Jessica Brown, "Group Responsibility" (RoR Spec. invited lecture #5)
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels.


The fifth lecture in the series of special invited lectures for Roots of Responsibility will be given by Professor Jessica Brown (St Andrews), and it will be streamed online via Zoom. All are welcome, but registration is essential; if you are interested in attending, please register on the zoom registration page:


This is a read-in-advance lecture. Registered participants are expected to have read the draft paper of the talk, which will be circulated about 10 days in advance.


RoR special lecture #5: Jessica Brown (St Andrews)
Thursday 11 March, 2021, from 16.00–18.00 UK time
This lecture will be streamed online via Zoom

Group Responsibility

Abstract:We routinely treat groups, including governments and corporations, as agents with beliefs and aims who are morally responsible for their actions. For instance, we might blame an oil company for an oil spill pointing out that they knew the risk of their profits-first policies. In this paper I discuss a key issue for group moral responsibility, namely whether we can make sense of a group acting for one reason rather than another. The notion of acting for one reason rather than another is central to standard accounts of individual agency and responsibility; and also determines whether an individual is blameworthy or praiseworthy for an action. Thus if we model group responsibility on individual responsibility, we need to be able to make sense of a group acting for one reason rather than another. In this paper, I attempt to do just that.

Brief biography: Jessica Anne Brown is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews and Arché Philosophical Research Centre for Logic, Language, Metaphysics and Epistemology.

Her main areas of research are epistemology, responsibility, and philosophical methodology. Within responsibility, Professor Brown is interested in both epistemic and moral responsibility, blame for beliefs and actions, as well as the moral responsibility of groups and how it relates to the moral responsibility of group members.

In 2018 Professor Brown was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE).

In 2019, she was awarded a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship worth £118,764 to investigate the moral responsibility of groups such as companies and governments. This award is for a 24-month period starting September 2021.

Her starting point will be that society standardly treats such entities as morally responsible, blaming and praising them for their actions, even though they don’t seem to be moral agents in the way that individual people are. She will ask whether we should change our concept of agency to accommodate groups, or alternatively attempt to provide an explanation of moral responsibility without agency.


We encourage colleagues and especially postgraduate students to attend. Please spread the word. A poster for this lecture is shown left; a pdf version of it can be downloaded from here.

Enquiries about the lectures can be submitted via our message form.

In each of the five years of the Roots of Responsibility ERC project, we have two special lectures by leading scholars in philosophy and law. The lineup of speakers for 2020–2021 was announced in this post.