Complicity and Moral Accountability

Complicity and Moral Accountability

Basic information

  • Author(s):
  • Published: April 15, 2016
  • Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press
  • Page count: 176
  • ISBN: 978-0-268-03539-6

Complicity and Moral Accountability

In Complicity and Moral Accountability, Gregory Mellema presents a philosophical approach to the moral issues involved in complicity. Starting with a taxonomy of Thomas Aquinas, according to whom there are nine ways for one to become complicit in the wrongdoing of another, Mellema analyzes each kind of complicity and examines the moral status of someone complicit in each of these ways.

Mellema’s central argument is that one must perform a contributing action to qualify as an accomplice, and that it is always morally blameworthy to perform such an action. Additionally, he argues that an accomplice frequently bears moral responsibility for the outcome of the other’s wrongdoing, but he distinguishes this case from cases in which the accomplice is tainted by the wrongdoing of the principal actor. He further distinguishes between enabling, facilitating, and condoning harm, and introduces the concept of indirect complicity.

Mellema tackles issues that are clearly important to any case of collective and shared responsibility, yet rarely discussed in depth, always presenting his arguments clearly, concisely, and engagingly. His account of the nonmoral as well as moral qualities of complicity in wrongdoing—especially of the many and varied ways in which principles and accomplices can interact—is highly illuminating. Liberally sprinkled with helpful and nuanced examples, Complicity and Moral Accountabilityvividly illustrates the many ways in which one may be complicit in wrongdoing.


“In Complicity and Moral Accountability, Gregory Mellema has made an immensely important contribution to the discussion of group morality and collective responsibility both within and far beyond professional academic philosophy. His clearly written book will be essential reading.” — Fergus Kerr, Honorary Fellow, University of Edinburgh

“This book provides a clear, careful account of the various ways humans can be complicit in and therefore morally accountable for actions that they contribute to even though others may be the principal agents. Although the book is grounded in the account of complicity given by Thomas Aquinas, it also engages contemporary literature on the subject and finishes with an account of the ways this moral concept intersects with American legal principles. The book can be read with profit by philosophers and nonphilosophers alike, and it sheds new light on such notions as collective responsibility and guilt. This is a first-rate contribution to contemporary moral philosophy.” — C. Stephen Evans, University Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Baylor University

“With characteristic clarity and insight, Gregory Mellema cautiously explores the concept of complicity and charts its connections to related moral concepts. His discussion is precise but accessible, and also addresses practical questions like how to avoid becoming complicit in wrongdoing.” — Scott A. Davison, Morehead State University

“Complicity and Moral Accountability is another excellent book from Gregory Mellema. His well-selected examples illustrate his clear and penetrating analyses of types of complicity and degrees of moral responsibility. Anyone interested in such timely issues as the difference between enabling harm, facilitating harm, and condoning harm (and how these relate to legal categories such as aiding and abetting), or between what we may morally expect from others and what they are morally obliged to give us, will appreciate this carefully nuanced and historically informed scholarship." — Edward Langerak, St. Olaf College


  • Course code:
  • Credits:
  • Semester:
  • Department: