1st Edition

Getting Our Act Together A Theory of Collective Moral Obligations

By Anne Schwenkenbecher Copyright 2021
    188 Pages 7 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    188 Pages 7 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Winner of the 2022 North American Society for Social Philosophy Book Award

    Together we can often achieve things that are impossible to do on our own. We can prevent something bad from happening, or we can produce something good, even if none of us could do it by ourselves. But when are we morally required to do something of moral importance together with others?

    This book develops an original theory of collective moral obligations. These are obligations that individual moral agents hold jointly but not as unified collective agents. The theory does not stipulate a new type of moral obligation but rather suggests that to think of some of our obligations as joint or collective is the best way of making sense of our intuitions regarding collective moral action problems. Where we have reason to believe that our efforts are most efficient as part of a collective endeavor, we may incur collective obligations together with others who are similarly placed as long as we are able to establish compossible individual contributory strategies towards that goal. The book concludes with a discussion of 'massively shared obligations' to major-scale moral problems such as global poverty.

    Getting Out Act Together: A Theory of Collective Moral Obligations will appeal to researchers and advanced students working in moral, political and social philosophy, philosophy of action, social epistemology and philosophy of social science.


    1. Collective Obligations in a Nutshell

    2. Joint Oughts and the Agency Principle

    3. Joint Ability and How ‘Ought’ ImpliesCan’ for Pluralities of Agents

    4. Knowing When We Have Collective Moral Obligations

    5. What Collective Obligations Mean for Individual Agents: Contributory Obligations, Non-Compliance, and Joint Blameworthiness

    6. A Comparison of Existing Accounts of Collective Obligations

    7. Massively Shared Obligations and Global Poverty



    Anne Schwenkenbecher is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Murdoch University, Western Australia. She is the author of Terrorism: A Philosophical Enquiry (2012). Her articles on collective action and obligations have appeared in The Monist, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Synthese, Ethics & International Affairs, and the Journal of Applied Philosophy.

    "This book offers a compelling contribution to the philosophical literature on the important topic of collective obligation. It should be on the must-read list of any philosopher working on issues of collective responsibility, collective obligation, and the moral dimensions of any issues requiring a coordinated/cooperative effort."

    Tracy Isaacs, Western University, Canada

    "Schwenkenbecher’s account of collective moral obligation is novel and original ... Those interested in the contemporary debate about collective moral obligations will find much food for thought in Getting Our Act Together."

    Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

    "Getting Our Act Together offers an in-depth and timely account of how our ability to act jointly can create so-called joint moral duties. Getting Our Act Together not only contains a thorough discussion of the current philosophical literature on collective obligation, as well as compelling answers to some of the debate’s most difficult technical questions; it also has insightful implications for pressing practical issues such as world poverty, anthropogenic climate change, and systematic racism … Getting Our Act Together equips its readers with a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the challenges of conceptualizing our moral duties in collective contexts."

    Australasian Journal of Philosophy