April 3, 2014

Group Persons Without Tears

Filed under: Philosophy — camcintosh @ 2:21 pm

CorpPersI’ll be giving this paper at the department workshop here at Cornell a week from today. If anyone in cyberspace thinks I’m wrong in what I say, comments are welcome. Otherwise I’ll interpret silence as unequivocal acceptance.



  1. 1. The assumption that there are group agents is *gratuitous* in the context. Many of my criticisms against premise (2) depend on a denial of the view that a group G can be morally responsible for X if no member of G is responsible for X or anything contributing to X.

    2. it’s not clear that political and especially legal language is “replete with language” ascribing *moral* responsibility to groups rather than causal, legal, etc. (p.1)

    3. It seems you define *being* responsible *solely* in terms of fittingness to *hold* responsible. That’s not right (p.1)

    4. List and Pettit’s (1)-(3) are insufficient. For example, as I believe I’ve pointed out before, S may meet those criteria, but all potential would-be-blamers lack the moral *standing* to blame. There’s a ton of other ways their criteria for fittingness to hold go wrong, but I’ll forego listing (and Pettiting!) them here. (p.1)

    5. Am I supposed to just *grant* that group agents meet (i)-(iii) in such a way that the relevant instances of (i)-(iii) obtain in a way such that no group member is implicated in X or anything contributing to X? Cf. 1. If you say, “No, I said the group *and* its members contribute to X,” then I’m not following your “not reducible” language and your “Earnest Hospital” example.

    6. I’ve already offered worries with your Earnest case, and I don’t see them addressed here. For starters, the surgeons operating on Vicky are *clearly* responsible. And as I said, I also gave other objections to which you made amendments to the case. Since this is the original case, I just repeat those objections.

    7. I disagree with how you’ve described attributability and accountability in 1.2. An agent who is MR in the MRacc sense might not do any action at all, but we say she’s the kind of agent that is liable to be held to account. Also, we can attribute ascriptions to actions even when the agent isn’t responsible in the MRacc sense, e.g., when Lenny from Of Mice and Men knows “he done a bad *thing*”. (p.2) And, your Shadenfreudians example is perfectly consistent with being responsible in the MRacc sense, see e.g., McKenna’s quality of will condition in C&R.

    8. I have no clue what it means to talk of a “group agent’s” “attitude” in the sense Watson et al. mean it. I also don’t understand how “it” chose “it’s” goals, values, and principles. Didn’t members do that? But, per (1) above, is this one of those things I don’t get to question?

    Okay, that takes me from the intro to 1.2.

    Comment by Paul — April 3, 2014 @ 2:50 pm | Reply

    • Thanks, Paul. You raise some good questions about premise (2) of GPA, some of which are answered in the endnotes, and some of which I’ve replied to already in our correspondence. But I should add that the paper is written with a particular audience in mind; namely, those who are already favorable to group agency realism and group moral responsibility but want to resist the move from agency to personhood. Section 1 is stage setting, laying out some rationale for why many accept (2). I could delete it all and say “Hey, to you people who are already convinced of (2), here’s a way to make the move from agency to personhood more palatable.

      Comment by camcintosh — April 3, 2014 @ 3:19 pm | Reply

      • I see. I searched my name but couldn’t find it. I found my thoughts in fn. 6, and so I guess I’d just say to those qualifications what I said in our correspondence. I see how the audience matters. I’m obviously in the “unfriendly” audience :)

        Comment by Paul — April 3, 2014 @ 3:23 pm

      • Your thoughts in footnote 6? Please. I used that paragraph, which I had authored a day earlier, to *start* a dialogue with you about it.

        Comment by camcintosh — April 3, 2014 @ 3:28 pm

      • Sorry, I thought 6 was *responding* to my thoughts. I re-read it, and it doesn’t take my response into consideration. So I guess I don’t see where you responded to my concerns in the footnotes, as you note, (6) *started* the exchange

        Comment by Paul — April 3, 2014 @ 3:41 pm

      • Ah, I see. I thought our discussion made it clear that I wasn’t convinced by your response, but I do recall me conceding that a case for how groups can have reactive attitudes is needed, and I’m not prepared to give that at this point.

        Comment by camcintosh — April 3, 2014 @ 4:29 pm

  2. To illustrate why what I say in (1) is problematic, here’s another challenge:

    I assume collections C, like e.g., countries, can me morally responsible. I’ll appeal to your “language” argument here, as well as examples like Earnest Hospital.


    If India is morally responsible, India is a person.

    India is morally responsible.

    India is a person.

    According to your argument, this goes through. So, you must not think India can be morally responsible. But here it seems that every argument against this premise will allow a relevantly similar counterargument to your arguments for p.2

    Here’s another argument you don’t address:

    First, the reasons for holding X responsible should be taken to be pro tanto reasons. This creates a problem for your description on p.1, for the appropriateness of holding responsible should be prefaced by “pro tanto.” Now, this is because initial blaming acts can be defeated. For example, by giving a justification or an excuse.

    Now, if the group agent is (apparently) responsible in a way that no member is responsible, then it must be *the group agent* that gives an excuse or justification for *its* action. If you can’t spell out what this looks like, then if group agents are not able to offer excuses or justifications, they can’t be held responsible, and thus cannot be morally responsible.

    Comment by Paul — April 3, 2014 @ 3:15 pm | Reply

    • Thanks again, Paul. If I were writing a paper solely concerned with a robust defense of (2), I’d definitely want to say something about group reactive attitudes. But your first concern is moot, as I’ve explained before: I do not assume collections like countries are morally responsible because I don’t think they meet the conditions for agency.

      Comment by camcintosh — April 3, 2014 @ 3:23 pm | Reply

      • Gotcha!

        Comment by Paul — April 3, 2014 @ 3:24 pm

      • My first concern is this: Every argument you give for agent MR can be given for collection MR. If MR is *sufficient* for personhood, as you claim, then India’s MR is *sufficient* for its personhood.

        Comment by Paul — April 3, 2014 @ 3:27 pm

      • I don’t see how. MR presupposes agency. Anything that’s not an agent is not MR. Mere collections are not agents. So, mere collections are not MR.

        Comment by camcintosh — April 3, 2014 @ 3:33 pm

      • So if MR then Agent.

        India can be MR.

        India can be agent.

        P.2. employs the same argument you employ for groups being MR, e.g., “our language,” cases like “Earnest.”

        Comment by Paul — April 3, 2014 @ 3:39 pm

      • I’ll Moorean Shift this argument so fast that it’s not worth taking that seriously.

        Comment by camcintosh — April 3, 2014 @ 4:27 pm

      • Okay.

        Comment by Paul — April 3, 2014 @ 4:46 pm

      • Also, I wonder why I can’t make similar moves. Yeah, India is a collection-agent and a collection-person. Just because it’s not the same *kind* of agent or person doesn’t mean it can’t be an agent or person in *any* sense. It seems like your argument warrants me to make these analogous moves, and I don’t know how you *non-arbitrarily* object to them.

        Comment by Paul — April 3, 2014 @ 3:56 pm

      • I’m working with standard necessary and sufficient conditions for intentional agency, and standardly recognized sufficient conditions for a metaphysically robust conception of personhood. I argue that both intrinsicist and functional persons meet those conditions, and so qualify as distinct kinds under the same genus. That’s what makes my move non-arbitrary. There could be (and are) other conceptions of personhood and agency that have conditions which put them in a different genus. That’s fine. But I’m making a distinction between two kinds under the same genus.

        Comment by camcintosh — April 3, 2014 @ 4:43 pm

      • Cool. Thanks. I guess I should move on to page 3 haha

        Comment by Paul — April 3, 2014 @ 4:46 pm

  3. Fascinating paper.
    The picture of Mr. Romney should make it very clear how important these questions are.(Not even mentioning subsequent Supreme Court decisions.)

    I am not sure I like group agents such as “BP” or “Earnest Hospital” for this analysis, and even less “countries” and “nations”.

    There are many things I have never thought about, and it will take a while. I hope to be in touch in the future.

    Comment by John Donne — May 11, 2014 @ 8:32 am | Reply

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