Workshop on Joint Duties

When do individuals have moral obligations to cooperate in addressing problems like climate change, environmental degradation or global poverty? When existing political mechanisms fail, when ought we to work together to combat injustice or wrongdoing? Which moral problems, global or local, do we have a duty to address collectively and which not? These questions concern the morality of large-scale, collective actions. Such actions require coordination of individuals and, ultimately, group agency. But group agency is a difficult concept: It requires commitment, trust, and a large amount of openly available information. These difficulties are aggravated in large, unorganized or spontaneous collectives. They lack tightly-knit executive groups, well-defined tasks, and official information channels. Traditional moral theories were not designed to address problems of collective action since they mostly focused on individual actions and obligations. Current theories of collective action, on the other hand, have focused mostly on organized or well-defined collectives. The workshop aims at developping a theoretical account of joint moral duties for large, not necessarily well-organized collectives. It will clarify the conditions under which individuals ought to cooperate with others, and also the limitations of such duties. The workshop's goal is to show when and how each of us bears some responsibility to make positive changes in this world regarding poverty, climate change, and environmental degradation.


Financial support of the German Research Foundation's (DFG) program for the Initiation of an International Cooperation is gratefully acknowledged.



Wednesday, July 1st

Morning session in: room S70 (building NW II) Chair: Olivier Roy

9:30- 9:45 Welcome

9:45 - 10:45 Henning HahnGlobal Responsibilities. Do Nonideal Conditions Let Us off the Hook? Comment by Anne Schwenkenbecher.

11:00 - 12:00 Valentin Beck, Who is the subject of the collective responsibility to fight world poverty?’ Comment by Corrina Mieth


12:00 - 14:00 Lunch Break


Afternoon  session in: room S58 (building RW I) Chair: Anne Schwenkenbecher

14:00 - 15:00 Tatjana Višak and Kevin Baum, Collective harm: Can appealing to imperceptible harm preserve the difference principle? Comment by David Butler

15:15 - 16:15 Corinna Mieth and Christoph Bambauer: Sources of Collective Duties Comment by Annette Duftner

16:30 - 17:30 Toni Erskine, ‘Coalitions of the Willing’ and the Shared Responsibility to Protect, Comment by: David Schweikard


19:00 Workshop Dinner


Thursday, July 2nd

Morning session in: room S138 (building NW III) Chair: Doris Gerber

10:00 - 11:00 David Butler A choice for me or for us? Game theory and the balance between collective and individual interests, Comment by: Johannes Himmelreich

11:15 - 12:15  Anne Schwenkenbecher and Olivier RoyShared Agency and Distributed Information. Comment by Tatjana Višak.

12:15 - 13:45 Lunch Break


Afternoon session in: room S138 (building NW III) Chair: Olivier Roy

13:45 - 14:45  Anne SchwenkenbecherMaking sense of moral duties to collaborate. Comment by Toni Erskine

15:00 - 16:00  Doris Gerber,  Collective Responsibility: On the difference between different kinds of normative collective responsibility, Comment by Valentin Beck. 

16:15 - 17:15 David SchweikardNon-Distributive Reasons and Corresponding Obligations, Comment by Doris Gerber




Toni Erskine (UNSW, Canberra)

Coalitions of the Willing’ and the Shared Responsibility to Protect

There has been widespread support for the idea that the so-called ‘international community’ has a remedial moral responsibility to protect vulnerable populations from mass atrocities when their own governments fail to do so.  Moreover, military intervention may, when necessary, be one means of discharging this proposed responsibility to protect or, more colloquially, ‘RtoP’.  But, where exactly is this responsibility located?  In other words, which body or bodies can be expected to discharge a duty to safeguard those who lack the protection of – or, indeed, come under threat from – their own government?  The question becomes particularly pressing when the United Nations is unwilling or unable to act and there is no one state to fill the breach.

In this paper, I will examine ‘coalitions of the willing’ as one (likely provocative) answer to this question, and explore how the informal nature of such associations in world politics should inform the judgements of moral responsibility that we make in relation to them.  Perhaps most controversially, I will propose that, under certain circumstances, states and other entities have a duty to form such ad hoc associations.




Valentin Beck (FU, Berlin)

Who is the subject of the collective responsibility to fight world poverty?

In my talk, I will explore the relation of the privileged citizens of our globalized world towards the extremely poor, based on the premise that global economic inequality is still extremely and unacceptably high – despite steady economic growth and the formation of a middle-class in the world’s most populous countries, China and India. At the lower end of the distributive divide, extreme poverty is still widespread and persistent, and seems to defy the early promises of globalization’s advocates, while at the upper end wealth and income are increasingly concentrated in the hands of the super-rich. So, what are the citizens of the world – and especially the economically and socially privileged ones – responsible for in the light of these facts? I will proceed in three steps. In the first step, I will show why I deem the concept of responsibility to be preferable to that of duty when it comes to determining what the privileged morally owe to the poor. In the second step, I will distinguish between interpersonal and structural responsibility relations (not to be confused with individual and collective responsibility relations). Whereas both interpersonal and structural relations are relevant for determining responsibility for combating poverty generally, the focus on structural responsibility is key when it comes to determining the normative relation in question, i.e. the relation between the privileged and the poor. In the third step, I will distinguish between different subjects of structural responsibility. I will argue in this context that we need to focus both on the relevant collectives as well as on individuals who are members of these collectives in order to get closer to a precise picture of who bears which moral responsibility to fight world poverty. So it would be misleading to assume that the structural responsibility of the privileged towards to poor can be only collective or individual, rather than both at the same time. Taking into account the exact relations of differently privileged individuals within and to different groups – including organized and unorganized groups - will be shown as the key step to determining their relations to the extremely poor.



Tatjana Višak and Kevin Baum (Saarland University)

Collective harm: Can appealing to imperceptible harm preserve the difference principle?

In the case of anthropogenic climate change as in many other collective harm cases, the actions of many agents together cause significant harm, while it seems that no individual action makes any morally relevant difference to the outcome. Since consequentialism evaluates actions on the basis of the difference that they make, it seems that consequentialism cannot condemn the individual actions in collective harm cases. That has been called the “collective harm problem” for consequentialism.

While various solutions to the collective harm problem for consequentialism have been proposed, the problem itself hasn’t been spelled out in any detail yet. Furthermore, it is unclear how to categorize and assess the various proposed solutions.

The aim of this paper is threefold. First, this paper systematically spells out the collective harm problem for consequentialism as an argument with particular premises leading to particular conclusions. Second, on the basis of this argument, we will point out that most of the suggested solutions involve the rejection or alteration of the difference principle, i.e. the consequentialist principle that the morality of an action depends on the difference it makes. Those who appeal to the moral relevance of imperceptible harm are an exception, because they aim at solving the collective harm problem while leaving the difference principle intact. In order to assess the prospect of solving the collective harm problem while upholding the difference principle, it therefore makes sense to evaluate the appeal to the moral relevance of imperceptible harm. The third aim of this paper is just this: We will identify challenges that proponents of the appeal to the moral relevance of imperceptible harm need to address. We conclude on the basis of these challenges that the prospects for solving the collective harm problem while maintaining the difference principle look rather bleak.



Henning Hahn (Uni Kassel)

Global Responsibilities. Do Nonideal Conditions Let Us off the Hook?

Typical challenges of global ethics – such as fighting world poverty and climate change or expanding the practice of ethical consumption – require joint efforts of large-scale groups. Under nonideal conditions, however, compliance problems and lacking institutions seem to render the ascription of global responsibilities to unstructured groups impossible. In this paper, I will initially argue against current attempts to defend collective, shared or individual duties to institutionalize global responsibilities. However, I will also propose a way out of this problem by introducing a conception of political responsibility. Where the conditions for the "duty to institutionalize" do not apply, there is nevertheless a political responsibility based on given institutions and structures to approach the above mentioned challenges, or so I will argue.



Anne Schwenkenbecher (Murdoch University, Perth)

Making sense of moral duties to collaborate

Positive moral duties (or duties of beneficence) require us to improve states of affairs or to assist someone in need, even if we are not in any way responsible for their need to be assisted. The least controversial cases triggering duties of beneficence are those where we can assist others in an emergency, for instance, when their life is under threat, and we can do so at little cost to ourselves. In many cases, however, we cannot assist those in danger without the help of others, because our individual ability to assist is insufficient. That is, we sometimes need to collaborate with others in order to successfully assist someone in need. There is a growing philosophical literature discussing the way in which this fact should be reflected in our concept ofmoral duty. Scholars have put forward the notion of collective moral duties - a type of obligation that is not held by an individual but by a group of individuals. There are several different ways to spell out such duties and this paper will compare different options with a view to how well they align with commonly held assumptions regarding the limits of ascribing moral duties; how well they reflect common intuitions; and the extent to which they produce action-guiding principles.



David Butler (Murdoch University, Perth)

A choice for me or for us? Game theory and the balance between collective and individual interests

Cooperation is foundational to human society, but may require individuals to choose against their individual self-interest when acting for the group. Traditional game theory appears to lacks a compelling descriptive and normative account of this conflict. How is coordination achieved and cooperation sustained? How do we decide when to follow our individual goals over those of the group?

Influenced by both Sugden and Bacharach, I develop a model, 'circumspect we-reasoning' to address these questions. A key aspect involves demonstrating some decisions game theorylabels as irrational can sometimes be justified, when the individual approaches the decision as one for the group. My model produces a threshold cost/benefit ratio to describe when we-reasoning players should choose cooperatively. After assumptions regarding player types and beliefs, I predict how the extent of cooperation varies across a simple class of games that instantiate the individual versus group tension. Results from two experiments offer strong support to the model.



Doris Gerber (Uni Tübingen)

Collective Responsibility: On the difference between different kinds of normative collective responsibility

In cases of collective responsibility as well as in cases of individual responsibility we can distinguish between different kinds of normative relevance, namely moral, political, corporate and legal responsibility. The talk discusses especially the difference between moral collective responsibility on the one hand and political and corporate collective responsibility on the other hand. These differences concern, first, the question of whether the collective itself can be the bearer of responsibility and, second, the concrete conditions for the ascription of moral or political and corporate collective responsibility. Concerning the first question, it is argued that only individual persons can be moral persons in the real sense, whereas in the case of political and corporate responsibility the relevant collective – a political institution or a company – can really be the bearer of responsibility. Concerning the second question, two proposals are made to determine the different conditions of collective responsibility in the two kinds of cases.



David P. Schweikard (Uni Münster)

Non-Distributive Reasons and Corresponding Obligations

When agents are expected to act in a certain way, when they are praised or blamed for taking (or not taking) action, appeal is often made to specific reasons they had or that applied to them in the situation in question. The fact that X is in danger of drowning may in this way be regarded as providing Y with a reason to go to X’s rescue, where this will be dependent on whether Y is, in the situation at hand, capable of rescuing X, but where it may be independent of Y’s awareness or acceptance of their reasons. Given further conditions, we may even want to say that Y has an obligation to go to X’s rescue. Matters get significantly more complicated in cases involving collectivities of agents in Y’s place, of which this paper will consider those in which the reasons given are reasons to act in some coordinated way (i.e. jointly or as a group agent). With respect to such non-distributive reasons,reasons that apply only to collectivities of agents, the paper will inquire what exactly can be regarded as the corresponding obligations of the agents involved, considered individually or jointly. In particular, it will be argued that even when a collectivity cannot be addressed as an agent, individual or joint obligations to seek (if not establish) appropriate coordination may nevertheless exist.


Anne Schwenkenbecher (Murdoch) and Olivier Roy (Bayreuth)

Shared Agency and Distributed Information

This paper examines how seemingly unrelated individuals in large and unstructured groups can act together even if their information is limited. Existing accounts of shared agency are have focused either on cases where information is mutual, or where there is a well-defined decision or aggregation mechanism. This covers only a narrow range of cases where individuals act in conjunction with others. The vast majority of collaborations seem to take place under conditions of asymmetric knowledge. We propose an view of group agency that can account of that. The key idea is that in such cases information should be pooled instead of shared. We show that this idea generalizes a number of existing accounts, and that it leads to a graded view of shared agency.

Corinna Mieth & Christoph Bambauer (Bochum): Sources of Collective Duties

In recent literature there is a lively debate about the systematic relation of the concepts of moral duty and moral responsibility. Following the classic approach of Hans Jonas (Jonas 1979) it is discussed whether we are able to avoid or solve certain problems which are associated with the notion of duty by focusing on the idea of being responsible (Watson 1996, Birnbacher 1995, Bayertz 1995). It is also controversial whether it makes sense to talk of collective duties/obligations and of collective responsibility (Isaacs 2014, Björnsson 2014, Hess 2014, Young 2011). If one takes a closer look at the concept of moral duty on the individual level it seems to be seriously flawed since it is inadequate with regard to the moral necessity of helping others: A general positive duty to help others would be overdemanding but a negative duty to avoid harming others does not seem to be sufficient either – or at least, we will argue that this is the case. Furthermore we hold that the concept of individual moral responsibility is not able to avoid this problem because it is implicitly connected to the concept of individual moral duty. The notion of being morally responsible seems to be wider and more inclusive than that of being obliged individually. With this in mind we will scrutinize in how far the ideas of collective duties and collective responsibility can be helpful with finding a solution to the problems which occur on the level of individual duty and responsibility. Since Marion Youngs “Responsibility for Justice” is one of the most influencial works on the responsibility of a group of agents we will focus on her account. We will argue for two theses: 1. Young’s concept of shared responsibility cannot solve the problems of individual duty/responsibility, 2. This is the case because the notions of collective duties and collective responsibility are principally not appropriate for helping with the inadequacy problem of individual duties.

Where to find the rooms?

NOTE: Google map seems to be outdated. Some of the buildings we are in were not built at the time their satellite picture was taken! The pins on the maps shows the location of these buildings.