Moral & Political Responsibility for Injustice

Speaker: Associate Professor Michael Goodhart (University of Pittsburgh)


Philosophers and political theorists have argued heatedly about who bears moral responsibility for systemic injustices like poverty or sweatshops - injustices that are global in scope and that seem to be unintended consequences of the uncoordinated actions and choices of everyday people in everyday contexts. These are some of the most worrying ills that plague our highly interconnected world, yet determining who is responsible for remedying them is difficult.

Normally we hold actors morally responsible when their blameworthy behaviour causes injustice, but because of the empirical complexity and ethical uncertainty surrounding systemic injustices, establishing causation is surpassingly difficult and determining what kind of behaviour counts as blameworthy is itself one of the key points at issue. Professor Goodhart will argue in this seminar that efforts, while constructive, get the nature of responsibility wrong. That is, by treating responsibility as a moral problem, philosophers and theorists fail to see that causation and blameworthiness are not empirical and moral facts but rather social conventions. Thus responsibility for systemic injustice is not some moral burden to be discharged but rather a political commitment to be taken up by those who seek to establish new conventions of responsibility.