The Transfer of Duties: From Individuals to States and Back Again

In Michael Brady & Miranda Fricker (eds.), The Epistemic Life of Groups. Oxford University Press. pp. 150-172 (2016)
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Individuals sometimes pass their duties on to collectives, which is one way in which collectives can come to have duties. The collective discharges its duties by acting through its members, which involves distributing duties back out to individuals. Individuals put duties in and get (transformed) duties out. In this paper we consider whether (and if so, to what extent) this general account can make sense of states' duties. Do some of the duties we typically take states to have come from individuals having passed on certain individual duties? There are complications: states can discharge their duties by contracting fulfilment out to non-members; states seem able to dissolve the duties of non-members; and some of states' duties are not derived in this way. We demonstrate that these complicate, but do not undermine, the general account and its application to states. And the application has an interesting upshot: by asking which individuals robustly participate in this process of duty transfer-and-transformation with a given state, we can begin to get a grip on who counts as a member of that state.

Author Profiles

Stephanie Collins
Monash University
Holly Lawford-Smith
University of Melbourne


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