Recognizing Collective Responsiblities

by Striblen, Cassie Ann

Abstract (Summary)
“Collective responsibility” is a recalcitrant and somewhat neglected concept in ethics. To attribute collective responsibility is to say that a group is causally implicated in and morally responsible for some significant harm. Collective responsibility may be non-distributive and apply only to the group considered as a whole. Alternatively, it may be distributive and “shared,” applying to each member of the group. A satisfactory account of collective responsibility in either form must overcome three major objections: (1) collectives are nothing “more than” the aggregation of their members (the reductive objection); (2) collective responsibility ignores individual contributions to harm (the normative objection); (3) accounts of collective responsibility are not practically useful (the practical objection). “Collectivists,” such as Peter French (1984) and Larry May (1992), argue that attributing collective responsibility is sometimes reasonable. “Individualists,” such as H.D. Lewis (1948) and Jan Narveson (2002), hold that the practice is unreasonable. This dissertation examines the debate surrounding collective responsibility and suggests that a new approach is needed, particularly if we want to explain the responsibilities associated with a specific kind of group, what Anthony Appiah (2005) refers to as an identity group. Using a white-on-black hate crime as a kind of case study, I ask whether “whites” as an identity group can be collectively responsible for such a crime. I then demonstrate that neither the Individualists nor the Collectivists can provide a satisfactory answer to this question. Thus, the goal of the dissertation is to provide an answer to this question by sketching a new account of collective responsibility. Drawing on work in the social sciences, narrative ethics and feminist philosophy, I construct a new account of collective responsibility that is capable of both answering the question about identity groups and meeting the three major objections above. The new account is offered as a defense of my ultimate thesis, which is: it is sometimes reasonable to say that many “whites” share responsibility for hate crime.
Bibliographical Information:


School:University of Cincinnati

School Location:USA - Ohio

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:moral responsibility collective shared identity groups narrative ethics hate crime


Date of Publication:01/01/2007

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