Are We All to Blame?

Sunday, November 15, 2020

What Is It

It’s easy to identify the pressing issues facing our world today, but it’s much more difficult to assign responsibility for them. Often the blame is placed on collectives — on entire governments, nations, and societies. But does the responsibility truly all fall to them? How can we identify precisely whose fault it is, for example, that we are experiencing climate change, or that hate crimes occur, or that there is a gender wage gap? Or do we as individuals hold a certain amount of responsibility for such pervasive, systemic issues? Josh and Ray avoiding pointing fingers with Maron Smiley from Brandeis University, author of Moral Responsibility and the Boundaries of Community.

Listening Notes

Ray and Josh wonder whether groups can be held morally responsible. They explore whether individuals or collectives are to blame for structural problems, Who should be considered responsible for things like climate change and systemic racism?


Roving Philosopher (Seek to 5.40): Holly J McDede explores why environmental lawsuits against corporations, like energy companies, do not succeed very often.


The hosts welcome Marion Smiley, professor of philosophy at Brandeis University, to discuss whether we can ever be responsible for anything except ourselves. Smiley argues that we can. The hosts probe into what makes a group responsible and when exactly an individual member is responsible for the actions of a group they belong to. 


They explore the proposition that responsibility exists on a scale, with some group members being more or less responsible than others. Marion notes that individuals who actively oppose their group’s wrong behavior—for example citizens protesting their government’s violence—are not to blame for those groups’ harms, though passive bystanders are.  The hosts explore how this criterion might apply to different scenarios and the possibility that individual rights clash with collective responsibilities.


Finally, Smiley and the hosts explore whether the purpose or actions of organizations are what are bad. Smiley then fields questions about whether reparations are owed to Black Americans, and distinguishes between forward-looking and backward-looking collective responsibility in doing. The trio conclude by discussing whether a theory of collective action is needed before we ascribe and debate collective responsibility. 


60-Second Philosopher (47.00) Ian Shoales  ponders the complexity of who is to blame, concluding everybody and nobody is to blame and that effects have many causes.


Comments (5)

Alfredo's picture


Sunday, October 4, 2020 -- 2:02 AM

« Après moi le déluge » said

« Après moi le déluge » said Madame de Pompadour to her lover, Louis XV, after his losing the battle of Rossbach. A certain political elite in the US has made it their motto, making statements that benefit them and harm the more vulnerable among us. Take the Senators who were informed of the health crisis to come earlier this year. They stated that COVID wouldn't be disruptive all the while rebalancing their investment portfolios. One example among so many. Why do these Senators believe they are stripped from any responsibility towards their constituents?

johnqeniac's picture


Sunday, November 15, 2020 -- 12:36 PM

hmm...had to take time to

hmm...had to take time to look up google 'apres moi...' after reading alfredo's comment above...
answer - in short, because humans do a lot of sh-- if we think no one knows...and the more power one has, the greater the temptation to do sh--. the curtain is lifted for any of us only occasionally, thank god. it's not clear how many of our leaders across the board exploit their power in similar or worse ways...even those of us with stellar constructed reputations... it's pretty straightforward human condition madness and filth... god only knows what mother teresa or the dalai lama or jesus himself was up to when they thought no one was watching....
(see also, 'Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely' - dunno the latin)

...but anyway.. really i am writing with a technical question for the philosophy talkers, which is:
Has anybody been tracking the decrease in the 'syllables/second' rate of Merle Kessler since his "Duck's Breath Mystery Theater" days, when the rate was truly phenomenal? Is there a graph somewhere? Tried googling for one but can't find.. Thanks for the help in tracking this statistic down,
Greg Slater

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Wednesday, March 10, 2021 -- 5:59 PM

This show lost me on

This show lost me on reparations. If any they should all be paid forward. The state does not owe an historical debt based on skin color. Some have profited at the expense of their own race. Would those be asked to pay.? The idea the state could correct history is as flawed as the idea that history can be corrected. It can't.

Germany was made to pay reparations for WWI. Look where that got us.

Let's start with healthcare for all and free education. Let's progress to UBI. That is reparation enough for being human in an inhumane world.

Backward reparations are backward.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, March 16, 2021 -- 6:20 AM

On TS' remarks: i too have

On TS' remarks: i too have puzzled over paybacks. They seem, on their face, counterintuitive. Why? Because they encourage continuing the practice, which implies there would be no end to it. I wonder if this is one reason why some want to resort to revisionism; to cancel culture, using the currently popular phrase. The notion of equal opportunities and level playing fields might still be tenable if only there were the will to make it so. It appears there has always been the us vs them mentality.
Are we all, somehow wired this way? Or are all of us evolved(jaded?)to a point where, intuitively, we cannot trust anyone anymore? I hope I am just flat wrong here. I would rather be wrong than right.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, February 21, 2022 -- 6:47 AM

Most of us hold some

Most of us hold some culpability We have to make things happen, within the limitations of the serenity prayer. Because when we only watch and wonder, we lack the courage to do better. It can be said that laziness is the father of inaction, sure. But the results are, as a practical matter, the same. At times, it is hard to say whether lack of courage or initiative are at bottom of inaction. Other motives, profit; self-interest, etc., are self-evident and cannot evade scrutiny. There is a thin line, unlike the Supreme Court Justice who said he knew pornography when he saw it. And, ironically, thin lines are the hardest to differentiate.

I've read and agree to abide by the Community Guidelines