We are very happy to announce our keynote speaker, Dr Holly Lawford-Smith, who will be speaking on ‘Many Hands and Many Times’.
Many Hands and Many Times
Holly Lawford-Smith (Melbourne), David Axelsen (LSE), Adam Slavny (Warwick), & Kai Spiekermann (LSE)
In a ‘many hands’ case, many people perform actions that do not do harm alone, but have the cumulative effect of harming. For example, one extra molecule of pollution from each factory won’t make a different to air pollution and so won’t harm anyone, but the cumulative effect of an extra molecule of pollution from every factory may well make such a difference. In this paper, our interest in many hands cases is comparative: we use them to draw out a related problem, which we call the ‘many times’ problem. We see it as the temporal version of the many hands problem. A single individual can perform a number of actions which taken alone do not harm, and yet which when added together do. For example, an individual may discriminate against someone (yet in a way that falls short of violating her rights), may emit a small amount of carbon, may fail to contribute to ending extreme poverty, may walk by a homeless person without giving them money, may buy a sweatshop t-shirt, may make a sexist, racist, or classist joke, may fail to ‘call out’ a sexist, racist, or classist joke, and so on, and so forth. But how do these harms agglomerate, and how and when is an individual blameworthy for performing many such (individually) harmless acts over time? There is discussion of how these cases work across persons, as we have just seen. But how do they work within the same person (or, to put this in another way, across time-indexed person-slices)? Is there an overlooked version of the many hands problem that shows up within persons?
Holly Lawford-Smith is Senior Lecturer in Political Philosophy at the University of Melbourne. Her current work primarily focuses on theoretical questions about collective action, collective agency, and collective responsibility. She has applied these to topics including the ethics of consumption, the ethics of climate change, and both race and class privilege. Outside research and teaching, Holly is one of a few Canbassadors, promoting the virtues of Canberra to the non-believers.
You can find out more about Holly’s publications, research and teaching on her website: