Don’t Join the Joyride:

Individual Responsibility for Large Scale Problems

  • Kjetil Mangset Skjerve
  • Trygve Lavik


The paper argues that, counter to Walter Sinnott-Armostrong and Ewen Kingston’s view, we are morally required to refrain from joyguzzling, i.e., driving a fuel-inefficient car for no other purpose than having a good time. It is undisputed that joyguzzling is an example of a situation where the uncoordinated actions of a large group of individuals lead to an undesirable outcome. Additionally, it is highly unlikely that any one individual’s actions will have a significant impact on that outcome. But there are morally relevant differences between cases that share these characteristics.  The paper clarifies the debate by introducing and discussing three different types of cases: drop-in-the-ocean cases, overkill cases and emergence cases. We argue that we may have moral obligations in drop-in-the-ocean cases, and that emissions of GHGs are not examples of overkill cases.   Then we demonstrate through counterexamples that there are moral obligations in a subgroup of emergence cases we call joyguzzling-like cases. After criticizing the soundness of Kingston and Sinnott-Armstrong’s arguments, we critically address their relevance. We argue that Sinnott-Armstrong and Kingston fail to distinguish between two concepts of moral obligation — namely, autonomous and heteronomous moral obligation; that their most important arguments do not have any relevance to heteronomous obligations; and, finally, that heteronomous moral obligations are essential for social change.

Keywords: joyguzzling, individual responsibility, climate ethics, harm principle, autonomous vs. heteronomous moral obligations


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How to Cite
Skjerve, K. M., & Lavik, T. (2019). Don’t Join the Joyride:: Individual Responsibility for Large Scale Problems. Etikk I Praksis - Nordic Journal of Applied Ethics, 13(2), 5-19.
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