Two forms of responsibility: Reassessing Young on structural injustice

Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy:1-24 (2020)
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In this article, I critically reassess Iris Marion Young's late works, which centre on the distinction between liability and social connection responsibility. I concur with Young's diagnosis that structural injustices call for a new conception of responsibility, but I reject several core assumptions that underpin her distinction between two models and argue for a different way of conceptualising responsibility to address structural injustices. I show that Young's categorical separation of guilt and responsibility is not supported by the writings of Hannah Arendt, which Young draws on, and that it is also untenable on independent systematic grounds. Furthermore, I argue that several of Young's other criteria fail to clearly demarcate two distinct phenomena. I therefore propose to transcend Young's distinction between two models in favour of a related, but conceptually different distinction between two forms of responsibility: interactional and structural. Embracing this terminology facilitates the conceptualisation of the general features of responsibility that are shared by both forms, including their retrospective and prospective time-direction and their applicability to individual, joint and group agency. The distinction between interactional and structural responsibility also yields a more compelling general account of the role of background structures, and of blame within ascriptions of political responsibility.

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Valentin Beck
Freie Universität Berlin