Collective responsibility without collective agency? Some preliminary remarks


Ilcli Open Seminar


Thursday, September 28, 2017 3:30:00 PM


Institute for Logic, Cognition, Language and Information (ILCLI)

Thursday, September 28th, 2017, 15:30.

Venue: Carlos Santamaria Zentroa, Classroom 2.

Zvonko Díaz (ILCLI)


Global harms like climate change, the extinction of natural species, the destruction of habitats, overpopulation or energy crisis, to give just a few examples, are the product of a myriad of marginal contributions, arguably related to the general activity of developed societies. But each of those particular contributions (which depend on a complex social system) cannot cause such harmful phenomena by itself. Neither is the constituent of a collective action called "changing the climate together". Particular individuals and groups do not perform the actions which contribute to such harmful effect in virtue of being the members (committed or alienated) of a group agent. The different kinds of actors within (at least) the populations and institutions of industrial mass societies do not intend to participate and collaborate in that effect, even if, de facto, they do participate and collaborate.
Thus, it is tempting to believe that, as far as the causal responsibility is located in no unique source, we all (or no one in particular) are the bearers of responsibility. But that belief leads to vagueness and futility. On the one hand, it brings a picture in which there is collective responsibility, without specifying a clear collective that could effectively take responsibility for the given situation. On the other, given that no one individual action would make a relevant difference, the picture gives room to a sense of futility of any individual or local initiative: a sense for which the possibility of practical individual responsibility disappears.
So, such a "we" does not refer to any functional collective agent, and its "constituents" cannot act differently by themselves in ways that are not ultimately inane respect to the general outcomes. Given that, can we say that there is any (forward-looking) collective responsibility, i. e., any collective obligation to bring about a more desirable situation? If so, on what grounds could they emerge? The aim of this talk will be to address some concerns about the conceptual elements (collective action, structured or non-structured groups, forward-looking responsibility, and so on) conforming that picture, and to discuss a less vague and/or paralyzing approach to collective responsibility for "unstructured collective harms" (Kutz 2000).

Kutz, Christopher 2000, Complicity. Ethics and Law for a Collective Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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