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On the grounds and the assignment of responsibility for global injustices

Dorothea Gädeke
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Dorothea Gädeke
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Open Panel

Abstract

One of the main problems for theories of global justice is how to assign responsibility for global injustices. The most common line of argument is based on a classical agency-related account of causal responsibility. According to this account, the assignment of responsibility is intrinsically linked to an action or omission being attributable to the agent in question. That person bears responsibility because she has through her own actions or omissions contributed to an injustice; at the same time her contribution and the circumstances under which she acted determine in how far she is to be held liable for it. Thus, the attributability of an injustice to specific agents grounds their responsibility while at the same time determining the extent of their accountability. Yet, plausible as it may seem, this conception of responsibility seems to be ill suited in the context of global justice where complex interactions of mainly collective agents make such attribution a virtually impossible task. It is by no way obvious in how far particular individuals can be said to actively contribute to - or at least to voluntarily participate in - global injustices such as unfair international trade arrangements. Instead of trying to address this problem by way of specifying circumstances under which injustices may indeed be attributed to specific agents, the paper investigates in how far accountability can be thought of independently from personal attributability. A first line of argument is to separate them from one another: Even though attributability grounds responsibility, the principles for holding particular agents accountable are to be determined independently. A second strategy by contrast drops the agency based account of responsibility altogether in order to provide an alternative account based on interpersonal norms of expectation. The paper reconstructs these models of responsibility and evaluates them in light of the problems of global injustices.