Joint Responsibility Without Individual Control: Applying the Explanation Hypothesis

  • Gunnar BjörnssonEmail author
Part of the Library of Ethics and Applied Philosophy book series (LOET, volume 27)


This paper introduces a new family of cases where agents are jointly morally responsible for outcomes over which they have no individual control, a family that resists standard ways of understanding outcome responsibility. First, the agents in these cases do not individually facilitate the outcomes and would not seem individually responsible for them if the other agents were replaced by non-agential causes. This undermines attempts to understand joint responsibility as overlapping individual responsibility; the responsibility in question is essentially joint. Second, the agents involved in these cases are not aware of each other’s existence and do not form a social group. This undermines attempts to understand joint responsibility in terms of actual or possible joint action or joint intentions, or in terms of other social ties. Instead, it is argued that intuitions about joint responsibility are best understood given the Explanation Hypothesis, according to which a group of agents are seen as jointly responsible for outcomes that are suitably explained by their motivational structures, invoked collectively: something bad happened because they didn’t care enough; something good happened because their dedication was extraordinary. One important consequence of the proposed account is that responsibility for outcomes of collective action is a deeply normative matter.


Moral Responsibility Motivational Structure Collective Responsibility Outcome Responsibility Normative Expectation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Earlier versions of this text have been presented and received valuable input at the International Conference on Moral Responsibility in Delft, August 2009 at the Centre for Applied Ethics at Linköping University, at the Department of Political Science and the Department of Philosophy, Linguistic and Theory of Science at University of Gothenburg, and at the Department of Philosophy, Lund University. I am also grateful to participants at the CEU 2009 summer school on moral responsibility, and for comments from Ibo van de Poel and an anonymous reviewer for this volume.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Linköping UniversityLinköpingSweden
  2. 2.University of GothenburgGothenburgSweden

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