The irreducibility of collective obligations

  • Allard TammingaEmail author
  • Frank Hindriks


Individualists claim that collective obligations are reducible to the individual obligations of the collective’s members. Collectivists deny this. We set out to discover who is right by way of a deontic logic of collective action that models collective actions, abilities, obligations, and their interrelations. On the basis of our formal analysis, we argue that when assessing the obligations of an individual agent, we need to distinguish individual obligations from member obligations. If a collective has a collective obligation to bring about a particular state of affairs, then it might be that no individual in the collective has an individual obligation to bring about that state of affairs. What follows from a collective obligation is that each member of the collective has a member obligation to help ensure that the collective fulfills its collective obligation. In conclusion, we argue that our formal analysis supports collectivism.


Collective obligation Collective responsibility Collectivism Individualism Deontic logic Game theory 



Allard Tamminga gratefully acknowledges financial support from the ERC-2013-CoG Project REINS, No. 616512. The authors thank Jan Broersen, Stephanie Collins, Franz Dietrich, Hein Duijf, John Horty, Barteld Kooi, Holly Lawford-Smith, Jesse Mulder, Frederik Van De Putte, the reviewer of this journal, and the audiences who attended our presentations in Amsterdam, Helsinki, Kyiv, Leiden, London, Regensburg, Saint Petersburg, and Venice for their questions, comments and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of PhilosophyUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Philosophy and Religious StudiesUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

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