Research Seminar

Jeff McMahan: Against Collective Responsibility

Date: 22 June 2016
Time: 10:00-12:00

White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy, Corpus Christi College at the University of Oxford

Many people believe that collectives of certain kinds, such as corporations and states, are entities capable of having values, desires, beliefs, and intentions, and that they can act in ways for which they are morally responsible and even blameworthy. These people believe that none of these facts about collectives are wholly reducible to the psychological states or acts of individual persons. According to views of this sort, collectives themselves can be liable to defensive action or deserving of punishment. And our ability to recognize these forms of collective responsibility and collective guilt is, many philosophers claim, especially important in cases in which there is a “shortfall” of individual responsibility for bad outcomes – for example, when a disaster occurs but no individuals in the causal chain leading to it have acted in ways that seem particularly culpable. Such views are also thought to be foundational for traditional beliefs about the morality of war.  I will argue against these collectivist views and also suggest that their implications for the morality of war are different from what they are commonly supposed to be. 

Jeff has written a lot on the morality of wars and killing. Here you can see him comment on the war i Syria.

Read more about Jeff on his website

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