Solving the “everybody’s problem becomes nobody’s responsibility” issue


Predominance of responsibility at the individual level rather than at the societal-level

Floridi (2016) is pointedly describing the issue around the distribution respectively diffusion of responsibility as “everybody’s problem becomes nobody’s responsibility” (p. 11). He suggests a framework that is recommitting responsibility for any action of a collective back to the individual by rejecting the concept of faultless responsibility, i.e., even when an individual would lack intention or information regarding the immorality of his action (Floridi, 2016). Ralston et al. (2014) found that the individual level determines ethical behavior rather than the societal level. This may be surprising when considering, for many psychological explanations often defining, the influence of culture and society. One possible explanation could be that there is an increasing variety of values within a single culture (Ralston et al., 2014). One type of collectivist setting, however, was found to be influencing ethical behavior, namely institutional collectivism (Ralston et al., 2014).

Education in “competitiveness” generally may raise selfish tendencies

Martin (2012) found that already after short time business students became more prone to commit plagiarism than before, what may be explained by the competitive nature of studies in commerce. Not as often argued in the scientific literature so far, Martin’s (2012) well-validated study states that the level of plagiarism was found to be higher for individualists than collectivists while there was no significant difference between Eastern and Western students.

Collective imprisonment of organizational citizens

In contrast to above individualist tendencies, Singh et al. (2012) demonstrated the mechanism of collective imprisonment which causes the members of an organization to sanction non-adherence to in-group (Easterner) goals of deterring misbehavior and (Easterner and Westerner) goal of group consensus using blame and punishment.

Can accountability be attributed to a collective mind?

To this question of philosophy of the mind, Baddorf (2016) points to the Phenomenal Intentionality Research Program (PIRP) that contradicts the concept of a collective to which moral accountability could be allocated the same way as for individuals. If the question is changed toward whether individuals can be held accountable for their actions, even if it contributes to only a distant negative consequences and the individual isn’t aware of it, then harmful collective results aren’t evident enough to change individual behavior (Zoller, 2015). Zoller (2015) argues that direct obviousness should be created by pointing to the contribution to the moral invisibility of an issue and that there is a responsibility, for example, to avoid naive consumption by pro-active self-information.

Moral education

Regarding improved responsibility, one has to recognize the responsibilities on both the societal (Eastern and Western) and individual level (Isaacs, 2011), and that moral education (for psychologists) about a common sense of universal morality should be further fostered (Diessner, 2014).



Baddorf, M. (2016). Phenomenal consciousness, collective mentality, and collective moral responsibility. Philosophical Studies, 1-18. doi:10.1007/s11098-016-0809-x

Diessner, R. (2014). Review of Toward a socially responsible psychology for a global era. Journal Of Moral Education, 43(1), 124-126. doi:10.1080/03057240.2014.886424

Floridi, L. (2016). Faultless responsibility: On the nature and allocation of moral responsibility for distributed moral actions. Philosophical Transactions Of The Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical And Engineering Sciences, 374(2083), doi:10.1098/rsta.2016.0112

Isaacs, T. L. (2011). Moral responsibility in collective contexts. [electronic book]. New York ; Oxford University Press, 2011.

Martin, D. E. (2012). Culture and unethical conduct: Understanding the impact of individualism and collectivism on actual plagiarism. Management Learning, 43(3), 261. doi:10.1177/1350507611428119

Ralston, D., Egri, C., Furrer, O., Kuo, M., Li, Y., Wangenheim, F., & … Palmer, I. (2014). Societal-Level Versus Individual-Level Predictions of Ethical Behavior: A 48-Society Study of Collectivism and Individualism. Journal Of Business Ethics, 122(2), 283-306. doi:10.1007/s10551-013-1744-9

Singh, R., Simons, J., Self, W., Tetlock, P., Zemba, Y., Yamaguchi, S., & … Kaur, S. (2012). Association, Culture, and Collective Imprisonment: Tests of a Two-Route Causal-Moral Model. Basic And Applied Social Psychology, 34(3), 269-277.

Zoller, D. (2015). Moral Responsibility for Distant Collective Harms. Ethical Theory And Moral Practice: An International Forum, 18(5), 995-1010.

  • Don’t you think plagiarism is much easier and more tempting now? And it’s a slippery slope from stealing tweets and photos and using them to other passages. Just a thought. As an artist, it always angers me when people use artwork and don’t credit the artist.

    • Hi Susie. Good point, thanks. In the academic field I don’t think it is easier today, as there are powerful computer programs who can identify plagiarism accurately. In terms of copyright in the online world I absolutely agree that there may be a lot of inappropriate re-use of intellectual property. Yes, we should credit the artists, and maybe even contacting them would be a beneficial experience and networking opportunity:-). Maybe you have such experience too …
      All the best!

  • “Becomes the” Has it ever been different? Like right now: Brexit, Trump, increasing influence of extreme right-minded souls… Why does it feel familiar to me being only 44 years old, just by looking to the past and what our ancestors had to deal with?
    I mean, humans already had their share of wars, depression, golden years, flower power. Fighting, loving to put it simple…both don’t seem to be the answer. Yes, I do think it has to do with taking responsibility. I am starting to think we aren’t really capable of taking responsibility at all.
    I wrote an article in Dutch some years ago about the question if we can have world-peace without the lost of our individuality. I am going to translate it today into English, curious about what my neighbors at this planet think of it 😉

    • Interesting thoughts, thank you! I have the same impression, there were so many attempts, unsuccessful unfortunately, you name them, to create lasting peace. We know the technology to travel in space etc, but we don’t know the human behavior and its underlying mental processes well. I think the next human revolution / evolution will be a spiritual one (not to be confused with a religious one). Spiritual in the sense of knowing oneself, source happiness from the inside and not from externals, and full responsibility as a spiritual being connected to all “neighbors st this planet” as you aptly mention:-). That seems to be our peaceful, self-sufficient, and connecting capacity. It it needs to be developed still though:-)
      I am curious about your article and looking forward to continue the discussion!!