Saturday, September 28, 2019

Stephanie Collins's "Group Duties"

Stephanie Collins is a senior research fellow at the Dianoia Institute of Philosophy at the Australian Catholic University. She was previously a Lecturer in Political Theory at the University of Manchester. Collins received her PhD in 2013 from the Australian National University.

She is author of The Core of Care Ethics (2013).

Collins applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Group Duties: Their Existence and Their Implications for Individuals, and reported the following:
I spend all of page 99 explicating the concept of “responsiveness”, which I introduced on page 98. As I use the term, person A is “responsive” to person B when A acts upon B with a view to getting B to act upon B’s reasons or duties. On page 99, I’m explaining the minimal conditions someone might meet while being responsive to someone else. Specifically, I explain that you and I can be ‘responsive’ to one another even if we don’t share a goal in common; that I can can act ‘upon’ you simply by opening up or encouraging certain possibilities for how you might act; that I can be responsive to you if I’m just trying to get you to act upon some tiny reason I believe you hold (the reason needn’t be very weighty, and I might even be wrong that it's a real reason); and that I can be responsive to you even if you’re not responsive to me.

The page 99 test works moderately well for my book. Responsiveness is a pretty important concept in the book. I spend the whole of chapters two and three arguing that groups that aren’t agents cannot bear moral duties. Here in chapter four (where page 99 occurs), I’m arguing that if we ever get tempted to attribute moral duties to non-agent groups, we should instead attribute responsiveness duties to the group’s members. For example, humanity is a group that’s not an agent. If we want to say “humanity has a duty to minimise carbon emissions”, we should instead say “each agent that’s a member of humanity has a duty to be responsive to the others with a view to minimising carbon emissions.” The latter claim is clunkier, but it’s more action-guiding, and it allows us to address our social, political, and legal demands to creatures (i.e., agents!) that can deliberatively respond to those demands. So page 99 is important, insofar as it fleshes out what ‘be responsive’ means. However, page 99 is detailing the minutiae of the concept—and these details aren’t very important for understanding the book as a whole.

That said, the page 99 test reveals something about my book as a whole. As I said above, on page 99 I’m explicating the absolute minimum an agent might do to be responsive to another. This process of ‘explicating the minimum’ recurs throughout the book. For example, in chapter six, I argue that a group agent (such as a state, corporation, or non-profit) can bear moral duties only if it has the structural resources necessary to attend to moral considerations. I suggest that most states, corporations, and non-profits meet this minimal condition for duty-bearing. Another example of ‘explicating the minimum’ occurs in chapter seven. There, I argue that when a group agent has a duty, its members also have duties. At a minimum, members must check that the group agent is doing its duty. For example, if my state has a duty to treat asylum seekers humanely, then I have a duty to, at a minimum, use my role to check whether my state is doing so. (And if it’s not doing so, then more demanding duties will follow for me.) By seeing the minimum conditions for various phenomena (e.g., being responsive, bearing a group duty, or performing a membership duty), we can see just how prevalent group duties are in our world.
Visit Stephanie Collins's website.

--Marshal Zeringue