Moral obligations of states

In Applied Ethics Series. Center of Applied Ethics and Philosophy (2011)
It is widely accepted that industrialized or wealthy countries in particular have moral obligations or duties of justice to combat world poverty or to shoulder burdens of climate change. But what does it actually mean to say that a state has moral obligations or duties of justice? In this paper I focus on Tony Erskine’s account of moral agency of states. With her, I argue that collectives such as states can hold (collective) moral duties. However, Erskine’s approach does not clarify what moral duties of collectives do entail for their members. Adding to her account, I suggest that these duties entail corresponding (contributory) duties for the members of the collective. I propose three criteria for determining the magnitude of an individual agent’s or sub-group’s contributory duty to a collective duty: capacity, moral correlation, and commitments of oneself and other agents.
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