Do responsibility voids exist? That is, are there situations in which the group is collectively morally responsible for an outcome although no member can be held individually morally responsible for their involvement? In his PhD thesis, Hein Duijf MSc (Philosophy) explores this question relying on philosophy, economics and artificial intelligence. By studying the relation between individual and collective blameworthiness we can design our collective decision procedures such that they have desired properties.
PhD thesis defence Hein Duijf: do responsibility voids exist?
If responsibility voids do exist, what are the conditions that must be met for responsibility voids to arise? And, more generally, what is the relation between collective blameworthiness and individual blameworthiness? To answer these questions, Duijf relies on philosophy, economics, and artificial intelligence. Despite its interdisciplinarity, his dissertation is foremost philosophical, or foundational, in nature and focuses on the philosophy of cooperation, joint action, and responsibility voids. To aid and guide his theorizing, Duijf develops and uses mathematical models that represent relevant features, such as action, knowledge, and intention, and their implication for the relation between collective decisions and individual decisions.
Scenarios of collective blameworthiness
Duijf studies different types of scenarios of collective blameworthiness. Even though the resulting picture is complex, it helps recognize the conditions that must be met for responsibility voids to exists. He found that in case a group collectively intentionally brings about a bad outcome, then each member intentionally participates in this collective wrongdoing. Second, in case a group collectively performs a group action that causes a bad outcome, it is not so clear whether any of the members is morally blameworthy in a similar way. That is, in general, a responsibility void may arise. Nonetheless, conditions can be given such that whenever a group fails to fulfill its collective obligation then there is a group member that fails to fulfill her individual obligation. In other words, for the causal mode of acting, the existence of a responsibility void requires a violation of these conditions.
Duijf's research shows that responsibility voids do exist. By studying the relation between individual and collective blameworthiness and the conditions that must be met for responsibility voids to exist, we can design our collective decision procedures such that they have desired properties. This can contribute to the collective decision-making that is essential to cooperations, committees, complex systems, and democratic institutions.