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09/27/2013

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Super cool cases and questions, Gunnar. Can you just clarify some of the "grammar" in last couple sentences? When you say a group is MR to the extent the outcome is explained by *their* ill will, how should we parse it? Is it each member of the group is MR based on each member's ill will? (If so, what are "these two things" that come apart? The analysis for individual MR seems to handle the case.) Or is each member MR based on the collective ill will of the group (but they didn't know about the others' ill will, so it doesn't seem collective)?

And do you in the paper (or in your head) see some interesting connections between these ideas and moral luck cases? (I do.)

One problem with your analysis, Gunnar, is that the individuals in question did not act in concert: I'm not sure that there is any such thing as THEIR ill will or lack of proper concern. Along the same lines, how do we mete out punishment? Do we fine the group, which, again, is nothing like a corporation, and leave it up them to figure out the individual payments? Or do we assess each individual a fine? If the latter, it seems that we are holding each one responsible for his/her contribution to the mess. As Nagel showed, it is dicey in any event assigning blame for the consequences of our activities. Some are, of course, foreseeable, but what of those harder to predict? Foreseeable or not, though, there comes a time when things are out of an individual's hands and the uncontrollable input of others or other things is required to effect a certain result. Given that we all understand such vicissitudes, I am inclined to hold individuals to what might be called the Err on the Side of Caution principle: an agent is BW for the untoward consequences of his activities just in case he knew or should have known that such activities can contribute to a serious problem. A stiff fine for all 3 painters.

Apologies in advance for being slow answering questions; I'm busy conferencing until Sunday, but I'll do my best.

Thanks Eddy. Your second option is the closest to my view, though "collective ill will" is likely to be misleading. The core idea is that explanations of an outcome can refer to a *plurality* of ill wills, in this case to Alice's, Bill's, and Cecil's: Why did the fish die? Because *they* didn’t care. Here “they” refers to Alice, Bill, and Cecil, but not to some further entity, “the collective”. So responsibility is attributed to each of them on the basis of the plurality of ill wills.

Oh, and yes: there is certainly a connection to cases of luck, as the shared responsibility for an outcome depends on the role of others in the process leading up to the outcome.

Robert, perhaps my answer to Eddy helps with the first question: the analysis does not presuppose that the individuals act in concert, only that their ill wills figure in a relevant straightforward explanation of the outcome.

Your questions about punishment (or others varieties of holding responsible) are interesting, and I won’t have much interesting to say about them here, other than that they raise a host of normative and pragmatic issues beyond those of responsibility.

Very interesting cases and post, Gunnar. Thanks!

I'm inclined to say that the three individuals in The Lake are *together* morally responsible for the death of the fish, but that this responsibility of the group does not transfer to responsibility of the individuals. That is, it is not the case that any of the three is, as an individual, morally responsible for the death of the fish. Each is however morally responsible for playing a role in the death of the fish, for contributing to the death of the fish, and so forth.

Consider an election. The American voters are, as a group, responsible for Obama's re-election. But no individual is--not even an individual who voted for Obama. Rather, he or she is morally responsible for playing a role in Obama's re-election, doing his or her part, contributing a vote, and so forth. But no one individual is responsible for Obama's election.

Very interesting and inventive cases Gunnar! And thanks so much for your great work this month..

First I must say I like John's idea of playing a role in a larger causal project. That's very helpful.

Second if we wish to attribute responsibility as accountability, then it seems a necessary condition is that participants in a larger causal project must meet minimal conditions of realizing at least that they *might* play such a role in that project. In the absence of such a realization, then the combined individual efforts of unwitting participants makes each having a *causal* role, but not necessarily an accountable one. Think of the thousands of individual hunters that harvested passenger pigeons that collectively led to the extinction of the species. Collectively they cause that (plausibly regrettable) fact; I'd argue that since ecological/population concerns were absent in that day, no one hunter really shares any responsibility for the extinction, even though each had a role causally.

Another thought. Adam's contribution was an unintended accelerated contribution to overdetermination of the eventual causal state of affairs, but each participant of Lake was an unintended contributor to an agglomerated sufficient causal state of affairs. Adam's role was not necessary to the overall causal outcome. Each of the three Lakes' case was necessary as one conjunct of a subset that constituted causal sufficiency. None of these including Adam could fully grasp what final role they might play in the resulting causal events. Since we must be dealing with negligence here in any case due to some kind of ignorance on the part of the principals, I'd urge that Gunnar's excellent examples focus on that kind of responsibility, as a clarifying point.

Thanks John,

What you are describing might be exactly the view I am proposing. The essentially shared responsibility is one that is attributed to them together, as the ill will / lack of concern of each figures in the explanation of the outcome. When we instead ask about the individual responsibility of (say) Alice in particular, we are in effect asking what it was that happened because of Alice's motivational structure in particular, and then we see these structures as straightforwardly explaining her act of pouring solvent into the lake, but not the death of the fish (unless we again think of the structures in conjunction with those of Bill and Cecil). (I am also saying saying that each of Alice, Bill, and Cecil is responsible for the death of the fish, but in saying so I mean that each is responsible for that outcome *together with the others*, so I suspect that this is in line with what you want to say.)

Alan, the way the cases were set up, the individual agents were aware of the risk of damaging the environment and displayed an inappropriate lack of concern for this risk. There is certainly ignorance involved, but I am not sure how that changes the *kind* of responsibility involved. Perhaps you can clarify that point? (For all I know, the case of the individuals who harvested passenger pigeons is different, without awareness on part of the hunters that extinction might result.)

A question: In what sense do you mean that each of the three contributions in The Lake "was *necessary* as one conjunct of a subset that constituted causal sufficiency" [my emphasis]? (It is stipulated that the contribution of two individuals would have been enough to ensure the outcome.)

A minor correction: Adam's contribution did not accelerate the process; it *decelerated* it somewhat.

Gunnar--my apologies about the acceleration--I misread your point. So Adam actually merely defers the eventual overall causal state temporally by actually adding to it in some way. Since his solvent contains "the very same poisonous substance", that led to my not getting the force of your claim that the solvent made the processes a little slower. Still, Adam's contribution was not necessary for the final result, though it was sufficient for slowing it down. His ignorance was not a contributing factor for the final result--only for the time of its arrival.

Not so in the Lake cases. They each knew that what they did could do some harm, but not the extent of harm of knowing that that each's act combined with an unknown co-conspirator could produce, and so not knowing that they were individually necessary for such a combination of sufficiency of harm renders each less culpable. We can see such a role for individual necessity in hindsight and assign collective responsibility by sufficient subsets of the three. But they could not possibly have known all of that, and their individual negligence is considerably lessened, I'd say. This is one reason I brought in the passenger pigeon case, where negligence is not even in the picture.

Thanks Alan, then I understand your point better, and I agree of course that someone causing damage under uncertainty is typically less culpable than someone who does it knowingly. I might be worth mentioning, though, that in this particular case, it is problematic to say that culpability is mitigated by ignorance. If Alice had known the facts of the matter, she would have known that because of the contribution of the others, her contribution would not hurt the fish but would instead delay the demise somewhat. If she had disposed of the solvent under those circumstances, I'm inclined to say that she would be less culpable.

(By the way, in the paper I discuss and reject the admittedly tempting idea that attributions of responsibility in these sort of case build on the idea that individual contributions are necessary parts of certain sufficient subsets of actions, which seems to be your understanding of what is going on.)

Thanks so much Gunnar--I should have known you'd thought through stuff that seems new to me!

But who killed the fish? What makes this case so difficult to adjudicate is that there is no togetherness involved, no corporate entity on whom to pin the blame. The use of scare quotes only highlights the problem. And not only is there no agent to single out, ipso facto there is no action either. What exactly did 'they' do? Compare: Exxon Valdez spilled a massive amount of oil into the ocean. So something killed the fish, but it wasn't an action on anyone's part. We can't even say that each painter killed some fish, since no one's contribution by itself led to any deaths. Not unless we posit a bridging principle such as the one formulated in my previous post: an agent is responsible for a certain state of affairs just in case he deliberately engages in activities knowing that they could produce such a SOA should certain other not unlikely conditions be met. (Alan also notes the importance of an epistemic requirement.) If those other conditions, as in the case at hand, include epistemically similar agents he is partly responsible, sharing in the blame/praise. If no one else is involved, if the other factors were up to nature to produce, as AL, he is fully to blame. Now we can causally connect the individual painters to the disaster in a way that entails full or partial moral responsibility on each one's part. I prefer my bridging principle to setting up fictitious corporations.

Robert, I'm not sure I see a lack of parties to blame. We can blame each of Alice, Bill and Cecil for recklessly pouring poisonous solvent into the lake, and we can address the three of them and truthfully say (in perfect parallel to how we would address an agent in a case of individual responsibility): "The fish died because of your recklessness. Had you guys been appropriately concerned to protect the environment, the fish would have been alive." In addressing them in this way, no corporation, fictitious or not, is set up. (Also notice that in addressing them in this way, we would be addressing each of them, just not individually.)

You propose the following: "... an agent is responsible for a certain state of affairs just in case he deliberately engages in activities knowing that they could produce such a SOA should certain other not unlikely conditions be met." This condition seems too weak. For one, it counts Adam as responsible for the death of the fish in Adam's Lake, and would equally count him as responsible for the death of the fish even if the fish had died for completely unrelated caused: perhaps the naturally produced poison killed the fish in such a way that his solvent played no role what so ever in bringing about the death of the fish. What is needed, I think, is some relevant explanatory connection between the recklessness and the outcome. That connection, I think, is found for the plurality of agents, but not for any one of them looked at individually.

No, Gunnar, that address is precisely what I'm denying is appropriate, as there is no such thing as 'THEIR recklessness.' When you admonish them saying 'Had you guys been ...' it seems to me that you are presupposing that they acted in concert. It is John's scare quotes around 'together' that suggest to me the use of a facon de parler. Better yet, I see an instance of the fallacy of composition: each one was reckless, therefore they were reckless. You could say truly of them that they acted recklessly only if there was something reckless they did together.

I was assuming that in cases like AL there was a causal connection already established between the SOA and the contributions of the agent; that it was produced by his activities along with the other factors involved, neither being sufficient. I would amend my principle to now include this proviso; although overdetermination cases such as AL will still be problematic. Looked at individually, each one is a contributor to the disaster, entailing a share in the blame. Thank you for your feedback.

Robert, I understood what you denied, but I see no reason for your denial, i.e. no reason to attribute that fallacy to the sort of address I sketched. Generally speaking, constructions of the form "their F" or "your F" do not imply that F is a property jointly had be the individuals picked out by "their" or "your". For example, in saying "we were forced to sack Alice, Bill and Cecil; their incompetence was just too much trouble", one is not implying that the incompetence was related to things they did together, or that the incompetence somehow belongs to the group rather than to the individuals; likewise for "You won't like this guys, I have to fire you. Dealing with your incompetence is just too much trouble". The same is true about the original address I proposed, directed at Alice, Bill, and Cecil. I'm not denying that someone *might* interpret it as presupposing coordinated action, or (much less likely) as implying that there is a recklessness somehow belonging to all of them, but it is just not implied by the formulation. Moreover, if we accept a loss of conciseness, we can just as well say "Alice, Bill, and Cecil, listen up. Alice, you were reckless. So were you Bill, and you Cecil. Because of this, the fish is dead: it would have been alive if you had all cared appropriately". So I don't see why we should assume that any fallacy is involved in the relevant sort of address, and there seems to be good reason to think the opposite. (Also, I just can't see anyone in Alice's, Bill's or Cecil's position object to the address by saying that there was no "joint" or "common" recklessness, and that they never coordinated their actions. Coordination or not, the fish died because of them.)

If I understand it correctly, your amended positive proposal will treat Adam as responsible for the death of the fish in Adam's Lake—it is "produced by his activities along with other factors involved"; I take that to be a remaining problem, but perhaps you would disagree. Depending on how "produced by" is understood, the proposal also seems to run into problems with omission cases, where it is unclear how outcomes are *produced by* some agent's activities, and with other cases where one agent's contribution affects the process by which some event is brought about but where it is unnatural to cite that contribution in an explanation of the outcome. (I discuss some such issues in the paper, so this might not be the place to pursue this matter.)

Hi Gunnar,

If you're not already familiar, you might check out Tracy Isaacs' recent book, *Moral Responsibility in Collective Contexts*. She defends a position similar to John's suggestion, though she thinks there can be genuinely collective responsibility. (I reviewed the book at NDPR if you're interested in just a sketch of the book: http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/27607-moral-responsibility-in-collective-contexts/).

Thanks Matt,

I do have Tracy's book, but I hadn't looked at your thoughtful review. As I see it, the view I propose in the paper avoids some of the problems that you raise for Tracy's view, as my view takes shared responsibility in The Lake and similar cases to attach to the plurality of individuals rather than to some entity "the collective": each is responsible for the outcome *together with the others*. Moreover, I have a similar (forthcoming) account of shared obligations of pluralities of agents that I think avoids the problem you sketch for accounts that think of group obligations in terms of the obligations of putative collective agents.

Sorry Gunnar, I'm not buying it. Those colloquialisms masks the facts. There is no plurality we are declaring incompetent. The formulations are shorthand for attributions of personal responsibility. Far from a 'loss of conciseness,' your alternative renderings point up exactly what I'm saying: that it's really each individual to whom the quality in which is being attributed. I'll let it go, though. Thanks for your yeoman's work this month. And here's another thought: almost all of the other examples you cite, especially the voter and regime change ones, DO involve coordination to a certain degree.

Thanks Robert. A final attempt to sort out what I feel is a misunderstanding of my suggestion, perhaps stemming from my talk of "shared responsibility". I am not saying that there is anything other than the individuals that are responsible, or reckless. This was the point of the incompetence example: in addressing three individuals and saying that they are incompetent, one is not thereby attributing incompetence to any other entity. Likewise in the responsibility case: the responsibility is attributed to the individuals. However, an explanation of an outcome can refer to the individual recklessness (ill will, lack of concern) of more than one individual: it happened because they were (individually) reckless. The suggestion is that this happens when we attribute responsibility in the case of The Lake, but are reluctant to do so in the case of Adam's Lake. In the first, but not in the second, is there a natural straightforward explanation of the outcome in terms of lack of concern (or recklessness) available, and that explanation refers to the individual lack of concern of several agents. It is because the explanation of the outcome—the explanation on which the attribution of responsibility is based—relates the individual motivational structures of more than one individual that I say that the responsibility is shared, not because the responsibility pertains to anything other than the individuals.

I'll stop there: as we have a new month, and a new featured author, I'll refer you to the paper if you haven't read it, and to email if you would want to continue the discussion. Thanks for participating in the discussions!

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