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WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A GROUP?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 November 2008

David Sosa
Affiliation:
Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin

Abstract

Consequentialist and Kantian theories differ over the ethical relevance of consequences of actions. I investigate how they might differ too over the relevance of what actions are consequence of. Focusing on the case of group action and collective responsibility, I argue that there's a kind of analog to the problem of aggregating the value of consequences—about aggregating responsibility with respect to the roles of cooperating agents—that Kantian theories will not confront and consequentialist theories will. The issue provides a useful way to characterize a deep difference between Kantian and consequentialist theories and points, ironically, toward a way of making those views compatible.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Social Philosophy and Policy Foundation 2008

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References

1 Quoted in the New York Times, September 2, 2007.

2 I will not trace the implications of the issue for the position of virtue ethics or of other views relative to consequentialist and deontological theories.

3 See Sosa, David, “Consequences of Consequentialism,” Mind 102, no. 405 (1993): 101–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Indeed, it is so called by Jackson, Frank, “Decision-Theoretic Consequentialism and the Nearest and Dearest Objection,” Ethics 101, no. 3 (1991): 461–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 The expression is from Taurek, John, “Should the Numbers Count?Philosophy and Public Affairs 6, no. 4 (1977): 293316Google ScholarPubMed.

6 Kagan, Shelly, The Limits of Morality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989)Google Scholar.

7 This can be true in tennis, for example, if one wins a set 6-4, having won six games after deuce and lost four at love.

8 Mark Greenberg usefully suggested the examples of zombies and sleepwalkers: it is plausible that complications about their moral status are related to their not being conscious.

9 Williams, Bernard, “Persons, Character, and Morality,” in Rorty, Amélie, ed., The Identities of Persons (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 214Google Scholar.

10 Cf. Williams, Bernard, “Personal Identity and Individuation,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 57 (1956–57): 229–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 See, e.g., Kim, Jaegwon, Mind in a Physical World (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000)Google Scholar. I myself find the inegalitarian attitude implausible and believe it may even, in a way, reverse the appropriate order.

12 Hume, David, Treatise of Human Nature, ed. Selby-Bigge, L. A., 2d ed., revised and edited by Nidditch, P. H. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), book 1, part 4Google Scholar.

13 Pettit, Philip, “Groups with Minds of Their Own,” in Schmitt, Frederick, ed., Socializing Metaphysics (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), 167–93Google Scholar.

14 Copp, David, “On the Agency of Certain Collective Entities: An Argument from ‘Normative Autonomy’,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 30 (2006): 194221CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 Kornhauser, Lewis and Sager, Lawrence, “Unpacking the Court,” Yale Law Journal 96 (1986): 82117CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kornhauser, Lewis and Sager, Lawrence, “The One and the Many: Adjudication in Collegial Courts,” California Law Review 91 (1993): 151CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 Indeed, there has been a great deal of recent literature on related issues. For a few examples, see Dietrich, Franz, “A Generalized Model of Judgment Aggregation,” Social Choice and Welfare 28, no. 4 (2007): 529–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Dietrich, Franz and List, Christian, “Arrow's Theorem in Judgment Aggregation,” Social Choice and Welfare 29, no. 1 (2007): 1933CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Dietrich, Franz and List, Christian, “Judgment Aggregation by Quota Rules: Majority Voting Generalized,” Journal of Theoretical Politics 19 (2007): 391424CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Gärdenfors, Peter, “An Arrow-like Theorem for Voting with Logical Consequences,” Economics and Philosophy 22, no. 2 (2006): 181–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar; van Hees, Martin, “The Limits of Epistemic Democracy,” Social Choice and Welfare 28, no. 4 (2007): 649–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kornhauser, Lewis and Sager, Lawrence, “The Many as One: Integrity and Group Choice in Paradoxical Cases,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 32 (2004): 249–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar; List, Christian, “Group Knowledge and Group Rationality: A Judgment Aggregation Perspective,” Episteme 2, no. 1 (2005): 2538CrossRefGoogle Scholar; List, Christian, “The Probability of Inconsistencies in Complex Collective Decisions,” Social Choice and Welfare 24, no. 1 (2005): 332CrossRefGoogle Scholar; List, Christian, “The Discursive Dilemma and Public Reason,” Ethics 116 (2006): 362402CrossRefGoogle Scholar; List, Christian and Pettit, Philip, “On the Many as One,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 33, no. 4 (2005): 377–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Pauly, Marc and van Hees, Martin, “Logical Constraints on Judgment Aggregation,” Journal of Philosophical Logic 35, no. 6 (2006): 569–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

17 Pettit, “Groups with Minds of Their Own,” 175.

18 Ibid., 184.

19 Ibid., 185.

20 The practical character of this pressure is, on my view, an argument for an important difference (noted earlier) between an individual with inconsistent beliefs (of which he is aware) and a group with inconsistent beliefs.

21 Pettit, “Groups with Minds of Their Own,” 176–77.

22 The thought, on Pettit's behalf, that it is constitutive of the group that is a person (having become one) to be rational—in distinction to the group that is not a person—raises a difficulty about the group's taking on, anew, an essential property.

23 On Frankfurt's account, very roughly, one acts freely just in case the desires one wants to be effective are indeed one's effective desires. See Frankfurt, Harry, “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person,” Journal of Philosophy 68, no. 1 (1971): 520CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

24 There are, I believe, significant residual differences.

25 Kornhauser and Sager, “The Many as One,” 252.

26 Ibid., 255.

27 Copp, “On the Agency of Certain Collective Entities,” 218.

28 See Bratman, Michael, “Shared Intention,” Ethics 104 (1993): 97–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bratman, , “Dynamics of Sociality,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 30 (2006): 115CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Margaret Gilbert, “The Structure of the Social Atom: Joint Commitment as the Foundation of Human Social Behavior,” in Schmitt, ed., Socializing Metaphysics, 39–64; and Searle, John, “Collective Intentions and Actions,” in Cohen, Philip, Morgan, Jerry, and Pollack, Martha, eds., Intentions in Communication (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990), 401–16Google Scholar.

29 I pursue the development of such a view in “Standard Bearers” (unpublished manuscript).

30 “Person” is a “forensick term,” in Locke's nice phrase; see Locke, John, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Nidditch, P. H. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), book II, chapter 27, sec. 26Google Scholar. And the appropriation of merit—what being forensic amounts to—is, for Locke, “founded in a concern for happiness, the unavoidable concomitant of consciousness; that which is conscious of pleasure and pain” (ibid.).

31 Hume, David, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Selby-Bigge, L. A., 3d ed., revised with notes by Nidditch, P. H. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), sec. VIIIGoogle Scholar.

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