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collective responsibility

Subject Philosophy

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405106795.2004.x


E thics, political philosophy Modern ethics has been traditionally individualistic in the sense that only the individual can be the focus of ethical consideration and that an action of a group can be morally meaningful only when it can be reduced to the actions of individuals. But there is a tendency to believe that in certain circumstance we can have a notion of group or collective responsibility that cannot be reduced to individual responsibility. For example, some seek to ascribe responsibility or blame collectively to white South Africans under apartheid and to Germans as a whole under the Nazi regime. The problem is how to talk about this group responsibility. It does not seem correct to model it on the discourse of individual responsibility. What is important is to define what the group is. It is generally thought that the group in question should not be a random collection of individuals, but must be one that has a group cohesion and identity. All its members should have common interests and a sense of pride and shame in the group. Blame or responsibility should be ascribed to this kind of group not only when all of its members do something wrong, but also when some of its members commit significant blameworthy actions in virtue of their membership. The issue, along with similar questions regarding group interest, group rights, and group justice, remains open and is unlikely ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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