Expanding the Horizon: Collective Moral Agency and Global Justice

Theories of global justice mostly emphasize individual moral agency in dealing with injustice. Collective agents are then treated as being instrumental to individuals discharging their moral duties. However, this view seems impoverished, for it does not capture well the distinctive nature of collective agents; more and more voices argue that certain collectives are in fact moral agents.

In their seminal work, List and Pettit argue that group agents, by virtue of being structured and having the capacity to form joint intentions, can be considered moral agents (List and Pettit, 2011). Therefore, the concept of moral agency has been extended to structured group agents. This workshop seeks to explore normative implications of the concept of collective moral agency in the context of global injustice. We invite submissions that could help to answer the following questions:

First and foremost, in what sense are collectives moral agents, i.e. what are the relevant properties that an agent has to possess in order to be considered a moral agent? Does consciousness play any role?

If recognition of moral agency of collectives does not tell us anything about their moral responsibility, how do we assign such moral responsibility to particular collective moral agents? What are the consequences for individual moral responsibility once we accept that groups can be held morally responsible?

If certain collectives can be held morally responsible, should we also recognize their equal rights? If so, how does this relate to individual rights? If agency is crucial for assigning moral duties, what does this tell us about moral responsibilities of  unstructured collectives? Are they to be considered moral agents? If not, who is to blame for a collective harm of unstructured groups?

Does a potential agency have any moral relevance? For instance, the international community is often seen as an agent. Is this view conceptually defensible? Does the existence of collective moral agents entail the existence of collective moral patients? As they are comprised of individual moral agents, it seems that such collectives hold a potential to become full-fledged moral agents. Do we have a duty to transform such moral patients into moral agents when capacities exist and they would further the interests of their individual members? Practice offers a plethora of agency-enhancing actions, such as establishing temporary international protectorates or providing aid upon condition that  a recipient respects human rights. In what sense are these actions agency-enhancing, if at all?

How do collective moral agents relate to one another? Who counts as a moral agent in the case of transnational and international organizations?

How can we conceptualize “nested” moral agency – when one collective moral agent consists of collective, rather than individual members? Can we consider the UN or the EU a moral agent, or does moral agency remain with their member states? Who is more morally relevant?


Please submit your abstract (300-500 words) prepared for blind-review by Sunday, 15th May 2016. We will expect final papers to be sent to us by Mid-August, so that we can pre-circulate it among the workshop participants. For abstract submission and further information, please write to: belic_jelena@phd.ceu.edu and bozac_zlata@phd.ceu.edu

We look forward to submissions!