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Collective Moral Responsibility

police organisations. For police organisations are characterised both by high levels of cooperation, this being necessary if crime is to be combated successfully, and (relatedly) by a solidaristic culture in which loyalty is prized. Accordingly, combating police corruption requires the development and mobilisation of a felt sense of collective moral responsibility for combating corruption and for implementing anti-corruption measures. But how are we to understand the notion of collective moral responsibility?

Let us first distinguish between some different senses of responsibility (Miller 2006, 2010b, Chap. 5). Sometimes to say that someone is responsible for an action is to say that the person had a reason, or reasons, to perform some action, then formed an intention to perform that action (or not to perform it), and finally acted (or refrained from acting) on that intention, and did so on the basis of that reason(s). Note that an important category of reasons for actions are ends, goals or purposes; an agent’s reason for performing an action is often that the action realises an agent’s goal. Moreover, it is assumed that in the course of all this the agent brought about or caused the action, at least in the sense that the mental state or states that constituted his reason for performing the action was causally efficacious (in the right way), and that his resulting intention was causally efficacious (in the right way). I will dub this sense of being responsible for an action ‘natural responsibility’.

On other occasions, what is meant by the term ‘being responsible for an action’ is that the person in question occupies a certain institutional role and that the occupant of that role is the person who has the institutionally determined duty to decide what is to be done in relation to certain matters—including what is to be investigated or what is in fact the case in relation to some requirement for knowledge—and to see to it that it does happen (or see to it that the required knowledge in question is acquired and, perhaps, communicated to others).

A third sense of ‘being responsible’ for an action, is a species of our second sense. If the matters in respect of which the occupant of an institutional role has an institutionally determined duty to decide what is to be done include ordering other agents to perform, or not to perform, certain actions (including acquiring certain knowledge), then the occupant of the role is responsible for those actions performed by those other agents. We say of such a person that he is responsible for the actions of other persons in virtue of being the person in authority over them.

The fourth sense of responsibility is in fact the sense that I am principally concerned with here, namely, moral responsibility. Roughly speaking, an agent is held to be morally responsible for an action or omission—including an epistemic act or omission—if the agent was responsible for that action or omission in one of our first three senses of responsibility, and that action is morally significant. An action or omission—including an epistemic act or omission—can be morally significant in a number of ways. The action or omission could be intrinsically morally wrong, as in the case of a rights violation. Or the action or omission might have moral significance by virtue of the end that it was performed to serve or the foreseen or reasonably foreseeable outcome that it actually had.

I can now make the following preliminary claim concerning moral responsibility— note that I will use the term “action” or “omission” to refer to epistemic acts (acts of belief formation or knowledge acquisition) and omissions as well as behavioural ones:

1. If an agent is responsible for an action or omission (or foreseen or reasonably foreseeable outcome of that action or omission) in the first, second or third sense of being responsible, and the action, omission or outcome is morally significant, then—other things being equal—the agent is morally responsible for that action, omission or outcome, and—again, other things being equal—ought to attract moral praise or blame and (possibly) punishment or reward for it.

Here the ‘other things being equal’ clauses are intended to be cashed in terms of capacity for morally responsible action, (for example, suppose the agent was a psychopath), or in terms of exculpatory conditions, either by way of justification or excuse. Thus, other things might not be equal if, for example, the agent was coerced, or there was some overriding moral justification for performing what would otherwise have been a morally wrong action. Note also that contra some accounts of moral responsibility I am distinguishing this notion from that of blameworthiness/praiseworthiness.

I have distinguished four senses of responsibility, including moral responsibility. Let me now consider collective moral responsibility. As is the case with individual responsibility, we can distinguish four senses of collective responsibility, including in relation to epistemic actions and omissions. In the first instance I will do so in relation to joint actions (Miller 1992, 1995, 2001, Chap. 1).

Agents who perform a joint action are responsible for that action in the first sense of collective responsibility. Accordingly, to say that they are collectively responsible for the action is just to say that they performed the joint action. That is, they each had a collective end, each intentionally performed their contributory action, and each did so because each believed the other would perform his con- tributary action, and that therefore the collective end would be realised.

It is important to note here that each agent is individually (naturally) responsible for performing his contributory action, and responsible by virtue of the fact that he intentionally performed this action, and the action was not intentionally performed by anyone else. Of course the other agents (or agent) believe that he is performing, or is going to perform, the contributory action in question. But mere possession of such a belief is not sufficient for the ascription of responsibility to the believer for performing the individual action in question. So what are the agents collectively (naturally) responsible for? The agents are collectively (naturally) responsible for the realisation of the (collective) end which results from their contributory actions.

Again, if the occupants of an institutional role (or roles) have an institutionally determined obligation to perform some joint action then those individuals are collectively responsible for its performance, in our second sense of collective responsibility. Here there is a joint institutional obligation to realise the collective end of the joint action in question. In addition, there is a set of derived individual

obligations; each of the participating individuals has an individual obligation to perform his or her contributory action. (The derivation of these individual obligations relies on the fact that if everyone performs his or her contributory action then it is probable that the collective end will be realised.)

There is a third sense of collective responsibility that might be thought to correspond to the third sense of individual responsibility. The third sense of individual responsibility concerns those in authority. Suppose the members of the Cabinet of country A (consisting of the Prime Minister and his or her Cabinet ministers) or the members of the relevant police authority, collectively decide to exercise their institutionally determined right to introduce an anti-corruption measure, for example, an independent oversight body. The Cabinet and/or the relevant police authority is then collectively responsible for this policy and, potentially, for the untoward consequences of its implementation.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind here. First, the notion of responsibility in question is, at least in the first instance, institutional—as opposed to moral—responsibility.

Second, the ‘decisions’ of committees, as opposed to the individual decisions of the members of committees, need to be analysed in terms of the notion I have introduced elsewhere, namely, a joint institutional mechanism (Miller 2001, Chap. 5, 2010b, Chap. 1). By the lights of that notion the ‘decision’ of the Cabinet, and also perhaps of the police authority, can be analysed as follows. At one level each member of the Cabinet or the authority voted for or against the policy. Let us assume some voted in the affirmative and others in the negative. But at another level each member of the Cabinet or the authority (or both) agreed to abide by the outcome of the vote; each voted having as a collective end that the outcome with a majority of the votes in its favour would be realised. Accordingly, the members of the Cabinet and/or of the authority were jointly institutionally responsible for the policy change, that is, Cabinet and/or the authority were collectively institutionally responsible for the change.

What of the fourth sense of collective responsibility, collective moral responsibility? Collective moral responsibility is a species of joint responsibility. Accordingly, each agent is individually morally responsible, but conditionally on the others being individually morally responsible. There is interdependence in respect of moral responsibility. This account of collective moral responsibility arises naturally out of the account of joint actions. It also parallels the account given of individual moral responsibility.

Thus we can make our second preliminary claim about moral responsibility— again bearing in mind that the joint actions in question include joint epistemic actions, such as that of the members of the surveillance team:

2. If agents are collectively responsible for a joint action or omission (or the realisation of a foreseen or reasonably foreseeable outcome of that action or omission), in the first or second or third senses of collective responsibility, and if the joint action, omission or outcome is morally significant then—other things being equal—the agents are collectively morally responsible for that action, omission or outcome, and—other things being equal—ought to attract moral praise or blame, and (possibly) punishment or reward for the action, omission or for bringing about the outcome.

As is the case with the parallel account of individual moral responsibility, there are crucial ‘other things being equal’ clauses to provide for the possibilities that the agents in question either lack the requisite moral capacities—and so cannot be held morally responsible—or are possessed of moral capacities, but in the circumstances in question have an excuse or justification for their joint actions and omissions, and for the outcomes of such actions and omissions.

Note that there can be cases where there the morally significant collective end of a joint action is realised, yet one or more individuals fails to successfully perform their individual action, and cases where the morally significant collective end of a joint action is not realised, yet one or more individuals successfully performs their individual action. In the former kind of case, assuming the individual (or minority) has the collective end (and presumably, therefore, did not intentionally fail to perform their contributory action) the individual shares in the collective moral responsibility for the realisation of the end, notwithstanding their individual failure in relation to their contributory action. In the latter kind of case, again assuming the individual has the collective end, the individual shares in the collective moral responsibility for the failure to realise the end, notwithstanding their individual success in relation to their contributory action. It is consistent with this that if an individual (or minority) culpably failed to realise their individual end yet knew that the collective end would, nevertheless, be realised then that individual does not share in the collective moral responsibility of the successful outcome since, for one thing, the individual did not in fact have the collective end. It is also consistent with the above that if an individual (or minority) culpably failed to realise their individual end in the knowledge that as a consequence of this culpable failure of theirs the collective end would not be realised, then the individual (i) does not have the collective end and (ii) is individually morally responsible for the collective failure to realise the collective end. So there is no collective moral responsibility for the failure.

So much for the concept of collective moral responsibility, but how is it to be understood in relation to anti-corruption measures and integrity systems for organisations in particular?

 
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