Research seminar of philosophy
Many of the systemic harms or wrongs in our world, such as climate change or the use of sweatshop labour in global supply chains, are caused and upheld by a number of different agents, none of whom can affect the outcome directly on their own. The role of individuals in changing systemic harms can be theorised in terms of marginal participation: outcomes are overdetermined when individual actions in isolation do not affect the normative properties of an event (Kutz 2000, Parfit 1986). When employed as a normative concept, the term is used in a looser sense than in the traditional definition of causal overdetermination, where a single observed effect is determined by multiple causes at once, out of which any alone could be enough to account for the effect. In contrast, a harm is normatively overdetermined when for example a thousand people cause some harm, but it would have had the same end result if just 950 had participated.
There is ongoing debate about the significance of marginal contributions among philosophers. Take mitigating climate change harms as an example. In this, the role of individuals is often characterised in terms of a problem of inconsequentialism (Cripps 2013, Kingston and Sinnott-Armstrong 2018, Sandberg 2011). The puzzle is what can be the source of individual responsibility when no one can mitigate climate change on their own, and the effects of individual emissions are perceived as harmless. The usual solution offered is that we must act together to get our governments to fix the problem (for example, through voting in a certain manner, or by signing petitions). If necessary, we should form new collectives and perhaps create new institutions to address climate change.
In this talk, I will look at some recent arguments for and against the idea that there can be a collection of individually harmless acts that nevertheless together causes a grave harm. I will also discuss what this might mean for our responsibility regarding climate change mitigation.
Säde Hormio (Postdoctoral Grant Researcher, Practical Philosophy, University of Helsinki) researches questions of collective responsibility, including what collectively caused harms we can be complicit in, or what is the nature of collective agency. She is also interested in questions to do with knowledge and ignorance in
collective settings. For more information, see shormio.wordpress.com
Additional information: Jani Hakkarainen jani.hakkarainen(at)tuni.fi.