Special symposium on Collective Responsibility, War and Terrorism


September 1, 14:30-16:30


Seumas Miller

The ascription of moral responsibility for the use of lethal force by individual human agents acting in concert with others, and for the failure to jointly use lethal force (collective omissions) gives rise to a range of pressing theoretial and practical problems, including: (i) the theoretical notion of collective moral responsibility in play; (ii) the moral and conceptual differences, if any, between such use of (or omission to use)  lethal force by private individuals acting jointly, on the one hand, and by institutional actors, such as police officers and military combatants acting in their institutional capacity, on the other.

Michael Skerker

The difference between the legal penalties for participating in a conventional military unit in an unjust war and participating in a legally designated terrorist group are striking. A conventional combatant participating in the causal chain of a bombing raid that killing 1000 combatants and noncombatants on the just side of a war is legally immune from prosecution, so long as the attack was compliant with in bello norms. Meanwhile, delivering a box of granola bars to a terrorist training camp is sufficient to deem one guilty (in the US at least) for material support for terrorism, garnering up to a 20 year sentence. I want to think about possible moral supports for these legal differences today and consider how to assign individual responsibility for conventional combatants involved in the causal chain of complex collective actions violating in bello norms. A moral argument can be made to support asymmetrical punishments for mere membership or causal contribution to unjust collective action. Second, I will propose a way of delineating who among those causally responsible for a collective tactical action violating in bello standards is morally responsible for the action.