Moral Responsibility in Collective Contexts

Moral Responsibility in Collective Contexts

Moral Responsibility in Collective Contexts

Moral Responsibility in Collective Contexts

Synopsis

Genocide, global warming, organizational negligence, and oppressive social practices are four examples of moral contexts in which the interplay between individuals and collectives complicate how we are to understand moral responsibility. Moral Responsibility in Collective Contexts is a philosophical investigation of the complex moral landscape we find in collective situations such as these. Tracy Isaacs argues that an accurate understanding of moral responsibility in collective contexts requires attention to responsibility at the individual and collective levels. Part One establishes the normative significance of collective responsibility. Isaacs argues that collective responsibility is indispensible to providing a morally adequate account of collective actions such as genocide, and that without it even individual responsibility in genocide would not make sense. Isaacs explains the concepts of collective intention and collective intentional action, provides accounts of collective moral responsibility and collective guilt, and defends collective responsibility against objections, including the objection that collective responsibility holds some responsible for the actions of others. Part Two focuses on individual responsibility in collective contexts. Isaacs claims that individuals are not morally responsible for collective actions as such, but they can be responsible in collective actions for the parts they play. She argues that the concept of collective obligation can help to address large scale global challenges such as global warming, environmental degradation, and widespread poverty and malnutrition. Finally, Isaacs discusses cases of widespread ignorance and participation in wrongful social practice, whether it constitutes an excuse, and how to effect social change in those conditions.

Excerpt

I started to think about writing this book very shortly after the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Over a three-week period in the spring of 1994, over eight hundred thousand members of the Tutsi group and their sympathizers were hacked to death by over one hundred thousand members of the rival Hutu group. the animosity between these two groups flowed directly from a history of Belgian colonialism in Rwanda throughout the twentieth century. Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian general who led the official un peacekeeping mission in Rwanda during the genocide, writes that “the Belgians viewed the minority Tutsis as closer in kind to Europeans and elevated them to positions of power over the majority Hutu, which exacerbated the feudal state of peasant Hutus and overlord Tutsis.” the collective atrocity that escalated into full-scale genocide in the spring of 1994 involved moral failures at the individual and the collective levels. At the collective level, more than the collective agent who perpetrated the act shouldered its share of the collective guilt. When all was said and done, not only were there over one . . .

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