The Tragedy of the Commons

Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu

in Unfit for the Future

Published in print July 2012 | ISBN: 9780199653645
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191742033 | DOI:
The Tragedy of the Commons

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In the cooperation problem known as the tragedy of the commons almost all of the herdsmen will have to cut down on the grazing of their cattle of their commons in order to avoid over-grazing. However, if no one of the herdsmen knows what the others will do, it will be rational for him not to cut down, since it is unlikely that this will be necessary to avoid over-grazing. So, there is a risk that there will be over-grazing because a sufficient number of them will not cut down. This risk is even greater if the number of herdsmen is so large that the impact of the grazing of a single herdman’s cattle becomes imperceptible. In this chapter it is argued that even when one’s causal contribution to an outcome is imperceptible, or non-existent, one can be morally responsible for it; responsibility is not based on causation.

Keywords: causation; commons; cooperation; moral responsibility; over-grazing

Chapter.  3343 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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