Responsibility for collective extended actionHolly Lawford-Smith (University of Melbourne)
C2.05 Burwood Campus. Ic1.108 Waurn Ponds. *VMP 522 39354
221 Burwood Highway
It has been standard to assume that if a moral agent causes harm by way of an action for which she is not excused, then she is responsible for that harm. In this paper I will argue that this is not true. Being a moral agent in general is not the same thing as being morally responsible for a specific action or set of actions. The exercise of collective moral agency can produce harms for which the collective moral agent is not excused, and it can still be the case that the collective moral agent is not responsible for the harms. The argument proceeds in several steps. In the first step, I explain the idea of extended action and the way it applies in both agent and non-agent groups. In the second step, I argue that for a collective agent to be responsible for the outcomes of its extended action, those actions must be unified in a particular way. The remainder of the paper will address three unification strategies, when possible drawing on existing literature: actions as the execution of intentions/steps in plans; actions as explained by collective character/vice; actions as unified by collective psychological connection over time. I argue that it is unlikely that any such unification strategy will account for all instances of the negative outcomes of particular sets of collective agents’ actions. In the final part of the paper, I reflect on the differences between this implication for collective moral agents as compared to individual human agents.
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