MANCEPT Workshops in Political Theory

Monday 10 September to Wednesday 12 September 2018, University of Manchester, UK

“Climate change mitigation and imperfect duties”

Convenors: Adam Pearce and Livia Luzzatto (University of Reading)

Workshop Abstract

When assessing responsibility for climate change scholars are increasingly convinced by holding collectives responsible as individuals make no perceptible contribution to the problem (Broome 2012 is a notable exception). Collectives, both ‘structured’ (e.g. high-emitting states) and ‘unstructured’ (e.g. the global rich), are primarily identified as responsible. When responsibility resides at the collective level, corresponding individual duties are primarily to encourage the collective to act (Cripps 2011; 2013). ‘Mimicking’ duties to reduce one’s own emission are less demanding and far less important. This harmony with common understandings of causation and responsibility is purchased at the cost of vague or imperfect obligations. We must petition the collective to act, but how does one do this? What actions fulfil this duty? Signing a letter? Marching? Civil disobedience? Am I obliged to do the empirically most effective action? What policies should I petition in favour of? And, to whom should I devote all this attention?

This litany of questions is in stark contrast to green activism where we are encouraged to all to ‘do our bit’ by reducing our own emissions. This simple message has some purchase, whereas admitting the indeterminacy of our individual obligations runs the risk of practical paralysis for those with good intentions. Ultimately, individuals must undertake the central burden in understanding how they are best placed to petition the collective to act. There is no universal manifesto. But individual deliberation is mediated by the political landscape. The interaction between our imperfect individual duties and political structures is something theorists can provide guidance on. We must clarify this interaction in both directions: (i) how might political structures be designed/amended to aid the performance of imperfect duties? And, (ii) how might performance of imperfect duties be moderated by circumstance?

Some of the questions in that space are as follows, but contributors are invited to raise their own.

  • Can the law be legitimately harnessed to enforce individual agent emission reductions in performance of collective duties?
  • Does my duty to petition the collective presuppose an ideal theory of participatory democracy? If so, does such a democracy exist (or could it exist)?
  • Am I under a duty to speak, or a duty to be heard?
  • If I meet my duty to petition the collective to act, but keep on emitting, am I respecting the rights of future persons?
  • To whom should petitioning be focused? Does a philosophical understanding of ‘corporate agents’ help us to understand to whom we should direct our attention?
  • Am I under a duty to ignore the perfect, in pursuit of the good?

Application Details

If you are interested in applying, please send a 500 word abstract to and by Friday 18th May 2018. Please ensure submissions are prepared for blind review and include author information and institutional affiliation in a separate document.