Faultless Responsibility: on the Nature and Allocation of Moral Responsibility for Distributed Moral Actions

Luciano Floridi, November 2016

The concept of distributed moral responsibility (DMR) has a long history. When it is understood as being entirely reducible to the sum of (some) human, individual, and already morally loaded actions, then the allocation of DMR, and hence of praise and reward or blame and punishment, may be pragmatically difficult, but not conceptually problematic. However, in distributed environments it is increasingly possible that a network of agents, some human, some artificial (e.g. a program) and some hybrid (e.g. a group of people working as a team thanks to a software platform) may cause distributed moral actions (DMAs). These are morally good or evil (i.e., morally loaded) actions caused by local interactions that are in themselves neither good nor evil (morally neutral).

In this article, Pr. Luciano Floridi analyses DMRs that are due to DMAs and argue in favour of the allocation, by default and overridably, of full moral responsibility (faultless responsibility) to all the nodes/agents in the network causally relevant for bringing about the DMA in question, independently of intentionality. The mechanism proposed is inspired by, and adapts, three concepts: back propagation from network theory, strict liability from jurisprudence, and common knowledge from epistemic logic.

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