Moral Responsibility for Outcomes in Collective Harm Cases
Most would agree that you could be blameworthy for causing climate change if you go for a leisure drive with a gas-guzzling car. Still, how can we explain this intuition given that your drive seems to make no morally relevant difference for climate change and its related harms? More generally, how can we explain that you might be morally responsible for an outcome in collective harm cases? These are cases where there will be a bad outcome, X, if enough acts of a certain kind, A, are performed, but where no act of A-ing makes outcome X worse. To answer this question, we assume that you are blameworthy for an outcome just in case your poor quality of will caused this outcome. More precisely, we assume that you are blameworthy for X rather than X* just in case (i) X is worse than X*, and (ii) there is a time t, such that your poor quality of will at t in relation to X versus X* caused X rather than X*. Following authors such as Strawson (1962), McKenna (2012) and Björnsson (2014), we take having a poor quality of will to involve something like showing insufficient regard or to care insufficiently for something (e.g. an outcome). The problem is that most accounts of causation faces counterexamples when combined with the idea that you are blameworthy for a bad outcome just in case your poor quality of will causes this outcome. They might for instance entail that a single drive with a gasguzzling car does not cause climate change, and so that you cannot be blameworthy for the harms of climate change when going for such a drive. We consider different landmark accounts of causation and explain why they cannot be the accounts we are looking for. By using an alternative account of causation that one of us have developed elsewhere, we can avoid the difficulties the other accounts faces. Roughly, this account says that your poor quality of will caused an outcome X just in case (a) your poor quality of will is process-connected to X, and (b) in the closest-to-@-at-t world where you do not have a poor quality of will, X is less secure, and X* is more secure than they are in @. Importantly, this account gives the right verdict in collective harm cases. Since it is disputed whether climate change is a threshold-phenomenon (but cf. Broome 2019), and more generally since collective harm cases comes in two varieties – threshold cases and non-threshold cases – we show that our account of blameworthiness gives the intuitively correct result in threshold cases (such as Björnsson’s 2014 The lake) as well as in non-threshold cases (such as Parfit’s 1984 Drops of Water).
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