Societies as Group Agents

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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Could an entire society count as an agent in its own right? I argue here that it could. While previous defenders of group agency have focused primarily on groups such as states and corporations that exhibit a great deal of formalized internal structure, less attention has been devoted to more loosely structured social groups. I focus on defending the claims that societies can have ends or goals and that they engage in end-directed behavior. I defend this view by responding to three potential objections. The first is the allegation that the attribution of ends to societies would be redundant, given that the properties of any group will supervene upon the properties of the group’s individual human members. The second is the charge that societies are not genuine agents engaged in end-directed actions because their behavior is not under their own direct control. The third is the concern that while it may be useful to speak of societies ‘as if’ they were agents, this does not indicate that societies really act in pursuit of ends. I draw upon a functionalist approach from the philosophy of mind to argue that all three objections can be addressed by the defender of social agency.



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Michelle M. Dyke
Tufts University

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References found in this work

On Social Facts.Margaret Gilbert - 1989 - Ethics 102 (4):853-856.
The Corporation as a Moral Person.Peter A. French - 1979 - American Philosophical Quarterly 16 (3):207 - 215.
Corporate Crocodile Tears? On the Reactive Attitudes of Corporate Agents.Gunnar Björnsson & Kendy Hess - 2017 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 94 (2):273–298.
Eliminating Group Agency.Lars J. K. Moen - 2023 - Economics and Philosophy 39 (1):43-66.
In Defense of Explanatory Ecumenism.Frank Jackson - 1992 - Economics and Philosophy 8 (1):1-21.

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