Skip to main content

The Normative and Moral Foundations of Group Agency

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - Group Agency (The Normative and Moral Foundations of Group Agency)

Reporting period: 2019-06-01 to 2020-11-30

Group agency is an important and intensely discussed topic in current social philosophy and philosophy of action. The project has three overall objectives: first, the metaphysics of group agency; second, the exploration of group agents in terms of moral and legal philosophy; third, an analysis of corporate and economic agents’ self-understanding and their overall moral responsibility. The project seeks to investigate these issues from perspectives which have not yet been sufficiently addressed in the literature. Research (first objective) focuses on an analysis of the normative conditions that are constitutive for group agents and the reasoning processes within groups. A specific question addressed is how identification with a group can change practical reasoning and utility calculations. The project’s second main objective is to connect research on group agency with relational accounts of morality and normative requirements of the rule of law. A special focus is on how group membership might entail agents’ non-intentional complicity with a group’s evil practices. The third objective is an exploration of corporate and economic agents’ self-conception. An important moment in ethical recognition of one’s responsibility is an agent’s identification of its own activities and how they affect others. Research in the project has suggested that corporate agents can fulfill that condition of agential self-awareness. One way to illuminate and present this self-recognition is in terms of group speech acts. Often, the group or corporate agent delegates a proxy to communicate the group’s plans, strategies, and goals to the public. These performative utterances reveal the group agent’s self-conception and whether the group agent is conscious of its impact on others, aware that it is “an agential me” that is doing the actions that produce certain effects. The topics of the project are obviously of great interest for society.
During the reporting period, the team members have continued their research on the project’s main topics. The current project team includes the PI, Herlinde Pauer-Studer, the Praedoc, Franz Altner, and three Postdocs, Grace Paterson, Carlos Núñez, Matthew Rachar. Senior Postdoc Stephanie Collins joined the project for May and June 2019. Research on the project during the reporting period has focused on all three Subprojects, that is Subproject I: The metaphysics of agency and the normative framework of group agency; Subproject II: The consequences of the philosophical analysis of group agency for current developments in (a) moral philosophy and (b) legal philosophy; and Subproject III: The moral self-understanding of economic agents and their responsibility. Regarding Subproject 1: Núñez has focused on exploring the metaphysical possibility and rational permissibility of intending ends that involve the actions of others. He argues that it is both possible and permissible to intend ends that involve the behavior of other people, even when one does not believe such behavior is under one’s control. Núñez has published three papers on these topics in peer-reviewed Journals. Paterson aims at extending our understanding of speech acts and linguistic agency to collective agents and to proxy speech. She argues that a group is speaker of a particular speech act not in virtue of being the bearer of a particular communicative intention, but rather by taking on relevant responsibilities. During the reporting period, Paterson has published one article in a peer-revied Journal and prepared two other papers for submission. Rachar seeks to provide a novel account of collective intentions, viewing them as a combination of individual conditional intentions with certain properties (being reciprocal, sharing success conditions with others’ intentions). Conditional intentions with these features create a higher-order interdependence between the participants, which meets all the features collective intentions are commonly taken to have. He is also working on the relation between collective intention and normative principles of trust. In addition, he studies common intuitions about different kinds of collective behaviors using the methods of experimental philosophy. Three of Rachar’s articles are currently under submission with peer-reviewed journals. Regarding Subproject 2: Research by the PI Pauer-Studer has focused on exploring the moral implications of individual’s affiliation and identification with group agents and the kind of complicity this creates. She has also worked on authoritarian social interactions and the normative requirements of the rule of law. A further project of hers is to develop a relational account of morality and legality. During the reporting period, the PI has completed two articles, two others are in preparation for submission. Regarding Subproject 3: Collins has done research on organizations’ self-awareness and normative self-understanding. In his dissertation, Altner explores the connections between economic agency and moral responsibility. One article by Collins and an article by Altner are currently under review with peer-reviewed journals. During the reporting period, the team has organised several scientific events, among them two workshops and one conference (all with internationally recognized scholars on the philosophy of action).
During the reporting period, significant progress has been made on all three Subprojects. The research on the metaphysical constitution of group agents has offered illuminating results on the notion of intending social ends. These results tie nicely with the research on corporate agents’ self-awareness and recognition of their ethical commitments and obligations. Major progress has also been made on the issue of agents’ affiliations with groups and the resulting identification with corporate agents’ plans and actions. Also substantial results have been achieved on exploring the connections between group agency and relational accounts of morality.
Research planned by the project until 2022 will have a significant impact on the philosophy of group agency in three respects. First, the project will offer original accounts of the metaphysics of group agency, enriching our understanding of the normative conditions of agency and the normative commitments coming with group speech acts. The experimental philosophy work on joint commitments will provide new insights on our intuitive understanding of social relations and obligations. Second, the work on agents’ complicit involvement in the policies and actions of group agents which is connected with work on the relation between morality and law (under democratic as well as authoritarian political conditions) will lead to a refined understanding of the social impact of political group formations. Third, there will also be done important work on the practical self-understanding and normative identity of economic agents, particularly on the question of their seeing or refusing to see themselves as morally responsible agents.
Journal of Applied Philosophy (among 20 most downloaded articles)