Philosophical Papers

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Collective Omissions and Responsibility

B Petersson


Sometimes it seems intuitively plausible to hold loosely structured sets of
individuals morally responsible for failing to act collectively. Virginia Held, Larry May, and
Torbjörn Tännsjö have all drawn this conclusion from thought experiments concerning
small groups, although they apply the conclusion to large-scale omissions as well. On the
other hand it is commonly assumed that (collective) agency is a necessary condition for
(collective) responsibility. If that is true, then how can we hold sets of people responsible
for not having acted collectively? This paper argues that that loosely structured inactive
groups sometimes meet this requirement if we employ a weak (but nonetheless nonreductionist) notion of collective agency. This notion can be defended on independent
grounds. The resulting position on distribution of responsibility is more restrictive than
Held's, May's or Tännsjö's, and this consequence seems intuitively attractive.

Philosophical Papers Vol. 37 (2) 2008: pp. 243-261
AJOL African Journals Online