Who's to blame? Formal models of collective responsibility

Period 01-10-2017 to 30-09-2020
Type Postdoctoral Fellowship
Fellow Dr. Frederik Van De Putte
Funding agency Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)

Almost every aspect of our life involves some interaction with collective agents: governments, religious groups, professional teams, etc. Consequently, collective responsibility is a key ingredient of our moral lives: only if we can consider collectives responsible, can we suitably interact with them as individuals. As a matter of fact, we do often attribute responsibility to collectives; e.g. it has been claimed that the industrialized nations are jointly responsible for global warming, and every other day one hears statements of the type “it was not me, but an entire team that achieved this result.”

But what do such claims mean? What can we infer from them about the responsibility of individuals that are a member of those collectives? In particular, if we blame a collective agent for a state of affairs it has brought about, what follows about the blameworthiness of that collective’s members?

To tackle these questions, I will study formal logic accounts of responsibility and the many concepts that it involves: norms, rights, choices of agents, intentions, beliefs, and power relations between agents. I will ask in particular how those formal accounts can be applied to collective agents and where they need to be modified, distinguishing various types of collective agents along the way. This will allow me to draw a detailed and exact picture of the distribution of collective responsibility, and hence to answer the leading question of this project.