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Joint responsibility in complex systems

Research project
Active research
Project owner
Department of Philosophy, Linguistics, and Theory of Science

Short description

In ethics and philosophy of law, a lot of work has been done on backward-looking responsibility, and there are commonly accepted criteria for when we should regard a certain actor as responsible for a certain action or outcome. It has been much less investigated how different agents in complex systems can share responsibility (“moral taint”, or the like) for outcomes they produce together. For example, how should moral responsibility be attributed and distributed in the case of “unstructured collective harms”, i.e. where many actors jointly cause significant harm, where no individual actor intends or can control the outcome, and when actions are uncoordinated, as in the case of climate change and other environmental harms?

It is not just important to study ”non-systemic” cases (e.g. where a number of individuals or companies pour waste products into a lake, thereby causing environmental harm), but also “systemic cases”. It seems particularly important to account for those cases where (i) the actors involved are not just individuals, but also e.g. corporations, states, and international institutions, and (ii) the behaviours of these actors are mediated by (e.g. constrained by) free markets or other economic or social systems. What complicates systemic issues like this is not just that the acts of the relevant agents (individual or collective) are e.g. restricted by social and economic systems in ways that often result in overdetermined outcomes, but also that these agents support the relevant systems when acting in accordance with them.

The reason why a purely normative study like this is of relevance for CeCAR is that it can help specify the beliefs that different actors have about their own responsibility (both backward-looking and forward-looking), a factor that may well have an effect on their willingness to cooperate.

Researcher (länkas till nya katalogen)

Bengt Brülde, Department of Philosophy, Linguistics