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Project 9: Degrees of Responsibility

Challenge 12: Shared Responsibility and Sustainable Cooperation

Aim of the project

The development of an account of degrees of individual responsibility and an examination of how different institutional features affect such judgements.

Theoretical background

Moral philosophers have explored at length the conditions under which individuals can be said to be responsible for a particular outcome. Relevant considerations for such assignments include the agents’ duties or obligations (should they have prevented the outcome?), their causal contribution to the emergence of the outcome (did they help produce the outcome?), as well as the information available to them (did they know the consequences of their actions?). Whereas we ordinarily assume that responsibility comes in degrees, the emphasis in the literature has been on the question whether an agent is responsible or not rather than on how we can arrive at a judgement of the different degrees in which individuals are responsible (Coates and Swenson 2013).

Our understanding of causality has improved substantially over the past decade, with the advent of Bayesian networks (cf. Woodward 2005) and the use of power indices (Braham and Van Hees 2009) allowing for a graded notion. Drawing on these developments, an account of gradual responsibility will be derived. The account will be designed with an eye on collective decision making, in which group members are each given a certain degree of responsibility. It will subsequently be applied to the study of governance structures of organizations.

Research design

The project makes use of decision-theoretic tools (Bayesian networks, game theory) to arrive at an account of graded responsibility. Empirical studies of governance and organizations will be used to apply this account of responsibility to the assessment of different governance structures and explaining their variation and effects.


Bovens, M. (1998). The Quest for Responsibility: Accountability and Citizenship in Complex Organisations. Cambridge: CUP.

Coates, D. Justin and Swenson, Ph. (2013), Reasons-responsiveness and degrees of responsibility, Philosophical Studies, 165: 2, 629–645

Braham, M and Van Hees, M (2009), Degrees of Causation, Erkenntnis, 71, 323-344

Woodward, J. (2005). Making Things Happen. Oxford: OUP.

Project initiators

Martin van Hees, Jan-Willem Romeijn, Mark Bovens, Rafael Wittek.


University of Groningen, Faculty of Philosophy


Philosophy, preferrably with an interest in Sociology.

How to Apply

For background information on this vacancy and further instructions, click here.


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