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Responsibility in complex systems

Research project How does responsibiilty for harmful outcomes – climate change or global injustice, say – distribute among actors on different levels in complex socioeconomic systems, and what obligations follow from such responsibility?

Issues of responsibility have a central place in our moral thinking, affecting views about the fittingness of praise, rewards, blame and punishment, as well as views about just distributions of burdens and goods. But many of the most pressing contemporary questions about responsibility are more complex: To what degree are states, corporations or groups of individuals responsible for climate change or poverty? What obligations arise from this? An increasingly integrated world calls for a deeper understanding of responsibility in complex social systems. Our project aims to contribute to such understanding by extending the reach of our model.

Head of project

Gunnar Björnsson
Other position
E-mail
Email

Project overview

Project period:

2013-01-01 2016-12-31

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious studies

Research subject

Philosophy and philosophy of science

Project description

Issues of responsibility have a central place in our moral thinking, affecting views about the fittingness of praise, rewards, blame and punishment, as well as views about just distributions of burdens and goods. Much philosophical theorising have focused on individual moral responsibility, and this is also true about EH (“the Explanation Hypothesis”), the model from which the project Responsibility in Complex Systems departs. But many of the most pressing contemporary questions about responsibility are more complex: To what degree are states, corporations or groups of individuals responsible for climate change or poverty? What obligations arise from this? An increasingly integrated world calls for a deeper understanding of responsibility in complex social systems. Our project aims to contribute to such understanding by extending the reach of our model.

We focus on four tasks:

1. To refine the application of EH to complex systems by determining what explanations of outcomes are relevant for ascribing responsibility for those outcomes.

2. To use EH to clarify what it is for collective agents, i.e. agents constituted by several other agents (such as states or corporations), to be responsible for certain outcomes.

3. To investigate how different agents in complex systems can share responsibility for an outcome.

4. To examine the relation between different kinds of responsibility for harm and resulting obligations to compensate for that harm and to prevent further harm.