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The Normative and Moral Foundations of Group Agency

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - Group Agency (The Normative and Moral Foundations of Group Agency)

Reporting period: 2020-12-01 to 2022-05-31

Group agency is an 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 in new ways. 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 the conditions of the rule of law. A special focus is on how group membership might entail agents’ non-intentional complicity with a group’s bad 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 awareness of its own activities and their impact on 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 project team in the 3rd reporting period includes the PI, Herlinde Pauer-Studer, the Postdocs, Grace Paterson (since 01/09/2018), Lars Moen (01/11/2021), Olof Leffler (since 05/01/2022), Niels de Haan (06/03/2021-31/03/2022), Matthew Rachar (01/06/2019-06/09/2021), Praedoc Franz Altner (01/03/2018-31/07/2021), and the Senior Postdocs (Visiting Research Professors) Anne Schwenkenbecher (4/11/2021-03/03/2022) Velislava Mitova (since 01/05/2022) and Veronica Rodriguez-Blanco (01/02/2022-30/06/2022). 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: Moen is working on the metaphysics of group agents, defending a non-holistic account of groups, focusing on the individual members’ roles. Leffler defends a normative approach to group agency, focusing on the constitutive requirements of collective action. Paterson explores group speech acts and proxy speech. Regarding Subproject 2: Research by the PI Pauer-Studer has focused on relational morality and group agency. She has also worked on agency and the normative requirements of the rule of law. Veronica Rodriguez-Blanco works on agent’s moral failures (e.g. neglicence) that result from their belonging to groups. Velislava Mitova focuses on agent’s epistemic and moral blindness in the context of collective action. Regarding Subproject 3: Schwenkenbecher has been working on the moral responsibility of corporate agents. In his dissertation, Altner explores the connections between economic agency and moral responsibility. During the reporting period the team members have, in sum, published 10 papers; more than 10 papers are currently under review; several other papers are currently prepared for submission. During the reporting period, the team has organised two workshops (held online; 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 offers an illuminating discussion of the prospects of holistic and non-holistic accounts of group agency. These results tie nicely with the research on corporate agents’ self-understanding and recognition of their ethical commitments and obligations to others. Major progress has also been made on the issue of agents’ affiliations with groups and the resulting issues of moral responsibility. Substantial results have been achieved on exploring the responsibility of corporate agents.
Research planned by the project until 2023 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. Original research will also be done on group speech acts and the normative conditions of agency. Second, the work on agents’ complicit involvement in the policies and practices of group agents which is connected with work on the relation between morality and law (under democratic as well as authoritarian conditions) will enhance our understanding of the social and political effects of group formations. Third, there will also be done important work on the epistemic and moral failures of agents’ who align with groups.
Journal of Applied Philosophy (among 20 most downloaded articles)