Making sense of collective moral obligations: A comparison of existing approaches

In Kendy Hess, Violetta Igneski & Tracy Lynn Isaacs (eds.), Collectivity: Ontology, Ethics, and Social Justice. London: Rowman and Littlefield. pp. 109-132 (2018)
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We can often achieve together what we could not have achieved on our own. Many times these outcomes and actions will be morally valuable; sometimes they may be of substantial moral value. However, when can we be under an obligation to perform some morally valuable action together with others, or to jointly produce a morally significant outcome? Can there be collective moral obligations, and if so, under what circumstances do we acquire them? These are questions to which philosophers are increasingly turning their attention. It is fair to say that traditional ethical theories cannot give a satisfying answer to the questions, focusing as they do on the actions and attitudes of discreet individual agents. It should also be noted that the debate surrounding collective moral obligations is ongoing and by no means settled. This chapter discusses and compares the different attempts to date to answer the above questions. It proposes a set of meta-criteria—or desiderata— for arbitrating between the various proposals.

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Anne Schwenkenbecher
Murdoch University


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