or remedial), it is nevertheless capable of being the bearer of a meta-harm. This entitles us to look for allocation of harm amongst members of the global community in principle. There are, I propose, stringent conditions under which any agential member of GC* might be considered responsible for having violated a duty in contributing to, or failing to remedy, the harms committed by GC*. Whilst not usually set out in these terms, it is the apparent implausibility of these conditions which has led many to believe that there can be no top-down remedial duties arising from membership in GC*. I suggest, however, that whilst these conditions fail to be met by the collective agential members of GC* - taken as a set of corporations, globally-acting agencies, state governments etc. -, under particular circumstances they can in fact be met by the individual human members of GC*. I conclude that the bearers of remedial duties for at least some global harms, may be individuals, directly as a result of their engagement in GC*.