Collective inaction, omission, and non-action: when not acting is indeed on ‘us’

Synthese 200 (5):1-19 (2022)
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The statement that we are currently failing to address some of humanity’s greatest challenges seems uncontroversial—we are not doing enough to limit global warming to a maximum of 2 °C and we are exposing vulnerable people to preventable diseases when failing to produce herd immunity. But what singles out such failings from all the things we did not do when all are unintended? Unlike their individualist counterparts, collective inaction and omission have not yet received much attention in the literature. collective inaction, I argue, can be attributed to a group of agents where a collective action x that the agents did not perform was collectively feasible at time t where each agent in that group had sufficient reason to contribute to performing x or others had a reasonable expectation that they would perform x. I show that, perhaps surprisingly, we can speak of collective inaction even where only one member of the group fails to act. However, where large and dispersed groups of agents are concerned, there is often no meaningful way of attributing collective failings. Still, I contend that the failure to close the global emissions gap and—in some cases—to generate herd immunity are indeed on us.

Author's Profile

Anne Schwenkenbecher
Murdoch University


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