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Responsibility for climate change: collective harm, individual accountability and radical moral revisionism

Francis, B. (2021) Responsibility for climate change: collective harm, individual accountability and radical moral revisionism. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00099723


Climate change is an instance of the problem of collective impact. This is a problem in normative ethics, which arises when the actions of many individuals together produce some morally significant outcome, but no agent is apparently an appropriate object of accountability for it. Given climate change is a disastrous, agent-caused, foreseen harmful outcome, many people share the judgment that some agent or agents ought to be accoXnWable foU WhaW haUm, \eW no indiYidXal·V behaYioXU iV appaUenWl\ of VXfficienW moUal significance for assignments of accountability, and corresponding assignments of remedial duty, to be appropriate. The problem has led some theorists to the drastic conclusion that our existing moral concepts are fundamentally unsuited to the complex global structure of interpersonal relations in which we today find ourselves, and that we therefore need to create radically new moral concepts. The thesis offers a critical taxonomy of responses to the problem in the existing literature, before focusing on three very different types of response: defences of individual direct duties to reduce personal emissions, defences of participatory duties grounded in minimal forms of shared agency, and radical moral revisionism about the content of our individual duties. While the first of these kinds of response fail, the thesis develops and defends a version of the second, based on the idea of quasi-participatory accountability. This is the sense in which individuals can be accountable for the outcomes associated with group behaviours when those individuals identify with those behaviours and regard themselves as participating in collective action, even in circumstances when there is no actual coordination between individual agents. The thesis argues that the radical revisionist approach relies on a deeply flawed understanding of the philosopher's role in influencing moral attitudes. It is therefore an approach based on quasi-participatory accountability renders radical revisionism unnecessary.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Hooker, B. and Jubb, R.
Thesis/Report Department:Department of Philosophy
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > Philosophy
ID Code:99723
Date on Title Page:December 2020


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