Collective Responsibility Should be Treated as a Virtue

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


We often praise and blame groups of people like companies or governments, just like we praise and blame individual persons. This makes sense. Because some of the most important problems in our society, like climate change or mass surveillance, are not caused by individual people, but by groups. Philosophers have argued that there exists such a thing as group responsibility, which does not boil down to individual responsibility. This type of responsibility can only exist in groups that are organized with joint knowledge, actions and intentions. However, often disorganized groups without joint knowledge, actions and intentions are precisely the kinds of groups that cause problems. Therefore, in such cases, it becomes difficult, according to traditional accounts of collective responsibility to attribute responsibility to such groups. This has problematic implications. Therefore, I propose a new way of seeing collective responsibility, which is able to attribute the vice of irresponsibility to such disorganized groups. This involves seeing responsibility not as a relationship between the group and some action, but rather, as a virtue. In cases where it is difficult to establish whether a group is responsible for something, we should ask ‘is this group responsible, or irresponsible?’ This line of questioning is likely to be a more productive and philosophically legitimate way of holding groups morally responsible in such cases.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-44
JournalRoyal Institute of Philosophy Supplement
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • collective responsibility
  • virtue ethics
  • collective behaviour
  • organizational ethics
  • responsibility


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