Co-responsibility and Causal Involvement

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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
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
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
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.


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Utgåva nummer3
StatusPublished - 2013
Peer review utfördJa

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