Individual and Collective Responsibility

RI 2016: Section 1.3

Individual Responsibility

In this lecture, you'll learn how to distinguish between several different notions of individual moral responsibility and how to apply them in different concrete circumstances.  Our illustrative case is that of a chemical plant operator and the question whether he or she might be responsible for different scenarios of accidents that occur at his or her plant. 

As an engineer, innovator or designer, reflection about the various factors that affect responsibility should help design in a way that reduces the likelihood that something goes wrong without someone being morally responsible for it. 


Collective Action

Now let's discuss a problem of collective action, which is sometimes called the "tragedy of the commons". In the lecture, you will learn what a collective action problem is, and the conditions in which they arise. You will also learn how collective action problems can be addressed by cooperative schemes.

The example which we will use is sustainable fishing. But you can apply this to various other scenarios where a common pool resource is shared by multiple actors, such as land/air/sea pollution, CO2 emissions reduction, deforestation by farming/industry, etc. 


Discussion Prompts

  1. Why is moral obligation effective (or not) in making individuals perform their part for the desired outcome?
  2. Can you give an example of collective responsibility in your country and how this is enforced?  And do you know 'who watches the watchmen'?