My most recent book is Group Duties: Their Existence and Their Implications for Individuals. It was published by Oxford University Press in 2019. You can download a pre-print of Chapter One, which gives an overview of the argument. You (or your library) can also buy the book. At Social Ontology 2019, I gave a keynote address, the first twenty minutes of which summarise the main ideas. I wrote a blog post about the book for The Page 99 Test.
The book starts from the fact that moral duties are regularly attributed to groups: we might hear that the United Kingdom has a duty to defend human rights, that environmentalists have a duty to push for global systemic reform, or that humanity has a duty to eradicate poverty. But are groups the kind of thing that can bear moral duties? We need a model that can take in details about the groups involved in real-world political problems and produce conclusions about (i) which of these groups can have duties and (ii) what this implies for each group’s members.
The book develops (what I call) the ‘Tripartite Model’ of group duties, which divides groups into three types. First, there are groups that are mere combinations—collections of agents that don’t have any goals or decision-making procedures in common. ‘Humanity’, ‘the affluent’, and ‘the international community’ are examples of combinations. These groups cannot bear moral duties. Instead, when we are tempted to attribute duties to them, we should re-cast the purported duty as a series of duties—one borne by each agent in the combination. Each duty demands its bearer to ‘I-reason’: roughly, to do the best they can, given whatever they happen to believe the others will do. Second, there are groups whose members share goals but lack decision-making procedures. These are coalitions. Coalitions include environmentalists, social justice warriors, and the alt-right. Coalitions also cannot bear duties, but their alleged duties should be replaced with members’ several duties to ‘we-reason’: roughly, to act on the presumption that the other members will do their part in pursuing the group’s goal. Third and finally, collectives have group-level procedures that have the capacity to make decisions on the basis of moral considerations. Collectives include states, limited liability companies, and non-profits. They can bear duties. Collectives’ duties imply duties for collectives’ members to use their role in the collective with a view to the collective doing its duty.
This model allows us to properly discipline our ethical-political thought, talk, and practice: to attribute moral duties to only those groups that can bear them, and to attribute duties to groups’ members on that basis.
Social Ontolgoy 2019 also hosted a symposium on the book, with commentaries by Gunnar Björnsson, Olle Blomberg, Anne Schwenkenbecher, and Bill Wringe. The commentaries will be published, with my replies, in Journal of Social Ontology in 2020. Here are some photos of us chatting about the book:
The book was motivated by the fact that the moral and political theory known as the ‘ethics of care’ has flourished in recent decades, yet we remain without a succinct statement of its core theoretical commitment. The book argues for a simple care ethical slogan: dependency relationships generate responsibilities. It uses this slogan to unify, specify and justify the wide range of views found within the care ethical literature.
To accompany the book, I wrote a condensed summary of chapters 2-5, titled “Care Ethics: The Four Key Claims”. This accessible 6,000 word piece is targeted at first-year university students. It has been published as the definitive statement of care ethics in two textbooks by Oxford University Press: Moral Reasoning and Disputed Moral Issues.
Here’s what people have said about The Core of Care Ethics:
“After Collins’ reformulation, moral philosophers no longer can ignore care ethics. It is also essential reading for supporters of care ethics. This is a smart and indispensable book.” — Joan Tronto
“The Core of Care Ethics is an original and insightful book. Collins offers rigorous and detailed analyses of many of the core concepts of care ethics and in the process brings greater analytical precision to them. Care theorists will benefit immensely from engaging with Collins’s arguments…” — Daniel Engster, in Hypatia
“Collins provokes readers to think about the future of care ethics, and forces students of it to ask if the theory should be altered for accessibility and utility. Even those who disagree with her outcome will value Collins’ useful exploration of care ethics. I would especially recommend this original book for those who know little about care ethics or have previously disregarded it.” — Rebecca Wilson (PhD Candidate at St Andrews), in The International Feminist Journal of Politics
Not a book, but a book-length thing — The Scope of Dependence-based Duties
I got my PhD from the Australian National University in 2013. My dissertation was called The Scope of Dependence-based Duties. The basic thought was: if you’re dependent on someone in the right way, then they have a moral duty. I gave this basic thought a painstaking level of precision, including going into way too much detail about which kinds of groups can (and can’t) have these duties. I then argued that this basic thought can be used to specify, justify, and unify the range of claims found within two quite separate literatures: first, the moral philosophy literature on the ethics of care; second, the international politics literature on the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. The results were that we can see care ethics as a more systematised moral theory than its proponents often claim, that we can more neatly assign duties under the Responsibility to Protect than had hitherto been recognised, and — more generally — that dependence-based principles ground a wider range of claims in interpersonal and international ethics than first meets the eye.
It’s a shame to spend three-and-a-half years writing something that only two people will read. So if you’d like to do me a supererogatory and time-consuming kindness, you could read the dissertation.