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Co-responsibility and Causal Involvement

Petersson, Björn LU (2013) In Philosophia 41(3). p.847-866
Abstract
In discussions of moral responsibility for collectively produced effects, it is not

uncommon to assume that we have to abandon the view that causal involvement is a

necessary condition for individual co-responsibility. In general, considerations of cases

where there is "a mismatch between the wrong a group commits and the apparent

causal contributions for which we can hold individuals responsible" motivate this move.

According to Brian Lawson, "solving this problem requires an approach that

deemphasizes the importance of causal contributions". Christopher Kutz's theory of

complicitious accountability in Complicity from 2000 is probably the most wellknown

approach of... (More)
In discussions of moral responsibility for collectively produced effects, it is not

uncommon to assume that we have to abandon the view that causal involvement is a

necessary condition for individual co-responsibility. In general, considerations of cases

where there is "a mismatch between the wrong a group commits and the apparent

causal contributions for which we can hold individuals responsible" motivate this move.

According to Brian Lawson, "solving this problem requires an approach that

deemphasizes the importance of causal contributions". Christopher Kutz's theory of

complicitious accountability in Complicity from 2000 is probably the most wellknown

approach of that kind.

Standard examples are supposed to illustrate mismatches of three different kinds: an

agent may be morally co-responsible for an event to a high degree even if her causal

contribution to that event is a) very small, b) imperceptible, or c) non-existent (in

overdetermination cases). From such examples, Kutz and others conclude that

principles of complicitious accountability cannot include a condition of causal

involvement.

In the present paper, I defend the causal involvement condition for co-responsibility.

These are my lines of argument:

First, overdetermination cases can be accommodated within a theory of coresponsibility

without giving up the causality condition. Kutz and others oversimplify the

relation between counterfactual dependence and causation, and they overlook the

possibility that causal relations other than marginal contribution could be morally

relevant.

Second, harmful effects are sometimes overdetermined by non-collective sets of acts.

Over-farming, or the greenhouse effect, might be cases of that kind. In such cases,

there need not be any formal organization, any unifying intentions, or any other noncausal

criterion of membership available. If we give up the causal condition for coresponsibility

it will be impossible to delimit the morally relevant set of acts related to

those harms. Since we sometimes find it fair to blame people for such harms, we must

question the argument from overdetermination.

Third, although problems about imperceptible effects or aggregation of very small

effects are morally important, e.g. when we consider degrees of blameworthiness or

epistemic limitations in reasoning about how to assign responsibility for specific harms,

they are irrelevant to the issue of whether causal involvement is necessary for

complicity.

Fourth, the costs of rejecting the causality condition for complicity are high. Causation

is an explicit and essential element in most doctrines of legal liability and it is central in

common sense views of moral responsibility. Giving up this condition could have

radical and unwanted consequences for legal security and predictability. However, it is

not only for pragmatic reasons and because it is a default position that we should

require stronger arguments (than conflicting intuitions about "mismatches") before

giving up the causality condition. An essential element in holding someone to account

for an event is the assumption that her actions and intentions are part of the

explanation of why that event occurred. If we give up that element, it is difficult to see

which important function responsibility assignments could have. (Less)
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
organization
publishing date
type
Contribution to journal
publication status
published
subject
keywords
co-responsibility, complicity, counterfactual dependence, marginal contribution, overdetermination, Kutz C, Lewis D, Moore M S
in
Philosophia
volume
41
issue
3
pages
847 - 866
publisher
Springer
external identifiers
  • wos:000324103400021
  • scopus:84883830217
ISSN
0048-3893
DOI
10.1007/s11406-013-9413-x
project
Agency; Collective and Individual Perspectives
Avsiktlighet och agentperspektiv
Metaphysics and Collectivity
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
d8613318-389e-480b-a61b-5444d9f8e729 (old id 3358381)
alternative location
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11406-013-9413-x
date added to LUP
2016-04-01 14:21:51
date last changed
2019-12-04 04:24:27
@article{d8613318-389e-480b-a61b-5444d9f8e729,
  abstract     = {In discussions of moral responsibility for collectively produced effects, it is not<br/><br>
uncommon to assume that we have to abandon the view that causal involvement is a<br/><br>
necessary condition for individual co-responsibility. In general, considerations of cases<br/><br>
where there is "a mismatch between the wrong a group commits and the apparent<br/><br>
causal contributions for which we can hold individuals responsible" motivate this move.<br/><br>
According to Brian Lawson, "solving this problem requires an approach that<br/><br>
deemphasizes the importance of causal contributions". Christopher Kutz's theory of<br/><br>
complicitious accountability in Complicity from 2000 is probably the most wellknown<br/><br>
approach of that kind.<br/><br>
Standard examples are supposed to illustrate mismatches of three different kinds: an<br/><br>
agent may be morally co-responsible for an event to a high degree even if her causal<br/><br>
contribution to that event is a) very small, b) imperceptible, or c) non-existent (in<br/><br>
overdetermination cases). From such examples, Kutz and others conclude that<br/><br>
principles of complicitious accountability cannot include a condition of causal<br/><br>
involvement.<br/><br>
In the present paper, I defend the causal involvement condition for co-responsibility.<br/><br>
These are my lines of argument:<br/><br>
First, overdetermination cases can be accommodated within a theory of coresponsibility<br/><br>
without giving up the causality condition. Kutz and others oversimplify the<br/><br>
relation between counterfactual dependence and causation, and they overlook the<br/><br>
possibility that causal relations other than marginal contribution could be morally<br/><br>
relevant.<br/><br>
Second, harmful effects are sometimes overdetermined by non-collective sets of acts.<br/><br>
Over-farming, or the greenhouse effect, might be cases of that kind. In such cases,<br/><br>
there need not be any formal organization, any unifying intentions, or any other noncausal<br/><br>
criterion of membership available. If we give up the causal condition for coresponsibility<br/><br>
it will be impossible to delimit the morally relevant set of acts related to<br/><br>
those harms. Since we sometimes find it fair to blame people for such harms, we must<br/><br>
question the argument from overdetermination.<br/><br>
Third, although problems about imperceptible effects or aggregation of very small<br/><br>
effects are morally important, e.g. when we consider degrees of blameworthiness or<br/><br>
epistemic limitations in reasoning about how to assign responsibility for specific harms,<br/><br>
they are irrelevant to the issue of whether causal involvement is necessary for<br/><br>
complicity.<br/><br>
Fourth, the costs of rejecting the causality condition for complicity are high. Causation<br/><br>
is an explicit and essential element in most doctrines of legal liability and it is central in<br/><br>
common sense views of moral responsibility. Giving up this condition could have<br/><br>
radical and unwanted consequences for legal security and predictability. However, it is<br/><br>
not only for pragmatic reasons and because it is a default position that we should<br/><br>
require stronger arguments (than conflicting intuitions about "mismatches") before<br/><br>
giving up the causality condition. An essential element in holding someone to account<br/><br>
for an event is the assumption that her actions and intentions are part of the<br/><br>
explanation of why that event occurred. If we give up that element, it is difficult to see<br/><br>
which important function responsibility assignments could have.},
  author       = {Petersson, Björn},
  issn         = {0048-3893},
  language     = {eng},
  number       = {3},
  pages        = {847--866},
  publisher    = {Springer},
  series       = {Philosophia},
  title        = {Co-responsibility and Causal Involvement},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11406-013-9413-x},
  doi          = {10.1007/s11406-013-9413-x},
  volume       = {41},
  year         = {2013},
}