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CPP Colloquium with Douglas MacLean "Climate Change Ethics: Complicity and Accountability"

  • Douglas MacLean
31 May 2018
P.J. Veth
Nonnensteeg 1-3
2311 VJ Leiden

Climate Change Ethics: Complicity and Accountability

The Center for Political Philosophy in Leiden is pleased to announce a talk by

Douglas MacLean (North Carolina at Chapel Hill)


Climate change is a unique ethical problem.  The individual actions of virtually everyone in the world contributes to climate change, which might cause great harm, especially in the future.  In this sense, we are all complicit.  In most cases, if one is complicit in causing a harm, then one can be held accountable: one deserves blame or punishment; one is legitimately a subject of reactive attitudes; or owes compensation.  I argue that individuals are not accountable in these senses for their complicity in causing climate change.  Rather, our moral accountability flows directly to our political and collective responsibility.  A typical (morally decent) person living in a developed, carbon-based society, has no moral obligation to change the way they live; but we all have strong moral duties to pressure our governments (and large corporations and institutions) to enact effective policies to strongly limit carbon emissions.

About Douglas MacLean

Douglas MacLean is Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His current research focuses on practical ethics and issues in moral and political theory that are particularly relevant to practical concerns. Most of his recent writing examines how values do and ought to influence decisions, both personal decisions and government policies. MacLean’s publications on these topics include: “Comparing Values in Environmental Policies: Moral Issues and Moral Arguments,” Valuing Health Risks, Costs, and Benefits for Environmental Policy Making, ed. by Hammond and Coppock (1990); “Cost-Benefit Analysis and Procedural Values,” Analyse & Kritik (1994); and “The Ethics of Cost-Benefit Analysis: Incommensurable, Incompatible, and Incomparable Values,” Democracy, Social Values, and Public Policy, ed. by Carrow Churchill, and Cordes (1998) “Some Morals of a Theory of Nonrational Choice,” Judgments, Decisions, and Public Policy, ed. by Gowda and Fox (2002); “Informed Consent and the Construction of Values,” The Construction of Preferences, ed. by Slovic and Lichtenstein (2006); “Different Perspectives on Saving Lives,” Philosophy and Economics, (2007). Other articles, less focused on practical issues and decisions, include: “Accentuate the Negative: Negative Values, Moral Theory, and Commons Sense,” Rationality, Rules, and Ideals ed. by Sinnott-Armstrong and Audi (2002); and “The Fairness Variations,” In All Fairness, ed. by Linnerooth-Bayer and Thompson (2007), “Is ‘Human Being’ a Moral Concept?” Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly (2010), and “Between Desire and Destruction: A Reading of The Go-Between” in Philosophy, Literature, and Love, ed. by Grau and Wolf (2013).

He has written some more general survey articles on “Risk Analysis” and “Risk Aversion” in the Encyclopedia of Ethics, 2nd ed., (2001) on “Environmental Ethics,” in A New Dictionary of the History of Ideas (2004), on “The Value of Human Life,” in The International Encyclopedia of Ethics (2012) and on “Intellectual Property,” (co-authored with Cureton, Taylor and Schaffer) in Research Ethics, ed. by Comstock (2013). Books that he has edited or co-edited include: Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy; Energy and the Future; Liberalism Reconsidered; The Security Gamble: Deterrence Dilemmas in the Nuclear Age; and Values at Risk.

About the Center for Political Philosophy (CPP) Colloquia Series

The CPP is a collaboration between the Institute for Philosophy and the Institute for Political Science at Leiden University. Attendance of the Colloquia is free and there is no need to register. See CPP for more information. For further questions please contact dr. Dorota Mokrosinska at d.m.mokrosinska@phil.leidenuniv.nl

All are welcome!


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