Small acts, big harms: Workshop on individual responsibility for collectively caused outcomes

June 1, 2021 - June 2, 2021
University of Helsinki



  • Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions - Horizon 2020

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University of Warwick
University of California, San Diego
University of California, San Diego
University Of Oxford
University of Arizona
University of Arizona
Syracuse University
Syracuse University
University of Helsinki
Stanford University
University of Edinburgh
University of Edinburgh
University of Toronto at Scarborough
Northeastern University
VU University Amsterdam


University of Helsinki

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Small acts, big harms:
Workshop on individual responsibility for collectively caused outcomes

1-2 June 2021
University of Helsinki (over Zoom)

The workshop brings together philosophers working on topics related to individual responsibility for collectively caused outcomes. Why should we care about what we do as individuals if the effects of our individual actions are imperceptible? Yet what we do together, in aggregate, matters a great deal. Indeed, many global ills can be conceptualised as small contributions to great harms. Examples include microplastics found in the oceans, greenhouse gases emitted around the world accumulating in the atmosphere to cause climate change, or customers of global brands becoming complicit in sweatshop labour through their purchases.

There is an ongoing debate among philosophers about the significance of small contributions. Some argue that small contributions to great harms are also harmful by themselves. Others disagree and argue that they become harms only when combined with enough other such contributions. The same goes for small contributions to beneficial outcomes. The puzzle is what is the source of individual responsibility when no one can mitigate the collectively caused harm on their own, and the effects of individual actions are perceived as harmless. While no individual is responsible for the harm or wrong in its totality, they can be responsible for things like increasing the risk of serious harm to others, participating in the creation of the harm, or failing to contribute to make things better.  

The dilemma of marginal participation has also been discussed in relation to structural injustices, like the way individuals can help to maintain harmful social norms even when they do not intend to do so. In large groups, if everyone is waiting for someone else to act, diffusion of responsibility can make people complicit in harms and injustices that they are witness to. It seems that we want individuals to care about small contributions even if they cause no harm or benefit by themselves. This also raises questions around moral psychology and how we make moral decisions in collective settings.

All times are in UTC (Universal Time Coordinated), please see for conversion to different time zones.

Tuesday 1 June 2021

13:00 Welcome

13:05 Keynote: John Broome (University of Oxford)
How much harm does each of us do?
Commentator: Dale Jamieson (NYU)

14:30 Break

14:50 Barry Maguire (University of Edinburgh)
Rewiring Ethics
Commentator: Corey Katz (Georgian Court University)

15:30 Seunghyun Song (KU Leuven)
To know, in order to change: Structural-epistemic responsibility to know how one’s small actions lead to big harms
Commentator: Mattias Gunnemyr (Lund University)

16:10 Säde Hormio (University of Helsinki)
Responsibility for Social Norms
Commentator: Nicolas Delon (New College of Florida)

16:50 Break

17:10 Thomas Christiano (University of Arizona) and Sameer Bajaj (University of Warwick)
The Egalitarian Theory of the Duty to Vote
Commentator: Antti Kauppinen (University of Helsinki)

17:50 Johannes Himmelreich (Syracuse University)
Citizen Responsibility as Associative Responsibility
Commentator: Simo Kyllönen (University of Helsinki)

18:30 Saba Bazargan-Forward (UC San Diego)
Cooperation and Authority-Based Accountability
Commentator: Felix Pinkert (University of Vienna)

Wednesday 2 June 2021

13:00 Welcome

13:05 Keynote: Christopher Kutz (UC Berkeley)
Comparative Moral Psychology and Climate Change Responsibility
Commentator: Gunnar Björnsson (Stockholm University)

14:30 Break

14:50 Chad Lee-Stronach (Northeastern University) and Rory Smead (Northeastern University)
Interdependent Conventions and the Possibility of Systemic Change
Commentator: Kai Spiekermann (LSE)

15:30 Francisca Wals (University of Groningen)
Can Users Be Blamed for Platform-Mediated Problems?
Commentator: Lukas Fuchs (University College London)

16:10 Jan Willem Wieland (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
Kantian analysis of collective harms
Commentator: Teemu Toppinen (University of Helsinki)

16:50 Break

17:10 Andrea Asker Svedberg (Stockholm University)
The Problem of Collective Impact –An Assessment of Julia Nefsky’s General Solution
Commentator: Jules Salomone-Sehr (The Graduate Center, CUNY)

17:50 Keynote: Julia Nefsky (University of Toronto)
Climate Change and Individual Obligations
Commentator: Maria Lasonen-Aarnio (University of Helsinki)

To receive updates about the workshop and instructions to how to sign up for the Zoom event nearer the time, please join the workshop’s email list at:

The workshop is organized as part of the “Complicity: Individual Responsibility in Collective Contexts” -project, which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No GAP-839448.

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May 31, 2021, 6:00pm EET

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New College of Florida
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