The irreducibility of collective obligations

Allard Tamminga*, Frank Hindriks

*Corresponding author for this work

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Individualists claim that collective obligations are reducible to the individual obligations of the collective's members. Collectivists deny this. We set out to discover who is right by way of a deontic logic of collective action that models collective actions, abilities, obligations, and their interrelations. On the basis of our formal analysis, we argue that when assessing the obligations of an individual agent, we need to distinguish individual obligations from member obligations. If a collective has a collective obligation to bring about a particular state of affairs, then it might be that no individual in the collective has an individual obligation to bring about that state of affairs. What follows from a collective obligation is that each member of the collective has a member obligation to help ensure that the collective fulfills its collective obligation. In conclusion, we argue that our formal analysis supports collectivism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1085–1109
Number of pages25
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Issue number4
Early online date12-Jan-2019
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Collective obligation
  • Collective responsibility
  • Collectivism
  • Individualism
  • Deontic logic
  • Game theory

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