Are Individualist Accounts of Collective Responsibility Morally Deficient?

In A. Konzelmann Ziv & H. B. Schmid (eds.), Institutions, Emotions, and Group Agents. Springer. pp. 329-342 (2013)
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Individualists hold that moral responsibility can be ascribed to single human beings only. An important collectivist objection is that individualism is morally deficient because it leaves a normative residue. Without attributing responsibility to collectives there remains a “deficit in the accounting books” (Pettit). This collectivist strategy often uses judgment aggregation paradoxes to show that the collective can be responsible when no individual is. I argue that we do not need collectivism to handle such cases because the individualist analysis leaves no responsibility-deficit. Harm suffered in such situations can have only two sources. Harm is either due to culpable wrongdoing by individuals. Harm is then redressed by holding these individuals responsible. Or harm does not result from culpable wrongdoing. Such harm may have to be redressed too, but not because anyone is responsible for it. Therefore, the charge of moral insensitivity against individualist accounts can be rejected. Furthermore, in the last section of the chapter I will show that collectivist talk about moral responsibility can be used for ethically questionable purposes as well. Collectivists cannot claim the moral high ground.
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