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Moral Responsibility in Collective Contexts$
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Tracy Isaacs

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199782963

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199782963.001.0001

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Collective Guilt

Collective Guilt

(p.71) 3 Collective Guilt
Moral Responsibility in Collective Contexts

Tracy Isaacs

Oxford University Press

Collective guilt is understood in this chapter as blameworthy collective moral responsibility. This chapter sets out to clear up some misconceptions about collective guilt and to consider whether the existence of collective guilt requires that there be collective guilt feelings. It distinguishes between three different conditions of guilt: being guilty, believing oneself to be guilty, and feeling guilty. It further distinguishes between personal guilt, membership guilt, and collective guilt, and, drawing on the work of Karl Jaspers, between moral and metaphysical guilt. Collective guilt, it argues, is different from personal guilt and membership guilt because it is a feature of collective agents, not individual agents. Moreover, collective guilt is not distributive, in that it does not distribute among the members of the collective. Finally, the chapter engages with Margaret Gilbert’s account of collective guilt feelings and concludes that though collectives may be guilty, they may not have guilt feelings.

Keywords:   collective guilt, Karl Jaspers, collective guilt feelings, membership guilt, metaphysical guilt, moral taint, personal guilt, Margaret Gilbert

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