Home » Philosophy » Collective, Corporate, and State Moral Responsibility

Collective, Corporate, and State Moral Responsibility

Recently, I completed a course on Collective, Corporate, and State Moral Responsibility.  The purpose of this post is to summarize my thoughts on the subject.  I will not provide detailed arguments in favor of these positions in this blog.

Before I begin, be advised that ‘collective’ is a formal word for ‘group’.  Examples of ‘collectives’ are: the people at a party, a sports team, a corporation, a family, or a State.   A ‘group’ whose commonalities are superficial and not based on any standing agreements or relationships is called an ‘aggregate’.  Examples of ‘aggregates’ are: people with red hair, people born in a particular country or with a particular background, or people who are left-handed.

A summary of my stances on a variety of issues is below.

Judgments of moral responsibility should be based off of actions rather than character.  People should be held morally responsible for actions which harm others.  If no one was harmed, then the action does not qualify for a test of morality.  Further, there are no thought crimes.  Attitudes and character might be used in evaluating the intent behind an action, but on their own, they are not sufficient conditions for judging moral responsibility.

Moral responsibility, whether praiseworthiness or blameworthiness, should be applied consistently.  For example, if we ascribe praise for an action based on a certain set of criteria, then when the conditions are met for a blameworthy action, we should also ascribe moral responsibility.  The most basic example, in a sense of causal responsibility, is that if we ascribe praise for a team winning based off of specific performance by a member of the team, then that member of the team should share equally in blame for a loss.

When analyzing an individual’s moral obligations and responsibilities in relation to a group such as a corporation or State, it is critical to consider the individual’s power and influence over the group.  If an individual attempted to challenge an immoral course of action, but did not have sufficient time, money, resources, and influence to affect the behavior of the group, they should be omitted from blame for the group’s actions.  It is not reasonable to expect disadvantaged individuals to overpower those that have more influence over the group.  Many disadvantaged individuals might be just getting by; it would not be reasonable to blame them for failing to form a counter-movement.

Individuals harmed by a collective, corporation, or State to which they are a member should not be held morally responsible for the actions of that particular collective, corporation, or State.  This can often be applied to instances in which disadvantaged groups are harmed by the policies or actions of influential groups which dominate the group behavior of a collective, corporation, or State.  The only exemption to this would be bizarre situations in which an individual willingly and knowingly supported the policies and practices which lead to the harm.

Cultural explanations for immoral group actions are not sufficient for assigning blame or moral responsibility.  Culture is reducible to behavior.  If someone speaks out against behavior leading to immoral policies or social practices as they occur, then that individual should not be held responsible for the morality of the ‘culture’.  We should judge moral responsibility for behavior and not simply for being perceived to be the member of a ‘culture’.

This is not an exhaustive listed.  However, it is a brief survey of my current thinking on the topic.  I will be happy to elaborate more on particular points if asked.

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