“Moral obligations of collective beneficence” by Anne Schwenkenbecher (Jan 8)

The world is an imperfect place. Many of its imperfections have people live worse lives than they could live. And many of those lives could be substantially improved if we collectively worked on solutions to them. But when are we morally required to do that?

This paper examines the idea of moral obligations of collective beneficence – obligations we have to collectively help others in need where we bear no responsibility for their need. Acts of collective beneficence can either provide so-called threshold goods or contribute to incremental goods. For incremental goods, every contribution counts and the more we contribute the better. However, this paper will focus on moral obligations to collectively produce threshold goods, that is, goods the production of which requires a minimum number of contributions. Providing such goods may require all available agents to assist (joint necessity) or only a subgroup of them (overdetermination cases). When moving away from uncontroversial threshold cases towards more complex scenarios, it will become apparent that duties to contribute to collective beneficence are less stringent the greater the number of agents involved. While the case for moral obligations of collective beneficence can be convincingly argued for small-scale threshold scenarios, such duties are more difficult to justify once the problem in need of remedy exceeds a certain scale and complexity.  This may mean that such obligations – in their most stringent form – can only be held by agents in relatively small groups.

Philosophy Seminar Series
Date: Thursday, 8 Jan 2015
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: AS3 #05-23
Speaker: Anne Schwenkenbecher, Murdoch University
Moderator: Dr. Qu Hsueh Ming

About the Speaker:

Picture1Anne Schwenkenbecher is a Lecturer in Philosophy in the School of Arts. Before joining Murdoch University in June 2013, she held appointments at The University of Melbourne, the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE) at Australian National University, and the University of Vienna. Her PhD in Philosophy (2009) is from Humboldt University of Berlin. Anne’s research focuses on a range of topics in normative and applied ethics, as well as political philosophy and action theory. These include the possibility and normative significance of collective agency, the ethics of political violence, and ethical problems arising from climate change. Her book “Terrorism: A philosophical enquiry” was published with Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.

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