The Problem of Many Hands: Climate Change as an Example

Science and Engineering Ethics 18 (1):49-67 (2012)
In some situations in which undesirable collective effects occur, it is very hard, if not impossible, to hold any individual reasonably responsible. Such a situation may be referred to as the problem of many hands. In this paper we investigate how the problem of many hands can best be understood and why, and when, it exactly constitutes a problem. After analyzing climate change as an example, we propose to define the problem of many hands as the occurrence of a gap in the distribution of responsibility that may be considered morally problematic. Whether a gap is morally problematic, we suggest, depends on the reasons why responsibility is distributed. This, in turn, depends, at least in part, on the sense of responsibility employed, a main distinction being that between backward-looking and forward-looking responsibility
Keywords info:mesh/Behavior  info:mesh/Moral Obligations  info:mesh/Humans  info:mesh/Global Warming  Humans   Behavior   Moral Obligations   Global Warming
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s11948-011-9276-0
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 15,865
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
Peter F. Strawson (1962). Freedom and Resentment. Proceedings of the British Academy 48:1-25.

View all 32 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Melany Banks (2013). Individual Responsibility for Climate Change. Southern Journal of Philosophy 51 (1):42-66.
Dale Jamieson (2010). Climate Change, Responsibility, and Justice. Science and Engineering Ethics 16 (3):431-445.
Leslie Griffin (1989). The Problem Of Dirty Hands. Journal of Religious Ethics 17 (1):31-61.
Jonathan Pickering & Christian Barry (2012). On the Concept of Climate Debt: Its Moral and Political Value. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 15 (5):667-685.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

21 ( #134,718 of 1,724,882 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

1 ( #349,126 of 1,724,882 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.