Til bevillingsoversigt

Reactive Attitudes and Group Evaluation: The Role of Emotions in Group Responsibility

Reintegration Fellowships


We often evaluate groups and their actions morally. We resent Amazon for mistreating its workers, we are ashamed of our nation's colonial past, and we are outraged that Neo-Nazis vandalise Jewish graveyards. In short, our emotional responses - what P.F. Strawson called our reactive attitudes - reveal that we hold groups morally responsible for their actions and inactions. My project, RAGE, proposes that a close examination of the intentional and emotional structure of our group-directed reactive attitudes will help us spell out when groups and group members are appropriate targets of moral evaluations such as outrage, resentment, shame, trust, and solidarity.


The idea of group responsibility is in general philosophically underexamined. The few existing accounts that do take the idea seriously argue, roughly, that groups can only be morally responsible if they are agents, and that they are only agents if they have some well-defined procedure for making decisions. This approach, however, fails to capture the richness and variety of our group-directed attitudes. RAGE, in contrast, takes its point of departure in our group and member-directed reactive attitudes themselves. The working hypothesis is that these reactive attitudes exhibit an intentional and emotional structure that, if carefully analysed, will yield a more exhaustive and detailed account of when it is appropriate to hold a group morally responsible for its actions or inactions.


RAGE combines a Strawsonian approach to moral responsibility with the complex models of emotional and social life found in classical and contemporary phenomenology. The project is divided into two parts. Part A develops a general framework for conceptualising group and member-directed reactive attitudes through phenomenological and conceptual analysis as well as thought experiments. Part B aims to construct a typology of group responsibility by examining a range of real-life cases. The cases will be selected to present different types of group integration and different strengths of public emotional investment. RAGE then examines how these groups have been subjected to public moral evaluation in, for example, op-eds and social media commentaries.


Since the idea of group responsibility is theoretically underexamined, there is a significant part of our moral practices that is little understood. We simply lack the conceptual resources to distinguish between different types of group responsibility and to understand the relation between the responsibility of the group and the responsibility of the individual members. This makes it difficult for us to tell who are morally responsible for what. This problem is particularly pressing when we face grand challenges such as climate change, global poverty, and structural discrimination and exploitation. How are we to place and distribute both future obligations and blame for past wrongdoings considering that our social relations greatly amplify both the good that we can potentially do and the bad that we have already done? Morally charged emotions and reactive attitudes are essential to human interaction, and a better understanding of these is essential if we are to foster the social cooperation required to solve the grand challenges of our time.