Petar Bojanić Institute for philosophy and social theory, Belgrade The Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, London
COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY AS A CONDITION OF PEACE
On Imputing to and Imputability of a Group
At the outset I would like to explain the title, 'Collective Responsibility as a
Condition of Peace,' and the subtitle 'Imputations and Amputations. Of Imputing To and
Imputation Of a Group,' as well as why, instead of responsibility, I am speaking to you
of a word very close to it – of Imputation or die Zurechnung. The title is, you have no
doubt noticed, very imprecise (so imprecise that it is quite original). At first glance, the
word 'condition' succeeds to tie together collective responsibility and peace. But this
same word would just as well tie together collective responsibility and war. Collective
responsibility is not the only condition, but it is one of the conditions (it is another
condition, although I sometimes think that it is the last and unconditional condition) that
brings about peace. If there is collective responsibility, then there is peace. Or, more
precisely, if to the already existing conditions that lead to peace, and the existing forms
of responsibility (individual responsibility is without doubt the first and foremost) one
adds collective responsibility, then we are witness to a process that appeases and brings
peace. How? The origin of the imprecision or impossibility of this title is not only found
in the difficulty of finding how and if the condition and conditioning 'work' between
these two domains. It appears that it is much more problematic to show, and if you will,
classify all the difficulties in the establishing both collective responsibility and peace.
Besides that, there is a key asymmetry in use and investment: while the theories of the
possibility or impossibility of collective responsibility were expanded and developed
after every big or small war in the last and this century – 'peace' always remained in the
shadow of grand and interesting discussions of just or unjust wars and the ethics of war.1
Leaving now aside the very complicated history of the construction and deconstruction
of 'collective responsibility,'2 I would like to introduce a few preliminary observations,
which could maybe justify the subtitle of this text. My intention is to try to explain the
connection between responsible members of a 'responsible' collective or group – and this
connection immediately assumes peace, being 'at peace,' happens during peace, just as it
announces peace between groups and institutions, a new global peace (Martha
Nussbaum prefers the phrase 'global responsibility' to others) – by evoking Kant's
interpretation of the alternative term for responsibility or accountability – the term die Zurechnung (imputation).3 My intention is also to try to 'impute' to Kant an idea, or
show that his fiction about the existence of some higher instance (humanity, God, the
world) before which we are all responsible (to which we de facto and not de jure
'impute' ourselves), represents the preamble for any future being counted in a group or
1 I am not sure that it is possible any more to follow Kelsen's dilemma of “peace through force or
through law,” or the following definition of his: “Peace is a state characterized by the absence of force.” In the UN charter peace is not at all explicitly defined. Instead, it is implicitly a negative definition of peace (the lack of war or the lack of interstate war) and not a positive definition. The problem with saying that peace is broken when two countries go to war with one another is that the definition does not cover civil wars, for example. The only new attempt of thinking peace is the sketch of 'grand theory of peace' of the Japanese professor Shin Chibo, written about recently by Richard Falk.
2 It seems very difficult to me to construct a research which could encompass entirely disparate
attempts to define the collective and (collective) responsibility through the history of thought and action. Such an adventure would have to take into account different thematization of self-responsibility
Gemeinschaftslebens in absoluter Selbsverantwortung,” and Weber's famous lines on responsibility to Weischedel, Ingarden, Jonas or Lévinas) or the works of H. Arendt (above all the text “Collective Responsibility” from 1968, in which she wonders about the origin of this idea and distinguishes it from collective guilt; Margaret Gilbert quite easily implicitly brought into question the conclusions of Arendt. Cf. M. Gilbert, “Group Wrongs and Guilt Feelings”, The Journal of Ethics, vol. 1, 1997, p. 65-84). Still, I am sure that today's moral arguments were stronger than the arguments from the philosophy of language or metaphysics. It is very hard anymore to declare meaningless statements such as 'nation X attacked,' 'the team scored,' 'the board dismissed Peter,' or 'film X produced.' That is why the area of 'collective responsibility' seems to me very receptive to a meaningful meeting between continental and Anglo-Saxon traditions of philosophizing.
3 Kelsen and Joackim Hruschka wrote important papers on this subject, and the same family of terms
includes attribution, shift, inculpation etc.
collective. A self-responsible acceptance of the collective responsibility of everyone
could institutionalize a group, which is then imputable (ascribable, attributable;
Zurechnungsfähig), and this operation could take place during peace. So the
institutionalization of peace (I am here trying to avoid Kant's phrasing that peace muss also gestiftet werder) presumes first that the process of imputation is carried out on all
levels of society (to be responsible means to be an author, an agent, one who accepts all
acts as one's own and common at the same time). The damage from unzurechnungsfähig
or the unimputable individual – who is not only the person who refuses to accept what
he has done, but, paradoxically, the one who refuses to accept a priori what he hasn't
done4 – could only be reduced if there preventively existed the acceptance of all that
they are part of humanity (and then a part of an institution, corporation, group, nation,
state, etc.).5 If the act of one who refuses to accept as one's own also that which one
hasn't done, we named primitive or barbarian irresponsibility (to paraphrase H. D.
Lewis', and not only his, well-known characterization of collective responsibility6), it
seems to me that only then could we execute the true reconstruction of our concept of
collective,7 as well as the identity theory of a group, i.e. sovereignty of state and world
governance. Institutions are unimputable (or 'substantially' irresponsible – if you will
allow me to carelessly and analogously use Scanlon's famous phrase) because they are
organized hierarchically. Irresponsible individuals in power 'guard' the identity 4 A priori, means together with others, all together. A priori assumes a community. 5 In a different context collective responsibility can as a preventive institution significantly reduce
damages in a society. Thus Virginia Held: “[.] ones I have suggested as central: a practice in which people see themselves as sharing responsibility will decrease the enormous harms that groups bring about”. V. Held, „Group Responsibility for Ethnic Conflict”, The Journal of Ethics, no. 6, 2002, p. 166.
6 H. D. Lewis, “Collective Responsibility”, Collective Responsibility, eds. L. May & S. Hoffman,
Lanham, Rowman and Littlefield, 1991, p. 17.
7 I would like to draw attention to a few new and very successful attempts at redefining the collective:
M. McKenna, “Collective Responsibility and the Agent Meaning Theory”, Shared Intentions and Collective Responsibility, eds. P. A. French & H. K. Wettstein, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, vol. 30, p. 17; M. Gilbert, Who’s to Blame? Collective Moral Responsibility and its Implications for Group Members”, ibid, p. 95-96 (this text was recently translated into German in the book Kollektive Verantwortung und internationale Beziehungen, ed. D. Gerber & V. Zanetti, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 2010, p. 31-66).
(sovereignty) of their institutions either by (a) sacrificing their parts (insisting that
individuals are responsible) or (b) preventing the resistance and distrust of individuals
who would share and accept the responsibility of all.
Allow me to use the negative form in the word 'distrust' and approach Kant from a
different perspective. Here is a first scene of responsibility or irresponsibility.
“It wasn't me,” “we didn't do this,” “I am not, or we are not the author,” “we are not
before the computer” (com+putare), “do not count us as accountable,” “do not burden
The primordial form and the beginning secret of an (ir)responsibility and every
response is the rejection and shifting of the burden of response and responsibility to
some other or someone other who cannot call back, respond, be responsible or bear
responsibility. The breach of responsibility and search for the responsible author of an
act is described by Ambrose Bierce in his Devil's Dictionary as the first and key entry of
RESPONSIBILITY, n: A detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one’s neighbor. In the days of astrology it was customary to
My first question is whether we could here also add the uncertain entities such as
Group, State, Institution, Corporation etc.?
If a group exists and from there stems the responsibility divided between its
members8 (each remains responsible for his individual share in the group), in what way
can such a group present itself, to announce its own responsibility and itself as the
author of an act? Or how does a group deny its authorship, or coauthorship (who at all
8 Ingarden calls this geteilte Mitverantwortung. R. Ingarden, Über die Verantwortung, Stuttgart,
can be the 'individual' to utter, in the plural, “It was not us”)? How to assign or impute
an event to a group? How does a group sign its authorship and how does it accept
responsibility, maintaining at the same time the responsibility of each separate part of
How to be both individually and collectively responsible (at the same time)?
Hence this 'Devil's way' always begins with the disavowal of the child (the
madman, the weakling, the impaired [imbecillus]) to be near and to remember,9 to
accept, to accept its own act or the event it caused (“I did not do this,” “he or she did
that,” “I do not know who did that” etc.) and is continued with the acquisition of
consciousness and freedom, and “the extraordinary privilege of freedom
[ausserordentliche Privilegium der Verantwortlichkeit].10 At the end of the road, during
which the identity or the sovereignty of the group, community, nation, people, state, the
world and their responsibility is further captured and formed, one probably ought to
incessantly maintain and affirm the power (strength?) of the conjunction 'and' –
'individual AND collective responsibility.'11
Is it possible to find the conditions and a framework within which collective
responsibility can have, not a simple advantage, but precisely symmetry in relation to
individual responsibility? First, group or collective responsibility should not replace but
complement individual responsibility. Group responsibility without individual hides the
9 Of “Unterbrechung des Gedächnisses” Ingarden writes: “Die Identität des Leibes eines Menschen
bzw. einer Person scheint für die Identität dieser Person zwar unentbehrlich, aber nicht hinrechend zu sein, ihre Erhaltung ist aber für das Tragen der Verantwortung und auch für das Zur-Verantwortung-Ziehen notwendig. Es gibt aber gewisse pathologische Tatsachen, die sogenannten “Spaltungen des Bewusstseins”, bzw. des Ichs, die, wie es scheint, beides gefährden können”. R. Ingarden, Über die Verantwortung, Stuttgart, Reclam, 1970, p. 56-57
10 Friedrich Nietzsche, Zur Genealogie der Moral, „Zweite Abhandlung: ‚Schuld’, ‚schlechtes Gewissen’ und Verwandtes“, § 2.
11 Ingarden describes a situation in which multiple ones take part thusly: “Und eben damit ist auch die
Verantwortung der Gemeinschaft in gewissem Sinne geteilt und verteilt auf ihre einzelnen Mitglieder, die in ihrem eigenen Bereich nur 'mitverantwortlich' sind, aber eben deswegen doch verantwortlich auf die besondere Weise der beschränkten, bedingten, geteilten Mitverantwortung. Im vollen Sinne ist aber die Gemeinschaft als Ganzes, als ein neues Subjekt, verantwortlich.” R. Ingarden, Über die Verantwortung, 1970, p. 23-24.
authors of events and acts, limits knowledge and history, and de facto destroys any
responsibility. Individual responsibility without group responsibility excludes and
sacrifices portions of a community in the name of its forever deficient integrity and
unity. “To share responsibility” assumes that each is individually responsible, and all are
Second, 'share' introduces a number, amount, calculus, degree and measure of
responsibility (or, for example, measure and countability, 'percentage' of responsibility
or 'percentage' of sovereignty12). The reconstruction of the figure of 'responsibility' is
therefore multiple: (a) 'responsibility' is derived from the procedure of 'imputing'
(calculating, counting and adding) of an action or an event to a sum of laws and some
subject as actor; (b) the subject need not be single or singular (individual);13 (c) the
relationship of part or parts of a whole (grouping) is the basic characteristic of
'responsibility;' (d) the word 'responsibility' is complex and derived, and so assumes
several relations, terms or criteria which explain it more closely: subjectivization,
quantification, adherence, causality, commitment, sanctions and reparations, prevention
Third, a crime, monstrous and incontrovertible, and always difficult to imagine
[mala in se ili scelus infandum],14 a crime that surpasses crime, and then a potential
12 In the first real instances of resistance towards horrifying punishments and 'collective' responsibility,
by Abraham (Gen. 18:20) or Moses (Num. 16) it is always a question of 'number.' For example, in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, how many good people does a city need to have (10?) to prevent its total destruction? V. Held writes: “Moral responsibility does have degrees. While we may be required in cases of legal responsibility to conclude that persons are either legally responsible, or not, we should resist such rigidity in moral contexts. It is more appropriate to assess degrees of responsibility and degrees of sharing responsibility fort he wrongs for which our groups are to blame.” V. Held, “Group Responsibility for Ethnic Conflict,” p. 168.
13 In opposition of R. Ingarden's theory or for example Jan Narveson: “Individuals are Fundamental”.
J. Narveson, „Collective Responsibility“, The Journal of Ethics, no. 6, 2002, p. 179.
14 The idioms mala in se or scelus infandum, wrongs in themselves, or unspeakable crimes (a crime
greater than any possible crime, the term 'genocide' can be from a similar vocabulary), are used by Carl Schmitt in a footnote from 24 August 1945 in Berlin. C. Schmitt, „Note as Conclusion of the Opinion of prof. Dr. Carl Schmitt on ‘Das international-rechtliche Verbrechen des Angriffskrieges’ (August 1945)”, Das international-rechtliche Verbrechen des Angriffskrieges; und der Grundsatz „Nullum crimen, nulla poena sine lege”, Hrsg. H. Quaritsch, Berlin, Duncker & Humblot, 1994, p.
adequate punishment, obligation and responsibility, brings in group, collective, state,
national and global (international) responsibility. The trace of this Malum in se still
exists today in international law in the phrase 'internationally wrongful act,' used for a
breach of an international legal obligation by a state. Namely, an 'internationally
wrongful act,' is an act that should have not happened in the first place, and if it did
happen, imposes reparative and not punitive damages on a state.15 In this uncertain and
complicated transition between individual and collective responsibility (or shared
responsibility), we find the task of the philosopher (the philosopher who complements
the jurist and judge) and a philosophical problem. And a 'philosophical focus,' a well.16
These three complex 'moments,' which in turn have many other tangential
consequences, will always be difficult to prudently formulate and 'translate' into a
Schmitt's s phrase that “scelus infandum must necessarily be a presedent,” as well as his insistence that “Hitler's scelus infandum and especially the monstrous horrors committed by the SS and Gestapo, cannot be subject or covered in their particularity by the rules and categories of positive law, set the conditions of a constant reconstruction of international law and the procedures (judgments) of a 'Tribunal.' For example, in an indictment signed by Richard Goldstone on 13 February 1995, one defendant at the Hague is accused of 140 heinous crimes.
In a later text by Schmitt, malum in se is committed by the so-called 'world criminal' [Weltverbrecher], for whom to this day there is no international criminal court to be found. C. Schmitt, „Völkerrecht. Ein juristisches Repetitorium, 1948/50”, Frieden oder Pazifismus?, Arbeiten zum Völkerrecht und mit Anmerkungen versehen von G. Maschke, Berlin, Duncker & Humblot, 2005, p. 766, 823.
15 “In the event that a state breaches an international obligation and commits an „internationally
wrongful act“, it incurs an obligation (i) to cease that wrongful act, if it is still continuing, and (ii) to make full reparation for any material or moral damage caused. [.] An internationally wrongful act is not a permissible act for which a price is charged or an act which a state is entitled to perform so long as it provides adequate reparation for any resulting harms; it is an act which should not be done; if done and the performance is ongoing (as when one state is unlawfully occupying the territory of another), it should cease.” J. Crawford & J. Watkins, „International Responsibility“, The Philosophy of International Law, ed. S. Besson & J. Tasioulas, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 285, 286.
16 Here I repeat and follow, along with Virginia Held, Annette Bayer's words, chairing the plenary
meeting of “The Eighty-Seventh Annual Eastern Division Meeting of the APA” in Boston on 29 December 1990, in a text entitled “A Naturalists View of Persons:” “[.]when we are in any kind of war we are prepared to switch from individual to collective responsibility. […] Our philosophical focusought to be as much on collective as on individual responsibility, when we seek to understand ourselves as persons.” APA Proceedings, vol. 65, no. 3, p. 6. Cf. Virginia Held, „Group Responsibility for Ethnic Conflict”, The Journal of Ethics, no. 6, 2002, p. 157-178.
precise argument in support of a symmetry between individual and collective
responsibility. Questions can start at the end, with philosophy. Why with philosophy and
why is the philosopher's task above all directed at the apprehension of group or
collective responsibility? Is it necessary that there be war and an unspeakable crime, a
crime one individual could not commit without coordinating the entire community, for
responsibility to be a common thing? Or conversely, are wars the result of the
predominance of individual responsibility, or the result of fateful asymmetry between
individual responsibility and that of groups or nations? In what way was the
mathematical or accounting 'basis' of the phenomenon or term 'responsibility,' during the
long history of confessing to God, processing guilt, questionings and interrogations,
ripped out from under it? How was the economy 'ritualized' and 'theologized,' and why
does the community take precedence over the individual (although indictments were
made issued against all the leaders and the military elite of the countries involved in the
conflict in former Yugoslavia, and although there was a search for the culprits of great
crimes committed by all sides, why was the sovereignty of the newly-formed states
Finally, can a group or a collective, and how can a group or a collective, be a
person, for only a “person [can be that] subject whose actions are appropriate for
accounting [dessen Handlungen einer Zurechnung fähig sind]?”17
In the introduction of , in the chapter where he defines 'preconditioned' terms
[Vorbegriffe] of morals, Kant says that as opposed to the moral personality
[Persönlichkeit] or Person, which is nothing else than the freedom of a thinking being
subject to moral laws,18 the thing [Sache] is not capable of accounting and does not have
17 “Person ist dasjenige Subject, dessen Handlungen einer Zurechnung fähig sind.” I. Kant, Die Metaphysik der Sitten, Gesammelte Schriften, Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften, vol. 6, p. 223. The English translation is as follows. “A person is a subject whose actions can be imputed to him” (Mary J. Gregor).
18 “Die moralische Persönlichkeit ist also nichts anders, als die Freiheit eines vernünftigen Wesens unter moralischen Gesetzen (die psychologische aber bloß das Vermögen, sich der Identität seiner selbst in den verschiedenen Zuständen seines Daseins bewußt zu werden), woraus dann folgt, daß
freedom [Sache ist ein Ding, was keiner Zurechnung fähig ist]. A person, continues
Kant, based on all of this, follows laws or is subject to self-proscribed laws – “to itself,
or at least together with others” [entweder allein, oder wenigstens zugleich mit anderen].
Only a few pages later, Kant gives his own definition of imputation, or more precisely,
Kant is trying to specify or combine different stipulations of a legal category with a rich
history of usage, from the end of the seventeenth century, in Pufendorf, Baumgarten and
other theoreticians of right and morals.
Zurechnung (imputatio)in moralischer Bedeutung ist das Urtheil, wodurch jemand
als Urheber (causa libera)einer Handlung, die alsdann That (factum)heißt und
unter Gesetzen steht, angesehen wird; welches, wenn es zugleich die rechtlichen
Folgen aus dieser That bei sich führt, eine rechtskräftige (imputatio iudiciaria s. valida), sonst aber nur eine beurtheilende Zurechnung (imputatio diiudicatoria)
sein würde. — Diejenige (physische oder moralische) Person, welche rechtskräftig
zuzurechnen die Befugniß hat, heißt der Richter oder auch der Gerichtshof (iudex s.
It need not be a particularly daring or hasty assumption that in this text, written at
the very end of the eighteenth century, Kant deftly sketches out a three-dimensional
figure, today marked by the word responsibility or Verantwortung (in the feminine).
Without straying too far into other texts and fragments by Kant, and without a strict
thematizing of a more complicated difference between Kant's Zurechnung and Kant's
Verantwortung, I dare indicate that Die Metaphysik der Sitten reveals or sums up three
faces or three moments of responsibility. Reveals three and at the same time, hides one.
The first two moments are mentioned in that fragment, and both regard the word
eine Person keinen anderen Gesetzen als denen, die sie (entweder allein, oder wenigstens zugleich mit anderen) sich selbst giebt, unterworfen ist.”Ibid.
19 I. Kant, Die Metaphysik der Sitten, p. 227.
Zurechnung. Namely, Kant distorts the familiar distinction (from before him, but also his
own) between imputatio facti and imputatio iuris. Let us say right away that the word
imputatio presupposes a certain amount of 'force' to find and determine the author,
person, face, entity or the like, behind an action or an event (Kant's word Handlung
covers both). To imputate means first of all to 're-trace' an action back into the auspice
and near the one – today this expression would be simpler – in the vicinity of the one
who is 'responsible' for it. For the author of an act to be an author, he (or she or they,
Kant does not have these subtleties of gender or number) needs to accept (to say that he
accepts, to sign) to commit or not to disavow this same action. This is a 'causal action'
because it presupposes that the act fell from its maker, that it was amputated, removed
and forgotten (in both time and space). This is why imputing comes into play, as a
reattaching and suturing of that which was amputated and neglected. When I mentioned
the 'forcing' of this re-tracing of an act to its causer, this conversion of an anonymous
action to an act that has its own signatory, I am not yet at the doorstep of right (the
police, interrogation, torture, inquisition, trial etc.) and in imputio iuris, but rather I
followed the negative connotation or the negative accent that follows this Latin word
and its possible uses and etymologies.20 Except for a completely cognitive operation,
which in itself need not be devoid of the use of force – simply, the author has moved,
20 The etymology of the verb putare is quite uncertain. The meaning of the word impuatio could be
glimpsed if we first take into account the phrase 'to take into account' (accounting, accounting for someone, making them count, but also bringing them to account, holding them before one's eyes, inspecting their action). Putus, the adjective, refers to a cleaning, cleaning of silver, clearing up and settling. Further, the word putatius can refer to an assumption and a 'fact' that is not certain. Let us say that putative verbs and obligating verbs (in English may, can, should) indicate something not at all certain, and their use introduces the search for what has yet to become evident. Still, words such as imputationis, imputator, imputo and so on, refer exclusively to the calculating of someone's debts, burdening with money, credit, taking into account someone's expenditure and debt, or the counting (ac-counting) and 'marking down' someone's financial acts and transactions. Words such as Zurechnung (rechnen is to calculate, arrange) or accountability are quite literal translation of the Latin imputatio. Cicero uses the words assignare and ascribere, writing-in or ascribing (Kant also uses the word Zuschreiben), which hints at the double movement of the initial imputatio: that which is counted is at the same time written down (remembered through the written, set into the account), and can therefore be presented on paper; and that which is counted (and remembered) to someone can be written in, to be subject to, to be part of the law or rules in written form.
time has passed, and we no longer know who can be 'questioned' or who is 'responsible;'
the disquiet of not knowing urges one to search and hurry to find the one to whom this
act or this event can be ascribed – the institution of the imputatio referred primarily to
such acts that create some kind of debt obligation. These are such actions and events that
are possible to sum up or count, calculate and account someone's obligation and debt. To
impute something to someone means to make them remember, that the action committed
be appurtenant to them (appended), and constantly 'present in them.' Being subject to
accounting, of course, is marked by the word 'accountability.' The coercion on which I
am insisting, the coercion of conversion of one act or event into a fact [factum, That], as
Kant says, obligates the accountable subject to pay his debts and not to behave as if he
were not the progenitor of an act, that is to say, as if the act had never happened. The
reformulation of the institution of imputatio facti and Kant's originality is based, most
assuredly, on a reduction, but also on a transformation of these two moments (the
cognitive 'Who did this?' and the accounting 'Who ought pay?'), but in two completely
The first question, 'Who did this? (which is the silent question to which I replied
in my first line, 'It wasn't me'), and the first moment leading to 'responsibility' – which
Kant hid from us since it appears nowhere in the Metaphysics of Morals (and it is
precisely this moment that is a condition for the other three that I am trying to formulate)
– represents at the same time the usual definition of imputatio facti. Twenty years prior,
in a few fragments on moral philosophy (later catalogued and published in the 19th
volume of his works), Kant is working out the difference between assigning or ascribing
[Zuschreiben] and accounting [Zurechnung]. Imputatio practica, says Kant, is
“Zuschreiben nach regeln der freyheit.” As opposed to imputatio legis (or imputatio iuris), “which brings an action under the purview of moral law,” imputatio facti (or
assigning) brings an action into the purview of law in general, based on rules of
freedom. “Accounting [Zurechnung] always concerns an action that has a legal basis”
[…] “so that someone's death can be assigned or ascribed [Zuschreiben] to a man, so
that it is not imputated in him [ohne ihn ihm zuzurechnen].” Kant's example that follows
automatically opens up the second question ('Who ought pay for this?'), which regards
accounts and accounting, and the fatal putting aside the 'mathema' and the 'economy' of
If it were the death of a bull, not a man, there would be no place for
The killing of a bull belongs to the vocabulary of assigning and imputatio facti, and not
the vocabulary of accounting, i.e. imputatio moralis, which Kant had already by then
equated almost completely with imputatio legis. The reason is that “imputation is done
on the basis of the law of morality” [Zurechnung nach Gesetzen der Sittlichkeit], and
these rules regard only humans and not animals. In other words, the assigning does not
obligate, and the 'process of assigning' ends with the 'recognition' of an author of an
action. To kill a bull – Kant of course is not talking about a bull that is the property of
someone else (but perhaps that is even more important, does a bull exist, or has one ever
existed, that was not someone's property?) – means not being obligated to pay for
anything (or answer anything). The killing of a bull is evidenced and assigned, but does
not count, is not accounted and does not matter (Yes (I killed), so what!). The very
possibility that there are actions or events that do not belong to the law (which are not
facts; which happened, but are not remembered, don't belong to history because we
never go back to them, nor does anyone force us to return to them), reveals the important
consequences for the forms and distortions of the figure of 'responsibility' from Kant to
our days. Firstly, there are damages that do not have to be remembered, because they are
21 “Die Zurechnung betrift immer die wirkung, welche eine legale Folge hat. Man kan dem Menschen den Tod eines andern Zuschreiben, ohne ihn ihm zuzurechnen. Wenn es ein Ochs und kein Mensch |wäre, so würde keine Zurechnung statt finden. Wenn es ein Ochs und kein Mensch wäre, so würde keine Zurechnung statt finden.” I. Kant, Reflexionen zur Moral-, Rechts- und Religionsphilosophie, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 19, § 7134, 7135, 7297, 7298.
not part of anyone's or any kind of account – there is no 'register' which tallies them up
(responsibility and acting thus definitely lose their common basis, which I would mark
by the word 'calculation'); secondly, animals, and not only animals, are excluded from
the world of morality; thirdly, the animal state [der Zustand des Tiers] (Hegel's Eden or
zoo [Tiergarten] are stripped of knowledge of good and evil) or the consciousless state
[Bewusstloigkeit] is still present within the state of humanity. Thus Hegel's famous
position that “the state of humanity is a state of accounting, that is, the ability of
accounting [Der Zustand des Menschen ist der Zustand der Zurechnung, der Zurechnungsfähigkeit]or the capability to be guilty” (Schuld heisst im allgemeinen
Kant's last change (a few years prior to death), begins with the neglecting and
putting aside of these first 'contents' of the figure of 'imputatio,' on which I am
constantly insisting. I quote Kant again: “Accounting [Zurechnung] (imutatio), in the
moral sense [moralischer Bedeutung].” – thus begins his definition, and the accent is
on this sense – is a judgment [das Urtheil]. Accounting or responsibility regards a
judgment or a position, or, in other words, accounting is judgment (judging) which as its
result has a sentence or a group of phrases that obligate to some degree. The degree of
obligation or lack thereof is threefold – these are the three moments that I have intimated
and on which I count to exhaust today's 'concept' of responsibility – and it depends on
the way in which the judgment is reached, that is, how the 'carrier' (subject) of the
judging, does this. Let us not forget that the accounting itself is an action that 'treats' and
'values' other actions, that is an 'action the object of which is action.'
Three moments of responsibility are three conditions for responsibility to extend
into and form a community of peace. More precisely, the community, as a network of
obligations and commitments, exists if, and only if accounting is carried out ceaselessly
and simultaneously in all three forms. If only one is missing, Kant's subject (person) is
22 G. W. F. Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Religion II, vol. 16, Frankfurt am Main,
not fully appropriate for accounting and cannot be counted. We ought not underestimate
too easily Kant's intention and consider his subject not to be the same as the community,
and that the importance of the presence of others is lessened or callously weakened (lest
we forget Kant's phrase 'at least' [wenigstens] when speaking about a person that gives
laws to itself, to itself or at least with others [entweder allein, oder wenigstens zugleich mit anderen]23), and that Kant finds the process of 'accounting as judging' more
important than 'accounting as accountability,' as acceptance and 'taking of responsibility'
When I used the word 'community' and imputed it to Kant (a word that exists only
in quotes and implicitly in these Kant's fragments on imputation), I attempted to use it to
mark or foreshadow the existence of a group of people who is not 'accountable' and
whose accounts are, in one way or another, not accounted for (putus). So on the one
hand we have an ideal state of accounting and accountability, a state of peace, where the
three conditions that I will presently flesh out, are met. In this state, collective and
individual responsibility are inseparable and indivisible, and a priori present and
symmetrical. On the other hand we have an entity, a group or a community,24 in which
more is disavowed than is affirmed or signed for, and where killing, sacrifice and
consuming is without measure or accounting. If we imagine one such, almost heavenly
collective (grouping) in which there is no guilt or innocence (Eden and zoo, as Hegel
says), in which everyone owes everyone, and no one owes no one, and if we imagine
that such a space, enclosed in high walls or protected by the charter of the United
23 “[…] daß eine Person keinen anderen Gesetzen als denen, die sie (entweder allein, oder wenigstens zugleich mit anderen) sich selbst giebt, unterworfen ist.” I. Kant, Die Metaphysik der Sitten, p. 223.
24 In recent years such a quasi-institution or pseudo-community has been given different names. It
certainly is not at all Kant's ideal community in which the 'pure evil principle' rules, but really a community that despite everything cannot constitute itself as a community (for example, 'community' of pirates or delinquents). This last term I use referring the German translation of Tony Erskin's text “Krieg und korporative Verantwortung.” Das Problem der Bestrafung “delinquenter” Staaten,” Kollektive Verantwortung und internationale Beziehungen, ed. D. Gerber & V. Zanetti, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 2010, p. 239-271.
Nations, has not been colonized by any other group or community, the difference
between individual and collective responsibility will be clearly drawn out and their
asymmetry easily recognized. This opposing of two fictions, and the conflict between
two or several groups (can we say that the origin of sociability, grouping and division
into groups, is the first consequence of the disturbance of imputation?) represents an
irresolvable paradox or a big complication that Kant (and not only Kant) tried to solve in
What, then is the similarity between the collective responsibility of a primitive
community, talked about by a student of Kant's, Ernst Kassirer,26 and the collective
responsibility of the majority of the population of a state against which there is a
humanitarian intervention? Was collective responsibility not always the condition of the
institution of aggressive war (Annette Bayer)? And was not the interruption of war
always an opportunity to settle accounts and set up a 'responsible' order and an order of
Two of the three final figures of responsibility, as I mentioned, Kant marks with
the word 'imputation.' The first refers to imputatio iuris, to a legal or criminal
responsibility. The institution of imputatio iuris assumes that there is a person, a judge
(or a bench, several judges) who “has the authorization to account with jurisdiction.”
Meaning a person that represents the will of all persons (all the others), presides over
25 For example, Kant insists on a ban on aggressive war, but at the same time thinks that the
achievement of a state of prosperity and happiness, that is, the “highest state of culture – the state of war of equal (or balanced) peoples between one another.” [Die höchste Stufe der Cultur ist der Kriegszustand der Völker im Gleichgewicht.]. I. Kant, Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 7, p. 411. This is the beginning of Kant's own comment on paragraph 87 of his book Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View.
26 “As a matter of fact in all primitive societies ruled and governed by rites individual responsibility is
an unknown thing. What we find here is only a collective responsibility. Not the individuals but the group is the real 'moral subject.'” E. Cassirer, The Myth of the State, London, Oxford University Press, 1946, p. 285. Aside from Kassirer and Lewis, it would be very important to consider two more important usages of the adjective primitive: Searle speaks of the primitive concept of 'collective responsibility,' while Antonio Cassese writes that “the international community is so primitive that the archaic concept of collective responsibility still prevails.” A. Cassese, International Law, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005, p.241.
(judges?) the legal consequences of an act of a person (the subject) and coordinates them
The second figure is Kant's late reformulation of the institution of imputatio facti
from Die Metaphysik der Sitten: judgment, through which an action is already assigned
to someone (designated by the word 'act' or factum), is now being evaluated and
reconstructed. This processes of questioning and the evaluation of the transition of an
action or event into factum (meaning, 'made subject' to law), Kant names the estimating
accounting [eine beurtheilende Zurechnung]. Estimating or evaluating [schätzende]
accounting (in some of his fragments Kant uses these two as synonymous) stands in
opposition to the execution enacted by the judge [diiudication versus execution]. It is
comprised of making concrete or qualifying of a judgment, that is in the public critique
of one's act.27 We can call this process of 'institutionalizing responsibility,' the evaluation
of the basis (whether a case should go before a judge or not) and the consideration of the
relationship of the author of an action with others. (In addition, the reconstruction of the
law, passing of new laws, the theory of the phrase 'at least,' and so on, are also carried
The third moment of responsibility, and the last condition of a possible 'institution
of responsibility' or the 'ideal' of any possible responsibility, Kant notes in three different
ways in Die Metaphysik der Sitten. Man is “responsible to humanity in his own person”
[er Menschheit in seiner eigenen Person verantwortlich ist]; “conscience as a subjective
principle” imagines itself as responsibility [Verantwortung] and conscientiousness
27 “The degree of accountability [Grad der Zurechnungsfähigkeit] (imputabilitas) of actions ought to
be estimated [schätzen] subjectively, according to the level of difficulty that needs to be overcome. The greater the natural difficulty (of sensibility), the smaller the moral difficulty (duty), the more a good act counts as merit [zum Verdienst angerechnet]. For example, if I save a complete stranger from grave danger against considerable risk to myself.” “Subjectiv ist der Grad der Zurechnungsfähigkeit (imputabilitas) der Handlungen nach der Größe der Hindernisse zu schätzen, die dabei haben überwunden werden müssen. — Je größer die Naturhindernisse (der Sinnlichkeit), je kleiner das moralische Hinderniß (der Pflicht), desto mehr wird die gute That zum Verdienst angerechnet; z.B. wenn ich einen mir ganz fremden Menschen mit meiner beträchtlichen Aufopferung aus großer Noth rette.” I. Kant, Die Metaphysik der Sitten, p. 228.
[Gewissenhaftigkeit] or religio, presents itself as Verantwortlichkeit (responsibility).28
On the one hand, we have the thing [Sache], which as we recall is neither free nor
capable of imputation, as well as a 'psychological personality which is but the power to
be aware of itself (is it justifiable to rush and, against Kant, clandestinely, put animals
here?). On the other hand, we have the assigning of imputatio facti and imputatio iuris.
Between the two, Kant finds an uncertain and unclear form, and follows it closely and
consistently, even in other texts, and refers to it with derivatives of the word response
(Ver-antworten). As opposed to the in-scribing or the accounting done by the judge or
the group (others), this gesture is subjective and self-initiated. A person does not only
have an inner responsibility [innere Verantwortung] and man is not responsible only to
himself [der Mensch sich selbst verantwortlich]. In his notebooks and indices, Kant
writes that the person shows the openness and freedom to count for oneself or inscribe
28 All three steps in Kant are complemented by so-called 'fictional analogies' (Vaihinger), which
protect the institution of accounting: (1) for the 'responsibility towards humanity,' Kand adds: “although this point which belongs to the right of humanity [Recht der Menschheit], and not the right of people, does not have its proper place, but is mentioned to help illustrate what has already been sketched out.” [aber nicht Eigenthümer von sich selbst (sui dominus) (über sich nach Belieben disponiren zu können), geschweige denn von anderen Menschen sein kann, weil er der Menschheit in seiner eigenen Person verantwortlich ist; wiewohl dieser Punkt, der zum Recht der Menschheit, nicht dem der Menschen gehört, hier nicht seinen eigentlichen Platz hat, sondern nur beiläufig zum besseren Verständniß des kurz vorher Gesagten angeführt wird]; (2) “. and such a moral being that has power over everything is called God, and consciousness will have to be imagined as a subjective principle of responsibility before God for one's deeds” [so wird das Gewissen als subjectives Princip einer vor Gott seiner Thaten wegen zu leistenden Verantwortung gedacht werden müssen]; (3) “However, that does not mean that thanks to the idea towards which his consciousness inexorably leads him, man has the right to, and even less that he is obligated, to accept such a highest being outside himself as real […] and man using that idea, as an analogy with a certain lawgiver of all reasonable beings, arrives at instructions to present to himself conscientiousness (called also religio) as responsibility, before one holy being. [.und der Mensch erhält vermittelst dieser nur nach der Analogie mit einem Gesetzgeber aller vernünftigen Weltwesen eine bloße Leitung, die Gewissenhaftigkeit (welche auch religio genannt wird) als Verantwortlichkeit vor einem von uns selbst unterschiedenen, aber uns doch innigst gegenwärtigen heiligen Wesen (der moralisch-gesetzgebenden Vernunft) sich vorzustellen und dessen Willen den Regeln der Gerechtigkeit zu unterwerfen]” I. Kant, Die Metaphysik der Sitten, p. 270, 439, 440. All three Kant's determinants are repeated in their formulation many years later in the first systematic research of the concept of responsibility by Wilhelm Weischedel. Cf. „soziale Verantwortung (soziale Grundverantwortung), religiöse V., Selbstverantwortung“, W.Weischedel, Das Wesen der Verantwortung, Frankurt am Main, Duncker & Humblot, 1958 (1933), p. 26-27.
not only those things that have legal consequences or that one has not committed at all.
Rather the person finds and imagines instances that are common to everyone, and before
which, 'all are individually responsible.' To be responsible to humanity or before
humanity, before everybody, does not mean a single ad hoc preventive responsibility
that further regulates my acting, nor is it simply an a priori openness to humanity so that
it (humanity, everybody, the world) can ascribe and count as mine actions for which
others or all others are responsible; but rather humanity (or God, or the group) is an
instance that protects the institution of responsibility (accounting) and as if counts every
one of us individually into one imaginary collective without borders.
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