Concluding Note

The topic of collective moral responsibility is a rich and important one. It is important from both a theoretical and practical point of view. In this chapter we have outlined Margaret Gilbert’s approach to collective moral responsibility and some closely related topics, and responded to some of the comments on her work in this area. In several cases we discussed a theme very briefly rather than failing to mention it at all. Clearly there is much more to be said.43


  • 1 Later discussions include Gilbert (1997a; 2002a; 2002b; 2006a; 2011).
  • 2 Gilbert (1997a).
  • 3 Gilbert (2000b—on collective remorse); Gilbert (2002a—on collective guilt feelings), and Gilbert (2014b—on collective emotions in general).
  • 4 Cf. Gilbert (2006a: 96-8).
  • 5 For discussion of this assumption see Gilbert (1989: ch. 4; 1990).
  • 6 There has been significant debate as to how to answer this question. In addition to Gilbert’s proposals, to be discussed in the text, central sources include Searle (1990) and Bratman e.g. (1993). Gilbert critically discusses the work of Searle and Bratman respectively in Gilbert (2007) and e.g. (1997b).
  • 7 This was originally and is now Gilbert’s preferred approach; in some writings, following other theorists, she invoked a collective or shared intention as opposed to a collective goal, understanding collective or shared intention along the same lines as she understands a collective goal. It is not necessary to adjudicate between these options here. For present purposes the outcome is the same. Gilbert focuses specifically on shared intention in several places including Gilbert (1997b) and Gilbert (2009).
  • 8 For some of Gilbert’s more extended discussions see e.g. Gilbert (2006b: ch. 7); Gilbert (2014: Introduction and ch. 2); Gilbert (2018: ch. 8). See also Gilbert (2015).
  • 9 Gilbert (2014a: 6-7).
  • 10 Gilbert prefers not to talk about reasons, with an “s,” in this context. See e.g. Gilbert (2006b: 27—30). As to the “ought,” here, she does not see it as the moral “ought.” In other terms, it can properly be characterized without invoking the qualifier “moral.”
  • 11 Given the points made in this paragraph it is wrong to say that the parties to a joint commitment “simply share commitments,” if this means that each of them has a personal commitment with the same content. (The quoted words are from Smiley (2010: 182—3) to whom we respond here.)
  • 12 See, most recently, Gilbert (2018: ch. 8).
  • 13 The condition has been questioned by various authors from what seems to be a moral perspective. For further discussion of the joint rescission condition see Gilbert (2006b: ch. 7).
  • 14 She sometimes uses the term “derived” instead of“non-basic.”
  • 15 See e.g. Gilbert (2006b: 140).
  • 16 See e.g. Gilbert (1990).
  • 17 See Gilbert (2018: esp. chs. 8, 11, and 12).
  • 18 Cf. Hobbes (1982/1651: 227): a commonwealth is a “real Unity of them all.”
  • 19 See Gilbert (1990), citing Georg Simmel.
  • 20 Cf. Hobbes (1982/1651): the creation of a commonwealth is a matter of people “reducing all their Wills ... unto one WilL”This is what makes “a real Unity of them all.” It is easy to think of the process of joint commitment as a matter of reducing or, perhaps, combining two or more wills into one will, at least for a limited purpose.
  • 21 Cf. Korsgaard (2014: esp. 207f).
  • 22 See Gilbert (2006b: ch. 8).
  • 23 Of course one who allows that “We are at war” may personally object to the war and engage in related public protests.
  • 24 We assume that collectives can have multiple psychological properties, similarly construed, and that if we, collectively, believe that p, for instance, then we constitute a collective even if we are not engaging in any action. In short, two or more people constitute a collective, in the present sense, if some psychological property' is ascribable to them, as one.
  • 25 See Gilbert (2018: ch. 8, sec. 6.1).
  • 26 See e.g. Gilbert (2000a: ch. 8).
  • 27 For further discussion see Gilbert (2006a: 108—9).
  • 28 Gilbert (2006a: 106). Gilbert has written copiously on collective belief as this is understood in everyday life. See e.g. Gilbert (1989 ch. 5) and essays in Gilbert (1996b, 2000a, and 2014a).
  • 29 Someone may think that moral culpability depends not on the possession or accessibility of moral knowledge, strictly speaking, but rather on having morally appropriate attitudes or emotions, such as valuing the right actions. This would not rule out understanding collective moral culpability along Gilbertian lines. See section 2.6 on her joint commitment approach to collective attitudes and emotions.
  • 30 See e.g. Gilbert (1993).
  • 31 See e.g. Gilbert (1997a).
  • 32 Jaspers (1947) writes (as translated) of feeling “co-responsible” with other Germans for the actions of Nazi Germany. Gilbert (1997a) attempts to answer Jaspers’ question in the affirmative. His lectures are an excellent starting point for anyone interested in collective moral responsibility.
  • 33 See e.g. Miller and Makela (2005);Tollefsen (2006). Makela (2000) is more cautious.
  • 34 See Gilbert (2000a) on collective remorse, (2002a) on collective guilt feelings, (2014b) on collective emotions generally.
  • 35 On the first assumption see Gilbert and Pilchman (2014) focusing on the case of belief. Contrary to what some critics have implied, in developing her account of everyday collective emotion ascriptions Gilbert has not relied on the truth of accounts of emotion that do not stipulate the involvement of feeling-sensations.
  • 36 Cf. Gilbert (2000b).
  • 37 This note responds to remarks in Isaacs (2011: 91).
  • 38 Cf. van den Beld (2002: 188) in a related context.
  • 39 See e.g. Gilbert (2006b: ch. 7) on commitments of the will generally and personal commitments in particular).
  • 40 Referencing Gilbert, Giubihm and Levy (2018: 214) usefully emphasize the distinction between collective and corporate agents, where only the formers identity is “essentially ‘plural’.’’
  • 41 Cf. Gilbert (2000b).
  • 42 Cf. McMahan (2010).
  • 43 We thank Matthew Dean for help in preparation of the manuscript.
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