Corey Katz


Because of the “problem of individual causal inefficacy,” it has been difficult to explain why a purchase that will make little to no difference to a producer’s wrongdoing is itself morally wrong. Some have recently appealed to the concept of complicity in order to support the idea that consumers have a moral reason to avoid purchasing from companies engaged in wrongdoing. In this paper, I contribute to the development of this direction in consumer ethics. First, I explore how we should define moral complicity in such situations. Some have claimed that an individual’s purchase makes her complicit, even though it makes no difference to the wrongdoing, because she is still knowingly joining in with the wrong that the company or other consumers are doing. I argue, however, that it is difficult to see making a purchase as a form of joining in a joint or group action. Instead, I respond to the causal inefficacy problem directly. I argue that even when the outcome is massively overdetermined, an individual purchase still makes a causal contribution to the principal wrongdoing and thus a basic condition for an act of moral complicity is met. Yet, this does not resolve the deeper question of whether and why consumers should morally avoid purchases that make them complicit in these cases. The issue is with how small the causal contribution such an individual purchase makes. That is, an individual purchase in such a situation may only make one a little bit complicit. I argue that for the concept of moral complicity to gain traction here, we will have to appeal to normative concerns besides the outcome of the complicit action. Still, even with this account, purchases in such overdetermination cases may not often be all things considered wrong because the reasons against them may be outweighed by other relevant reasons.