in March 1993, Dr. David Gunn died about two hours after being shot three
times in the back by an antiabortion protester named Michael Griffin. Dr.
Gunn regularly performed abortions at seven clinics in Florida, Georgia,
and Alabama, and was well-known to antiabortion groups. He was shot in the
parking lot of an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida as he was arriving
Following this incident was a great deal of talk about responsibility: the responsibility of Griffin for killing Dr. Gunn, the responsibility of abortion protesters for the effects of their actions, and the responsibility of Dr. Gunn for taking the lives of unborn victims. But one claim about responsibility was sweeping in breadth. In the wake of this incident, a reporter for National Public Radio claimed that all Americans are collectively responsible for not doing more to counteract the violence at abortion clinics. Not only were the people immediately involved in the incident responsible for what happened, and not only are antiabortion groups responsible for the harmful effects of their protests, but all Americans are collectively responsible for failing to do more to prevent these harmful effects.
Claims such as this are common in the media and in ordinary conversation. We commonly hear people claim that various groups are collectively responsible for what has happened, and the groups claimed to be responsible are commonly vast in number. To hear someone say that all Americans are collectively responsible for some harmful situation such as the size of the national deficit or the failure to deal with the problem of homelessness is so commonplace as to attract little attention. The group consisting of every living person is sometimes claimed to be collectively responsible for dealing with problems such as damage to the ozone layer, and claims of even this magnitude do not elicit much surprise on the part of those hearing them. Such claims are common enough that they have lost whatever shock value they might have had at one time.
In addition, claims of this type are seldom challenged. By all appearances people seem to believe that they are true. People are willing to grant that they are part of a vast collective responsible for this or that problem. When a reporter for National Public Radio claims that all Americans are collectively responsible for failing to deal with violence at abortion clinics, the average listener probably has little inclination to doubt this claim. And when someone claims that every living person is collectively responsible for dealing with the problem of damage to the ozone layer, the typical response is probably a failure to see any reason to doubt this claim.
The equanimity with which these claims are received by most people is ironic. For twentieth-century Western culture is often characterized as thinking in individualistic terms. People in contemporary Western culture think in terms of individual rights, individual liberties, and, presumably, individual responsibilities. According to this characterization of contemporary Western culture, the individual bears moral responsibility for what he or she has done. Moral responsibility is a personal, individual matter, and we should never be expected to bear responsibility for the wrongdoings of another (unless we have agreed to do so voluntarily, as when we take responsibility for the actions of our child, our subordinate, or our senile parent). Moral responsibility is not something which can somehow spread spontaneously through a whole group of people; it is confined to each individual exactly in proportion to what the individual has done or failed to do.
One of the ways in which contemporary Western culture is often contrasted with "primitive cultures" is in the manner in which moral responsibility is conceived. People in some primitive cultures supposedly think in terms of entire tribes bearing responsibility for the violation of mores or breaking of taboos by one member of the tribe. 'Mis collective way of thinking about moral responsibility is based upon the idea of the guilt of one individual being transmitted to all members of a clan or tribe and is quite foreign to contemporary Western ways of thinking about moral responsibility. Also foreign to contemporary Western ways of thinking is the idea that responsibility can be eliminated by destroying a symbolic object such as a voodoo doll. People sometimes argue that collective conceptions of moral responsibility are associated with primitive or even superstitious approaches to morality and have no place in contemporary Western approaches to morality. They credit Western morality that it has managed to overcome these supposedly primitive and superstitious notions by thinking of responsibility in strictly individualist terms.
Given the highly individualistic conception of moral responsibility which supposedly characterizes contemporary Western culture, the fact that ascriptions of collective responsibility are made as commonly as they are and challenged as little as they are is quite ironic. When people assert that all Americans are collectively responsible for not doing more to counteract violence at abortion clinics, people do not react by charging that the correspondent for National Public Radio has regressed into primitive and superstitious ways of thinking about moral responsibility. Instead, they are more than willing either to accept claims such as this or to let them go unchallenged. But something is surprising about these reactions if ascriptions of collective responsibility are really associated with an older, primitive approach to morality which has been replaced by something quite different in present Western culture.
Those who characterize the present age as extremely individualistic are frequently guilty of exaggeration and oversimplification, and people in Western cultures do not typically think of morality exclusively along individualistic lines. People of the present age think about morality quite differently than their primitive ancestors did, and one of the differences is surely that people of the present age do not think of guilt for one person's immoral act as automatically or inevitably transmitted to others in the person's family or community. But one of the main themes of this book is that we can embrace the notion of collective responsibility without regressing into primitive or superstitious ways of construing moral responsibility. Thinking about collective responsibility in ways which are perfectly respectable from the standpoint of contemporary Western culture is possible, and this point will be made evident in the ensuing discussion.
Some will disagree. Some philosophers, such as H.D. Lewis, find the whole idea of collective responsibility utterly repugnant and oppose all efforts to portray it as philosophically respectable. To Lewis's way of thinking it is, in all of its manifestations, something barbaric and out of place in the thinking of people in the twentieth century. Thus, some find an extreme individualist approach to their liking, and they will regard as utter nonsense claims typified by the correspondent for National Public Radio to the effect that vast groups of people can be collectively responsible for various problems in the world.
However, much confusion over the term "collective responsibility" is possible, and we must distinguish two ways in which this term is employed. Sometimes what is meant by saying that several people are collectively responsible for a state of affairs is that each of these people is individually responsible for this same state of affairs. Suppose that several people throw paint at a public mural in an effort to deface it. Then, although each person contributes in different ways to the defacing of the mural, each comes to bear responsibility for this state of affairs. In this sense they can be said to share responsibility for the defacing of the mural.
A different usage of the term "collective responsibility" assigns responsibility to a single entity, the collective consisting of the various people who constitute it. According to this usage, to say that several people are collectively responsible for a state of affairs is to say that responsibility is home by the collective consisting of these people. Whether the people themselves are responsible as individuals for this state of affairs is a totally separate question; all that is asserted is that these people belong to a collective which is itself the bearer of responsibility.
The difference between these two ways of speaking about collective responsibility may initially seem extremely minor. However, this initial impression is misleading, as will become apparent in subsequent chapters. For example, many philosophers hold the position that a collective can be responsible for a harm even though none of its members is responsible for this harm. A view of this sort is possible only if the two senses of "collectively responsible" are distinguishable from one another, and it illustrates that situations to which the second sense can be applied can be strikingly different from those of which the first sense holds true.
The discussion in this book is mainly concerned with the second of these senses of collective responsibility, and to avoid confusion I will follow the lead of most writers on this topic in not employing the term at all to refer to the first of these senses. Instead I employ the term "shared responsibility" to refer to situations in which several individuals are responsible for the same state of affairs. In an earlier book I focused upon the topic of shared responsibility (Mellema, 1988). In the present book, by contrast, I focus upon the topic of collective responsibility understood as the view that a collective consisting of two or more moral agents can bear responsibility for what happens. For the remainder of this discussion I will speak of collective responsibility strictly in reference to this view.
Several different positions regarding shared or collective responsibility are possible. The view held by H.D. Lewis is that neither is possible. Not only can responsibility not be home by collectives, but it cannot even be shared by one or more individuals. A less extreme version of the individualist perspective affirms the contention of Lewis that collectives do not (or cannot) bear responsibility but also affirms that several moral agents can bear responsibility for the same state of affairs, such as the outcome produced by their various contributing actions. This view can be referred to as an individualistic approach because it holds that individual moral agents are the only bearers of responsibility, but it differs from Lewis's view in its acknowledgment that responsibility can be shared by two or more individuals. Steven Sverdlik is an important contemporary representative of this view, and in Chapter Four I examine his reasons for embracing this view.
Those who believe that collective responsibility is possible make a dramatic departure from individualist views by asserting that responsibility can be home by a non-human entity. This non-human entity, to be sure, is composed or comprised of human beings, but in and of itself it is non-human. A collective can be conceived either in terms of an aggregate of human beings or in terms of an abstract entity like a set (in which case it is not, however, exactly like a set, for unlike a set it can change membership over time). But regardless of whether a collective is conceived as an aggregate or as an abstract entity, it is itself a non-human entity. To those who are unfamiliar with discussions on this topic, the idea of a collective bearing responsibility may initially seem quite dubious or even ludicrous. But those who have written on groups and collectives have made a strong case for the idea that groups or collectives, over and above the people comprising them, can take actions of various sorts. And if such things as group or collective actions exist, granting that groups or collectives can take responsibility for the outcome of these group actions appears natural. This point will become clearer in subsequent chapters.
Some proponents of collective moral responsibility argue that collectives can under some circumstances qualify as moral agents. While regarding collectives as agents to which group actions can be ascribed appears reasonable, I will not attempt to defend the claim that collectives can qualify as moral agents. Ascribing moral responsibility to an entity appears to require that the entity be an agent, but whether the agent must be a moral agent for moral responsibility to be ascribed to it is matter of considerable controversy (especially if the collective contains as components agents which themselves qualify as moral agents). Thus, I regard as an established dictum that collectives are capable of bearing moral responsibility only if they are agents, but whether they themselves should in addition be required to be moral agents is a matter for further speculation.
Suppose that the possibility of collectives bearing responsibility is acknowledged. Several views might then be taken concerning the relationship between the responsibility of the collective and the responsibility of its members. First, a person might be enough of an individualist to insist that a collective bears responsibility for a state of affairs only if every member of the collective bears responsibility for the same state of affairs. On this view collective responsibility cannot exist where shared responsibility is not present; the responsibility of the collective can be said to distribute to the members comprising it regardless of the accompanying circumstances.
Second, a person might grant that collectives can bear responsibility for a state of affairs even in situations where one or more of its members fail to bear responsibility for the same state of affairs. In these situations some members of the collective may play a dominant role and others a subordinate role in bringing about a state of affairs. And while those who play a subordinate role may not do enough to warrant the ascription of responsibility for this state of affairs, they are indirectly tied to the responsibility by their membership in a collective which is responsible for this state of affairs. Alleged examples of these situations will appear in subsequent chapters.
Third, a person can hold the position that collectives are capable of bearing responsibility for a state of affairs in situations where none of its members are responsible for the same state of affairs. This view takes collective responsibility to be a robust notion, and individualists find this position most disagreeable. Yet it is a view which has many adherents, and it is a view which squares well with statements such as the one made by the correspondent for National Public Radio. For the correspondent's intention was not likely to judge that each American is personally responsible for failing to do more to counteract violence at abortion clinics. A much likelier interpretation is that Americans are not personally responsible but responsible as a collective.
The last two views examined here allow for the possibility that a collective is responsible for a state of affairs for which at least some of its members are not personally responsible. These members, then, are judged to have a degree of involvement in the events (by virtue of whose occurrence the collective incurs responsibility) raid-way between the degree of involvement possessed by those who are personally responsible and the degree of involvement possessed by those who are outside the collective. In other words, these members would have to be more involved to warrant the ascription of being personally responsible for the state of affairs, and they would have to be less involved to warrant the judgment that they are not to be considered members in the collective. Thus, three levels of involvement can be distinguished. The lowest level allows an agent to escape all ties to the responsibility to the state of affairs in question, the middle level is associated with membership in the collective responsible for this state of affairs, and the highest level warrants (in addition to membership in the collective) the ascription of personal responsibility for the state of affairs.
Recently the concept of moral taint has been introduced into discussions of collective responsibility. Roughly, the idea is that an agent can sometimes be tainted by the wrongdoing of others with whom the agent is significantly associated. One of the ideas which will be developed in this book is that if moral taint exists, then it can be regarded as corresponding to still another level of involvement in harm. Specifically, an agent who is tainted by the wrongdoing of another person through the agent's association with that person is involved in the events of the wrongdoing to a lesser extent than an agent who belongs to a collective which bears responsibility for this wrongdoing or its effects. This means that in and of itself the fact that an agent is tainted by evil is not sufficient to warrant the judgment that the agent is a member of a collective which is morally responsible for it.
On the other hand, in an important sense the moral status of an agent tainted by the wrongdoing of others is unlike those who have no association at all with the person who engages in harmful or evil wrongdoing. Although the agent is free from all ties to the responsibility for this wrongdoing, the status of the person who is tainted by this wrongdoing is less than ideal from a moral point of view. As Anthony Appiah puts it, the agent's moral integrity is affected whenever moral taint takes place. This is not to say that the agent has done anything wrong or that the agent has a responsibility to sever connections with the person guilty of the wrongdoing. But the agent's moral status is altered nevertheless.
The concept of moral taint has only recently come under serious scrutiny by moral philosophers, and some may be initially mystified by the idea that a person who is perfectly "innocent" can be tainted by the wrongdoing of someone else to whom the person just happens to bear some connection. Much more will be said in subsequent chapters, especially Chapter Seven, about moral taint and its relationship with collective responsibility. Although giving a precise account of moral taint in terms of the accepted concepts and categories of contemporary moral philosophy is difficult, I believe it is a concept of significance which deserves greater recognition and further study by contemporary moralists.
People can have responsibilities in a variety of ways. A person can have job-related responsibilities, responsibilities as a citizen to obey the law, responsibilities which grow out of the roles of spouse or parent, responsibilities to friends (for example, to show up on time for a scheduled foursome of tennis), and even responsibilities in the context of games (the pitcher's responsibility to cover first base). This book is about moral responsibility. These other types of responsibility overlap considerably with moral responsibility. A person's responsibility to obey the laws of the land is typically a moral responsibility as well. And responsibilities concerning the raising of children are frequently moral responsibilities. But many of the other responsibilities which fall under these categories are not moral responsibilities, and consequently they fall outside the scope of the present discussion.
Characterizing what it means for an individual to bear moral responsibility can be an enormously complex undertaking, and in the moral literature are many lengthy and detailed discussions and debates on the topic. Since this book deals with the group or collective dimension of moral responsibility, I shall not recount or comment upon these discussions and debates. Instead, I will rely upon an account proposed by Larry May which includes most of what is standardly considered to be the key components of moral responsibility (though, strictly speaking, it is not intended to be a definition). Those who participate in the details of the debates on moral responsibility may find this account unsophisticated or simplistic, but for the purposes of serving a discussion of the group dimensions of moral responsibility I will, following May's example, regard it as suitable.
May's characterization is as follows. A person is morally responsible for a given harm or character defect if the person's conduct played a significant causal role in that harm or defect, the person's conduct was blameworthy or it was morally faulty in some other way, and the aspect of the act that was faulty was also one of the aspects in virtue of which it was a cause of the harm (May, 1992, p. 15). Here the conduct or act in question might consist in the person's omitting to act, for often a person comes to bear moral responsibility for a harm by his or her not doing anything. Understood this way, the central components of the account are that harm results, it results because of a person's conduct, and this conduct is morally blameworthy or faulty. I will depart slightly from May by allowing that in some cases a person's contributing to harm may render the person responsible for the harm, even if the contribution is not strictly a causal contribution. My reasons for relaxing this requirement will be made clear in subsequent portions of the discussion, and others have likewise explained why in general relaxing this requirement is advantageous (Ellin, 1981, p. 21).
This account of moral responsibility is for a state of affairs which actually occurs or obtains. One of the fundamental truths about moral responsibility is that an agent cannot be morally responsible for a state of affairs which never occurs, even if the agent believes that it does occur. Thus, an agent cannot be morally responsible for murdering someone who turns out to survive the murder attempt; in such a case the agent is responsible only for attempted murder. In like manner, it is an accepted truth about moral responsibility, at least in Western traditions of morality, that an agent cannot bear moral responsibility for a state of affairs if it occurs prior to the attempt to bring it about. Thus, an agent cannot be morally responsible for murdering someone who, unbeknownst to the agent, is already dead. Nor, on this principle, can a person living today be morally responsible, or be part of a collective which is morally responsible, for the institution of slavery in previous centuries.
Nevertheless, an agent can be morally responsible for bringing about a state of affairs which has not yet occurred. Moralists commonly distinguish between "retrospective" and "prospective" moral responsibility. Retrospective refers to responsibility for a state of affairs which has occurred in the past, and prospective refers to a state of affairs which has not yet occurred. May's account applies only to retrospective moral responsibility (note that it is framed in the past tense). Therefore, a separate account would be required to describe prospective moral responsibility. In my previous book I have discussed prospective moral responsibility as it bears upon groups and group actions (Mellema, 1988, pp. 177-192). However, the discussion of the present book will be limited to retrospective collective moral responsibility, and we can assume that May's account will be suitable for the purposes of this discussion.
In a significant proportion of cases in which retrospective moral responsibility is ascribed to an individual or a collective for a state of affairs, the state of affairs in question is something morally undesirable. And moralists who have developed accounts of collective responsibility have generally aimed at dealing with responsibility for morally undesirable states of affairs (I will frequently refer to these states of affairs simply as "harms"). But sometimes the state of affairs for which a person is judged morally responsible is something of a good or favorable nature, as when someone is judged responsible for rescuing a drowning person. In this discussion let us bear in mind that these favorable ascriptions of moral responsibility exist, but virtually all of the examples presented in this book will be cases in which the states of affairs for which a person is judged morally responsible are of a morally undesirable nature.
Having introduced some of the underlying concepts which will be examined in this discussion, I turn to a survey of the remaining chapters. Chapter Two deals with ways in which the actions of the persons comprising a group or collective can approximate or resemble the actions of an individual acting alone. For example, the actions of two people lifting a rock and throwing it through a window resemble the actions of an individual lifting a rock and throwing it through a window. Understanding how an individual comes to bear moral responsibility for these actions makes it easier to understand how the collective can bear moral responsibility for the actions of its members. I describe five characteristics of groups or collectives which increase the likelihood that the actions of its members will bear a strong resemblance to the actions of an individual acting alone. These are: (1) unanimity of intent or purpose, (2) similarity of contribution, (3) physical and temporal proximity, (4) organization, and (5) cooperation. To the degree that a collective possesses these characteristics, the actions of its members resemble the actions of an individual acting alone, and to the degree that the actions of its members strongly resemble those of an individual acting alone, ascriptions of moral responsibility to the collective for the outcome of its actions increase in plausibility.
In Chapter Three I attempt to categorize or classify situations in which collectives are alleged to bear moral responsibility. The four main categories of this classification scheme are the following: (1) situations where the members of a group contribute causally to a harm, (2) situations where the members of a group risk a harm which subsequently occurs, (3) situations where the members of a group are in a position to prevent a harm from occurring, they deliberately refrain from doing so, and the harm subsequently occurs, and (4) situations where the members of a group refrain from preventing a harm whose occurrence is foreseen as probable, and the harm subsequently occurs. Each of these main categories is broken down into several sub-categories reflecting differences of involvement among the different members of the groups. An examination of the taxonomy helps reveal which types of situations are promising as candidates for ascriptions of collective responsibility, which are moderately promising, and which do not show promise at all.
Chapters Four, Five, and Six constitute a survey of some main contributors to the literature on collective responsibility. Chapter Four deals with the approach of individualists H.D. Lewis and Steven Sverdlik. While Lewis rejects the possibility of both collective responsibility and shared responsibility, Sverdlik is willing to grant that several individuals can share responsibility for the common outcome of their actions. The basic presupposition employed by Lewis is that no one can ever be responsible, in the properly ethical sense, for the actions of another, and his conviction is that this principle is violated as soon as any concessions in the direction of acknowledging shared or collective responsibility are made. Sverdlik agrees with Lewis's presupposition that no one can be responsible for the actions of another, but he argues that an acknowledgment of shared responsibility does not violate it.
Chapter Five begins with a challenge by H. Gomperz for contemporary philosophers to articulate a new type of approach to collective responsibility which avoids what are so often ridiculed by opponents of collective responsibility as concepts which are primitive and barbaric. Several philosophers can be viewed as accepting this challenge, and the views of five of the most important are examined in this chapter.
D.E. Cooper argues that, although the strategy of the individualist works in some cases of ascribing responsibility, in other cases ascriptions of responsibility to collectives cannot be reduced to ascriptions of responsibility to individuals. Virginia Held argues that random collectives, such as passengers in a subway car or people walking down the street, are capable of bearing responsibility for not preventing harms, or, in some cases, for not organizing themselves into units capable of preventing harms. Stanley Bates considers random collectives on a larger scale, such as the audience at a cockfight and the people involved in a lynch mob, and he affirms that the collective consisting of the first can be responsible for the occurrence of the cockfight and those of the second for the actions of the mob, even if the marginal contribution of some of its members is zero. Peter French distinguishes between different types of collectivities, one of which, conglomerate collectivities, is capable of bearing responsibility which does not distribute to its members. And Richard Swinburne develops the notion of community in such a way as to argue that all of us are members of various communities, that these communities can have moral responsibilities to share the burdens of various members, and that these responsibilities do not always distribute to all members of the communities.
Chapter Six deals with the work of Larry May, one of the most important and prolific writers on the topics of shared and collective responsibility. In his most recent book, May develops an account of shared and collective responsibility inspired by the thought of existentialists such as Heidegger, Jaspers, and the later Sartre. He develops what he refers to as a social existentialist approach to moral responsibility and believes that this approach provides a much needed corrective to the dominant Western tradition of morality in the last two hundred years. Many of us who are "members of a highly self-indulgent age" will find that May's social existentialist philosophy places burdens upon us greater than those to which we are accustomed. Because setting the requirements of morality too high is not fashionable among British or American moralists, May anticipates a great deal of reluctance among moral philosophers to take his social existentialist approach seriously. Nevertheless, May does an admirable job of defending his positions, and in this chapter I show that May's proposals are more promising than someone who has been taught to think about morality in traditional Western ways may initially suspect.
Moral taint is the topic of Chapter Seven. The current revival of interest in this topic is largely due to the work of Anthony Appiah, and in this chapter I summarize and evaluate his contributions to understanding this rather difficult notion. I argue that making sense of moral taint can shed light on and promote a better understanding of collective responsibility. However, May is not altogether in agreement with the position taken by Appiah. As before, May looks for inspiration to the social existentialists, and in this context he finds great insight in Jaspers's concept of metaphysical guilt. Similarities between this concept and the concept of moral taint can be found, but differences can be found as well. In this chapter I clarify these points of similarity and dissimilarity and suggest that, however the details of moral taint are spelled out, it is a key concept which deserves continued attention by moral philosophers.
Much of the literature on collective responsibility deals with the manner in which individuals come to qualify for membership in collectives which bear responsibility for what happens. Chapter Eight deals with the opposite and more neglected question of how individuals come to avoid or remove themselves from membership in such collectives. By dissociating themselves from groups which bear moral responsibility for harms or from groups which are likely to bring about future harms, individuals can escape membership in the collective which is ultimately judged to bear moral responsibility for these harms. Often individuals have a moral duty to dissociate themselves in this manner, but one of my central contentions in this chapter is that individuals do not inevitably have moral duties to do so, given the costs or risks involved. I urge that in some this manner is something less noble than supererogatory but still something which an agent ought to do in a sense of "ought" less strict than moral obligation. An agent ought to do something according to this less strict sense of "ought" if it is not obligatory to perform but it is nevertheless morally blameworthy to omit.
Chapter Nine further explores some of the connections between moral responsibility, obligation, and blame. I argue that the debate between those who hold that collective responsibility invariably distributes to all the members of the collective and those who bold that it is non-distributive is closely tied to a debate about the nature of moral obligation. I believe that an awareness of this connection may well lead a person to a re-examination of whether collective responsibility distributes to all its members, and I urge that in the end this re-examination is likely to confer plausibility upon the view that collective responsibility does not always distribute to all of its members. In the second half of this chapter I develop an analogy between a series of acts by members of a collective and a series of acts by an individual. Making use again of the concepts of obligation and blame, I urge that an awareness of this analogy has the potential for promoting a clearer understanding of collective responsibility. Here too I urge that this awareness confers some plausibility upon the view that the responsibility of a collective does not always distribute.
In Chapter Ten I discuss the widespread assumption that as a collective responsible for a harm grows in size, the fact that a person is a member of it becomes less serious from a moral point of view. Thus, according to this assumption, to be part of a collective of five which stands by while a preventable harm is occurring is a fairly serious matter, it is less serious if the size of the collective is increased to five hundred, less serious still if it is increased to five thousand, and so forth. While an outright refutation of this point of view is difficult, I defend a view according to which the seriousness of a person's moral involvement does not depend as such upon the size of the collective, and I attempt to show that on a proper understanding of collective responsibility such a view is quite plausible. Elsewhere I have defended a version of this view as it pertains to shared responsibility. In the first section of this chapter I present a summary of my earlier argument in an effort to pave the way for a discussion of how such a view relates to collective responsibility. And in the latter half of the chapter I modify some of the earlier argumentation in an effort to make plausible the idea that the size of the collective should not be thought to have any direct effect upon the moral status of its members.
Chapter Eleven deals with the moral responsibility home by corporations. Although some thinkers allege that corporations are not capable of bearing moral responsibility, people quite commonly ascribe responsibility to corporations. On the assumption that talking about the responsibility of corporations makes sense, I examine some of the connections between collective responsibility and corporate responsibility and look at ways in which collectives come to bear responsibility in a corporate setting. Among other things, this involves looking at the dynamics of decision-making in the corporate setting. I then argue that corporate responsibility is significantly more complex than collective responsibility and that reducing corporate responsibility to the responsibility home by the collective consisting of all the moral agents who make up the corporation is not possible.
In the concluding chapter I draw together issues addressed in the preceding chapters, and I present an approach to collective moral responsibility which strikes a sensible balance between the views of a highly individualist nature and those which are so far to the other extreme that moral taint is in danger of being swallowed up by collective moral responsibility. The view I defend affirms that collective moral responsibility does not in general distribute to all of its members, and hence I stand in agreement with D.E. Cooper and others who believe that a reductionist strategy will not succeed. However, the view I defend affirms, in a spirit of individualism, that membership in a collective which bears moral responsibility depends to some extent upon what an individual actually does. Hence, collective moral responsibility is not like a virus that infects people who happen to come into contact with it. An agent must actually do something to warrant the judgment that the agent belongs to a collective which bears moral responsibility.
The view I defend states that a moral agent is a member of a collective which bears moral responsibility for a state of affairs only if the agent performs a "qualifying act," an act which qualifies an agent for membership in the collective. Since a moral agent bears moral responsibility for having performed this qualifying act, in some sense collective moral responsibility can be said to distribute to the moral responsibility of its constitutive members. Each member of a collective morally responsible for a state of affairs is morally responsible either for the same state of affairs or for a related state of affairs, where the related state of affairs is that of having performed the relevant qualifying act. That my view recognizes a distributing phenomenon of this type shows that it does not embody a robust collective responsibility.
My view does not have as a consequence that when a collective bears moral responsibility for a state of affairs, each member of the collective bears moral responsibility for this very state of affairs. But on my view each member bears responsibility, if not for this very state of affairs, then for a closely related state of affairs. Precisely because each member bears moral responsibility for this closely related state of affairs, he or she comes to be a member of the collective. A person who fails to bear such moral responsibility might still be tainted by the wrongdoing in question, but this person cannot rightly be judged to be a member of the collective. By the same token, a person who is a potential member of a collective can opt out of membership in the collective by declining to perform a qualifying act. By declining to per-form a qualifying act, this person avoids being numbered among those bearing moral responsibility for a state of affairs closely related to that for which the collective bears moral responsibility.
Those of an individualist persuasion will take issue with my belief that the moral responsibility of a collective does not distribute in the most straightforward sense. But the recognition that every member of a collective bearing moral responsibility for a state of affairs bears moral responsibility at least for a closely related state of affairs is a crucial concession to the spirit of individualism. And this is a concession which defenders of robust theories of collective moral responsibility will regard unfavorably. In their minds, my theory undercuts much of what accounts of collective moral responsibility are designed to explain. In particular, I deny that mere circumstance can render an agent a member of a collective which bears moral responsibility, and thereby I am denying what seems a fundamental feature of more robust theories. In what follows I hope to offer considerable clarification of these matters.