Essays in Philosophy

Volume 10, Issue 2, June 2009

Collective Responsibility

Jessica B. Payson
Pages 160-182

Moral Dilemmas and Collective Responsibilities

In this paper, I work within Ruth Marcus’s account of the source of moral dilemmas and articulate the implications of her theory for collective responsibility. As an extension to Marcus’s work, I explore what her account means for the moral emotions and responsibilities of those complicit in perpetuating unjust systems of a non-ideal world from which moral dilemmas arise. This move necessitates shifting away from the primacy of control. That one is born into unjust systems one had no hand in establishing does not excuse one from responsibility to mend them. Similarly, even if one’s personal contribution in the perpetuation of unjust systems is negligible – the injustices would continue whether one participated or not, and one’s resistance would do little-to-nothing – one nevertheless retains responsibility. This expanded sense of responsibility necessitates a specialized sort of moral emotion – one that, like agent-regret or tragic-remorse, transcends the criterion of agentic control, but nevertheless can be classified neither as agent-regret nor tragic-remorse.